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Banco Nacional Gets it Right!

October 23rd, 2009

Safe Illaveronternet banking in Costa Rica has been an issue for some time.  In December 2007, I wrote this post about how insecure it can be and giving suggestions on how to make it less so.   It is clear that  I have not been impressed with Costa Rica online banking at least from from a security standpoint… until now that is.

I personally bank at three Costa Rica banks: BAC San JoseScotia Bank and Banco Nacional.  All were subject to various schemes that could easily cause serious security problems, especially if the customer did not use adequate security protection in their computers or worse, used Internet cafes or a wireless connection while banking online.

Now along comes Banco Nacional with a high tech but easy-to-use gadget that all but guarantees your security even if banking from an Internet cafe or using a wireless connection. I got one about three weeks ago and have since been trying to figure out how someone could get into my account. My conclusion?  They cannot or if they can, they are a whole lot smarter than I am.

If this topic interests you, read on!

So how does it work?

Well first let’s look at security at most Costa Rica banks.  Almost all use a password that must be longer than x but shorter than y numerals or numbers.  Because of their antiquated operating systems,  symbols cannot be used i.e. ^%)@ etc. Most require that you change your password regularly. but people being people, folks often choose passwords that can be “guessed”.

All have a login name as well, of course.  Logins are often easy to find, however, as they often are your cedula numbers, email address, account name… whatever.  So, if the password gets compromised (stolen),  entry to your account is not hard and you have issues. All of these things are made far worse if you are using wireless or are on a computer where a keylogger has been installed without your knowledge.

So what has Banco Nacional (BN) done that is so great? Well they still require a login and it is usually your cedula # (dumb),  passport number (dumber) or other and is thus NOT very secure.

After you enter that, you are then taken to a pop-up window that is just silly! (yeah, I know, the good part is coming!). In this window you type 4 characters and use your mouse to click 4 numerals.  Why is it silly? Because it is fully visible to anyone standing or seated anywhere near you while you are typing this stuff…  Then they have (well they had) all they needed to get into your account.

But…. here is the cool part:

cardIf you look at the picture above left at the beginning of this post, you will see what looks like a key fob with a little window.  You get this from BN for 3,000 colones (but see below).

With this gadget BN adds a final login step which makes everything incredibly secure!  After you log in doing the same old useless stuff… you are asked for a code number.  You now press a button on the key fob (llevero in español) and enter that generated number.  Also available is a card type device (see right) for generating the code. You now have access to your account.

Why is this cool and more important, safe?  Because each number generated is “one-use”.  Even if someone sees you entering it or actually sees the number, it can never be used ever again.  This number is mathematically tied to your account, and no other llavero (or card) will work in your account.

This thing is called a token. You can either go to your local BN office and get one for 3,000 colones or, if you have them, you can use your entertainment points that you get for paying bills online.

With this new security option, I would say this places Banco Nacional miles ahead of their competition in terms of keeping your account safe. As I know many of you here must use Internet cafes, shared computers or wireless, this new gadget can now make all the difference in keeping your money safe.  In fact, until the other banks “catch up”, I would suggest using BN as your primary bank using other only for spreading the wealth.


12 Responses to “Banco Nacional Gets it Right!”

  1. steve young on October 25, 2009 9:57 am

    sounds good; however, as far as I know, Banco Nacional online only works with PC’s and not Apple’s.

    as a Mac convert, I am happy with the lack of viruses and crashes, but wish institutions would realize there are many of us who cannot use their systems, no matter how well intentioned.

  2. don derkach on October 25, 2009 9:58 am

    Great info. Keep up the good work. I will be visiting costa rica in two weeks for a Caravan tour of the country. Your blog has certainly helped me.

  3. Lisa on January 17, 2010 8:13 am

    If I understand this correctly, if an outsider already has your login and password, and has a BN gadget, your account is still compromised. If not, please explain further when you get a chance. Thanks.

  4. Brian on February 28, 2010 11:18 am

    Although my response doesn’t have to do exactly with the bank article, I do have a bank question someone may be able to answer. Since my family is down in CR at least once a year, sometimes more, and we’ll retire there when the kids are done with school, we wanted to open an account with a CR bank. We noticed HSBC has offices in CR as well as in the Northeast US, as does Citizens, so we were hoping to have a bank we could deposit money in here in the US, and withdraw in CR without the int’l fees and ATM fees that we get hit with down there. Even wire transfer fees etc. cost more than I feel like paying. Last trip we spent over 100 dollars US in fees alone. True, we could take cash out in one shot, and pay a nominal fee, but then we have a large amount of cash on us, and that’s not a good idea ANYWHERE in the world. Although the aforementioned banks have offices in both countries, they are separate corporations that share the same name, but not the same network, so they may as well be different banks. Anyone know of a bank that would fill our need?

  5. crystal on November 1, 2010 2:05 am

    PayPal works, or so I’ve heard. I’ve not tried it yet, but you can deposit money in this account, too.
    Funny story, I heard my husband ask the credit card customer service if he could deposit money in his account that currently has a 0 balance. The customer care woman was confused by his question, all she could say is, “Why?”
    This is the Venture card from Capital One. It has no fees to use Interna’l
    OK, I’ve answered your question as well as I can. Now I need to know if Costa Rica has home-suppply stores like Home Depot? Anyone?

  6. bob on August 25, 2012 4:20 am

    If you use a bank savings account as a tourist, and leave it open with a balaqnce, do banks shut down your acounts for lack of or no activitie after a duration of time? Thanks.

  7. Howard on July 15, 2014 9:36 pm

    I need to do banking in Costa Rica .witch one should I use ? What about my SS check ? Do I get an address in the us ? maybe florida ? I have family there.what about paying my rent in C.R. ? my electric bill if I have one ?

  8. Tim on July 16, 2014 6:40 am

    Many banks do.

  9. Tim on July 16, 2014 6:42 am

    Your questions are just too complex. You really need to inquire at the bank when opening the account though most banks no longer allow tourists to open an account, but some still do.

  10. Tim on July 16, 2014 6:44 am

    HSBC no longer has office in CR. Opening an account here is a nasty and complex project. You must be here to do so.

  11. Rachel on August 12, 2014 3:05 pm

    Are ATM’s readily available? My daughter is coming there as an exchange student…will she be able to get money from an ATM?

  12. Tim on August 13, 2014 1:34 am

    Yup. And as to whether she can use them would depend on her banking relationship and if she uses appropriate networks.

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