advertisement
advertisement

Count On Users To Foil NFC Payment Security

Written by Frank Hayes
October 12th, 2011

Remember those demonstrations of how the payment-card numbers can be stolen from contactless cards by a thief carrying a card reader who bumps victims’ wallets and purses in a crowd? Yes, it’s been a staple of local TV news for years, and it’s a legitimate potential security risk—a risk that was going to be eliminated by NFC mobile payments. That, it turns out, didn’t quite work out the way the proponents of NFC phones were hoping it would.

The key to making phones more secure was supposed to be that a required PIN would prevent the NFC chip from being turned on most of the time, and the chip would be powered down quickly after a transaction when the screen went dark. That’s certainly the way Google Wallet was designed for Android phones. But according to most of the reviews of Google Wallet, all that PIN-punching is a pain, and the phone’s screen quickly going dark is annoying. Guess how secure that makes the NFC chip?

As usual, the weak point of this security plan comes with trying to keep users happy. It makes good security sense to require that the phone’s owner punch in the PIN for every purchase. But it also makes user-friendly sense to let someone who’s making a lot of quick purchases lengthen the time-out, so that PIN isn’t necessary each and every time.

Naturally, Google gives users choices—which turn out to be 1, 5, 15, or 30 minutes. Yes, 30 minutes—exactly the right amount of time to leave the NFC chip unlocked while a customer is strolling around a shopping mall, which is exactly where thieves would go looking to slurp up contactless payment-card numbers.

Of course, even if the NFC chip is unlocked, it’s powered down as soon as the screen goes dark. And of course, that’s adjustable, too, and the choices are 15 or 30 seconds or 1, 2 or 10 minutes—or “never turn off.” Any NFC-reading thief who’s loitering in the vicinity of a POS watching for likely victims might easily be able to bump into every customer who paid with a phone within two minutes after the transaction was done, though that might be a challenge. With a 10-minute time-out, it’s hardly even sporting.

Unfortunately, there’s not much technology retailers can deploy to stop NFC thieves. But considering how many pickpockets depend on a similar bump-the-victim technique, the solution may be simpler than it appears. If Loss Prevention associates are watching for anyone who seems to be loitering and casually bumping into people, maybe LP can save customers from themselves—even if IT can’t.


advertisement

One Comment | Read Count On Users To Foil NFC Payment Security

  1. Mark Says:

    What’s wrong with a simple acknowledgement?

    Imagine the phone displayed “Fred’s Newspapers asked for $1.23. Swipe upwards to approve”.

    That would give positive confirmation, is unlikely to be accidentally triggered in your pocket, and is easier than typing a PIN every time.

Leave a Reply

Readers, specifically those who want to comment on a story:
Our Comment SPAM system is getting very aggressive these days and has been blocking legitimate comments. If you post a comment and don't see it appear within 2 hours or so, can you please send a heads-up to customer-service@storefrontbacktalk.com? Ideally, please include the time you posted the comment. That will allow us to try and hunt for it. Thanks! P.S. We're working on fixing the system, but we don't want to lose any valuable comments in the meantime.

Newsletters

StorefrontBacktalk delivers the latest retail technology news & analysis. Join more than 17,000 retail IT leaders who subscribe to our free weekly email. Sign up today!
advertisement

Most Recent Comments

Why Did Gonzales Hackers Like European Cards So Much Better?

I am still unclear about the core point here-- why higher value of European cards. Supply and demand, yes, makes sense. But the fact that the cards were chip and pin (EMV) should make them less valuable because that demonstrably reduces the ability to use them fraudulently. Did the author mean that the chip and pin cards could be used in a country where EMV is not implemented--the US--and this mis-match make it easier to us them since the issuing banks may not have as robust anti-fraud controls as non-EMV banks because they assumed EMV would do the fraud prevention for them Read more...
Two possible reasons that I can think of and have seen in the past - 1) Cards issued by European banks when used online cross border don't usually support AVS checks. So, when a European card is used with a billing address that's in the US, an ecom merchant wouldn't necessarily know that the shipping zip code doesn't match the billing code. 2) Also, in offline chip countries the card determines whether or not a transaction is approved, not the issuer. In my experience, European issuers haven't developed the same checks on authorization requests as US issuers. So, these cards might be more valuable because they are more likely to get approved. Read more...
A smart card slot in terminals doesn't mean there is a reader or that the reader is activated. Then, activated reader or not, the U.S. processors don't have apps certified or ready to load into those terminals to accept and process smart card transactions just yet. Don't get your card(t) before the terminal (horse). Read more...
The marketplace does speak. More fraud capacity translates to higher value for the stolen data. Because nearly 100% of all US transactions are authorized online in real time, we have less fraud regardless of whether the card is Magstripe only or chip and PIn. Hence, $10 prices for US cards vs $25 for the European counterparts. Read more...
@David True. The European cards have both an EMV chip AND a mag stripe. Europeans may generally use the chip for their transactions, but the insecure stripe remains vulnerable to skimming, whether it be from a false front on an ATM or a dishonest waiter with a handheld skimmer. If their stripe is skimmed, the track data can still be cloned and used fraudulently in the United States. If European banks only detect fraud from 9-5 GMT, that might explain why American criminals prefer them over American bank issued cards, who have fraud detection in place 24x7. Read more...

StorefrontBacktalk
Our apologies. Due to legal and security copyright issues, we can't facilitate the printing of Premium Content. If you absolutely need a hard copy, please contact customer service.