It’s hard to remember that, just over a decade ago, nearly all the most common banking transactions were conducted in the building society or bank. These days we don’t need to go anywhere. Online banking and mobile banking apps have made the whole business more convenient, to the extent that you can check your balance, transfer money between accounts and pay bills from your home – or from anywhere with an Internet connection.

Banks invest millions of pounds in making their online services secure, yet as customers we need to stay alert. This year has seen an explosion in online banking fraud, with damage to the tune of £29.3 million; a 71% rise on last year. If we don’t want to become victims we need to take care of our own security and avoid the snares laid down by cybercriminals and fraudsters. Some of that comes down to good security practices and common sense, but Internet security software can also play a vital role. How? Read on.

1. Browse securely

Use the latest version of your chosen browser and make sure you have any updates installed. Ensure that you use the bank’s proper web address – fraudsters have been known to take advantage of typing and spelling errors with copycat websites – and look for the padlock symbol in your browser’s address bar, information bar or tab to make sure that you’re connecting over a secure, encrypted connection.

For real security, however, think about using tools such as Safepay, the unique, dedicated browser built into Bitdefender Internet Security 2015 and Total Security 2015. Designed to handle sensitive transactions, Safepay blocks risky add-ons and extensions and is shielded from third-party intrusions, ensuring that only you and the bank can see what you’re doing. Safepay also scans all links on web pages to ensure that these won’t lead you into danger: a great line of defence.

2. Take care with your passwords

Never use the same password for banking that you use for other online services. If another service is compromised by lax security or hackers, cybercriminals might end up with your password and look to see where else they might apply it. Don’t be tempted to use passwords that might be guessed, either. Your mother’s maiden name or the name of a pet might seem obscure to you, but you’d be surprised what cybercriminals can find out about you in an age of social media.

There’s always a risk that keyloggers – a dangerous form of malware – might capture usernames and passwords and send them through to cybercriminals. Here, Bitdefender Internet Security 2015 and Total Security 2015 can help, as the Safepay browser includes a secure on-screen virtual keyboard which you can call in to enter sensitive information of this kind.

3. Don’t get phished (or vished)

Fraudsters like to contact online banking users with emails claiming to be from bank staff, a fraud investigation team or even the police; emails that either ask you for usernames and passwords, or that contain a link leading to a fake bank website where you'll be asked to enter them. Never disclose this information or click on any links – your bank will never contact you and ask you to hand over your credentials. Similarly, be wary of ‘vishing’ phone calls which work along the same lines. Terminate the call, the use your mobile phone or another line to check that the call has been terminated then call your bank or the police.

Bitdefender’s 2015 products include powerful anti-phishing tools that can analyse and block the websites that support phishing scams. That’s another line of protection to prevent you getting hooked, line and sinker.

4. Protect your PC and laptop

Every year we see a deluge of keyloggers, Trojans and spyware, all designed to infect your computers and pass vital information back to hackers. Keeping your PC up to date, using a firewall and being careful about the sites you visit will help you avoid some of them, but there's no substitute for strong anti-virus software, kept up to date with the latest malware data. Bitdefender Internet Security 2015 and Total Security 2015 are as tough as they come, with five star scores for protection from the independent anti-virus test lab, AV-Test, for the last three years running.

5. Only bank from trusted networks

If you're at home or work, make sure your wireless network is secure and password protected, then browse to your bank's website. If you're out and about, however, then avoid Internet banking and even Internet shopping while you’re on a public Wi-Fi network. You might not know what those running it are doing, or what those connecting to it at the same time might be up to. If you must do anything risky, use the Safepay browser built into Bitdefender Internet Security 2015 and Total Security 2015 to make sure your credentials and data are safeguarded.

These five steps won't guarantee safe online banking on their own, but when allied with powerful security software, like Bitdefender Internet Security 2015 and Total Security 2015, they’ll certainly help.

This article is brought to you in association with Bitdefender. As well as security software for the home, Bitdefender provides business protection with Small Office Security - always-on security for companies with up to 25 employees.