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SECURITY SCARES IN THE CZECH REPUBLIC HAVE LED TO EXTRA CAUTION IN SLOVAKIA

How safe is online banking?

ONE reason for the limited of online banking in Slovakia may be a belief that it is not secure, according to some experts - a perception that was reinforced in March when Czech cryptologists said they found a breach in the SSL/TSL security protocol commonly used in electronic banking.
Cryptologists Vlastimil Klima, Ond€ej Pokorný, and Tomáš Rosa said the security flaw could allow unauthorised individuals to "break through the protection completely and decrypt protected communication."
Slovak banks responded to the claims with assurances to their customers that online banking is safe. Computer systems handling banking are well protected, say bankers, but users need to be sure that things are secure on their end as well.


SOME banks have web pages in English.
photo: TASR

ONE reason for the limited of online banking in Slovakia may be a belief that it is not secure, according to some experts - a perception that was reinforced in March when Czech cryptologists said they found a breach in the SSL/TSL security protocol commonly used in electronic banking.

Cryptologists Vlastimil Klima, Ond€ej Pokorný, and Tomáš Rosa said the security flaw could allow unauthorised individuals to "break through the protection completely and decrypt protected communication."

Slovak banks responded to the claims with assurances to their customers that online banking is safe. Computer systems handling banking are well protected, say bankers, but users need to be sure that things are secure on their end as well.

"There are several layers of protection for virtual money, and so our clients are not threatened," said Silvia Nosáľová, spokesperson from Všeobecná úverová banka (VÚB).

However, there have been attacks on Slovakia's online banking services in the past. In January 2001, Tatra banka was the victim of an internet fraud, where a false internet site was set up mimicking its own, asking clients to reveal sensitive security and personal information. The bank promptly informed all its customers and the site was removed.

Tatra banka now warns its clients that security problems are more likely to be found where the client is connected, rather than in the bank's computer system.

On its web site, the bank advises each customer to "pay attention to his own internet connection and look out for any suspicious activities, and to use login passwords for PCs." The bank also advises users not to allow unauthorized people to use their computers.

"Quite regularly users write their passwords on their personal documents, in their purses, etc., which is extremely dangerous," the web site states.

"The internet is developing enormously, so what was secure yesterday is not necessarily safe today. Continual updates and the implementation of the latest technologies and procedures is therefore necessary," the bank advises.

Security fears are not the only factor holding back the adoption of online banking services in Slovakia. Experts also blame the slow spread of internet services in comparison with the rest of Europe.

Internet connections in Slovakia are amongst the most expensive in Europe, while internet penetration to households is among the lowest in Europe, according to the civic group Internet for Everyone.

However, of those connected to the internet in Slovakia, 54 percent are already using some form of internet banking, well above the 29 percent average worldwide figure, according to research by the public relations firm Taylor Nelson Sofres.

The research agency Datamonitor forecasts that there will be 84 million internet banking customers in Europe by 2007. Worldwide, there were 6,000 banks offering online services by the end of last year, according to specialist magazine the Online Banking Report.

Internet banking grew out of home banking, which was also an electronic form of banking, but which required special software for clients to access their accounts. Internet banking itself has been around in Slovakia as long as in most other countries, with one of the first services - from Tatra banka - available since April 1998.

Most of the banks provide online services to their clients for free, although some charge for activation or security cards. However, many of the charges are lower for online transactions than for transactions that take place in the banks themselves.

But not all banks have their services set up to provide easy access for English-speakers. Československá obchodná banka, for example, only offers its site in Slovak, although the user can switch to the Czech site, which allows navigation in English.

Even those that do have information in English on their web sites often do not include the same information as appears on their Slovak pages. Istrobanka has a very clear Slovak home page with direct links to its online banking service, but this is absent in the English version of the bank's home page, which just contains basic information about the bank.

Istrobanka does offer online banking in English, but it is only accessible through the main Slovak home page.

Ľudová banka provides its main web pages in Slovak and German only, although its online banking service can be accessed in English by clicking an icon on the bank's Slovak-language home page.

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