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Will Google Wallet ID Give Thieves Access To More Cards?

August 9th, 2012

A bigger question is whether Google has misjudged its security. That Wallet ID is effectively the key that unlocks as many payment cards as a customer has registered with Google. Suppose a retailer or processor is breached, and a thief steals that Wallet ID along with a collection of other payment-card numbers. What then?

Google refused to talk about specific security details, but we can walk through the process. If card numbers are scooped up in a breach, the usual course of action for a thief is to put the numbers on magstripe cards or use them online. That shouldn’t work with the Wallet ID.

Google knows it doesn’t issue magstripe cards, so it should reject any transactions that don’t look like they came from contactless cards. And it’s not clear whether Google Wallet users will even know what their Wallet IDs are—there’s no reason it shouldn’t be completely internal to Google—so cases where the Wallet ID number is used online should be rejected, too.

And—presuming Google has its security act together—any such attempt should flag Google that the Wallet ID has been stolen, which should in turn both flag a breach for a retailer somewhere (although no one will know for sure where) and trigger a notification to the user that his phone’s Wallet ID has been breached and that his real cards might be at risk. (Yes, Google will have to explain to those users that Google doesn’t know what retailer or processor was breached, or when, or how, just that there must have been a breach and it wasn’t Google’s fault. Welcome to the world of breaches.)

Of course, these days professional card thieves increasingly sort card numbers, so they know which ones are PIN debit (prized because they can be converted to cash directly at ATMs) and what banks issued them. Google Wallet IDs will probably be discarded by the professionals as not worth the effort, because figuring out how to load the number on a contactless card, or else mimic an NFC-enabled phone running Google Wallet, would require a lot of work just to add a few more card numbers to the stash.

Then again, the challenge of out-thinking Google might actually attract some hackers with security obsessions and too much time on their hands. If that happens, we may get definitive answers to how secure the new architecture is—even if Google doesn’t like it.


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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...

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