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A smartphone will be more secure than an open Wi-Fi spot if you know how to use it safely.

Do I understand correctly that I can safely use my smartphone, an iPhone 4S, to do most of what I want to do while traveling i.e. checking credit card accounts, paying bills, etc.? I'm supposing I need to download apps from each credit card company and my bank.

In this excerpt from Answercast #46, I look at how to use a smart phone connection safely while traveling.

Smartphone safety

The short answer is yes actually. A smartphone is usually a fairly good way to do exactly what it is you're looking to do.

  • You don't necessarily need an app.

If your bank or your credit card company offers an app, then that is typically the safest and smartest way to go – if that application actually supports all of the functionality that you're looking for. Some apps tend to be kind of bare bones when compared to the credit card or bank's native website.

Use https

That's the other side of the equation.

Most smartphones have a fairly powerful browser built into them already. There's nothing at all wrong with going to the https version of your credit card or bank's website, and in fact, it should be the https version...

  • There should only be an https version for any kind of online banking or financial management.

More secure than open Wi-Fi

In general, your cell phone connection is slightly more secure than an open Wi-Fi hotspot. In other words, it's much more difficult for somebody to actually eavesdrop in on what you're doing.

  • Most apps that try and do these kinds of things use encrypted connections as their means to connect back to their respective websites;

  • As long as you're connecting through the https version of a website, if you happen to do it through the browser, you should be fine as well.

Next from Answercast 46 – What does it mean to tether a phone?

Article C5720 - August 22, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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5 Comments
MikeMesquite
August 24, 2012 8:30 AM

Thank you for confirming my faith in mobile banking apps. Some of my co-geeks are paranoid about mobile security. I use my phone with 3-G/4-G connection, and have Lookout as a security program to make sure any installed app is OK (as far as it is capable of determining). It's not like I have a bunch of money in my account, it would just be nice to know what I have is secure.

Bill
August 24, 2012 3:06 PM

Leo, I look forward to reading your columns but they make me realize how little I know.
I used an iPod touch ap to connect to my credit card company from a cruise ship. The WiFi was password protected b/c they charge the earth to use it.
Now the site I reached is https but when I put my password in to access my account, is that readable by someone logged in on the ship? Or by the IS manager on the ship? I'm not talking about a keylogger.

It's obvious to anyone reading this that I don't really understand https.

If my log-in is encrypted, at what point in the transaction does it encrypyt?

I imagine my key strokes winging through the ether and being changed (encrypted) once they reach the https site. But if that's so, couldn't they be read en route? Can you explain?

connie
August 24, 2012 5:48 PM

@Bill
https is encrypted point to point. Here's another article (on email actually) where Leo explains:
Does https hide email address in hotmail?

Bill
August 25, 2012 6:52 AM

Thanks, Connie and you, Leo. I read the suggested article and I finally get it.

Bucky
August 29, 2012 1:16 PM

My concern is the check deposit apps. I wonder if it leaves the image file of the check on the phone. And if you lose your phone, someone could get the check info.

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