Contactless Payments & Security

by Erin McCune on April 10, 2006

in Payments News

Today's WSJ has a front page article on an emerging industry devoted to protecting consumers from abuses of RFID technology. The article describes hammering a credit card with an embedded chip to destroy its RFID capability, a $7 hole punch like device, and simply microwaving the card.

An excerpt from the article:

Radio chips have been around for decades performing other tasks, mostly related to security access. They are the invisible passports that allow motorists to breeze through highway tollbooths and let employees open their office doors.

Pets and people are getting chip implants under their skin that carry identification or medical information. Governments are beginning to use radio chips in driver's licenses and passports. Retailers use them to track inventory. The banks that are now using chips in their credit and cash cards say they make transactions more efficient — and more convenient for customers.

Critics such as Mr. Walker worry that sensitive information will be intercepted. Some privacy advocates envision businesses and government furtively gathering personal data on unsuspecting consumers, and criminals taking identify theft to a whole new level.

Yet, is there a legitimate privacy concern? I think not. Banks, card issuers, and merchants have a host of security features available to protect consumers. Data is encrypted and most RFID payment systems are configured for short-range so that consumers must pass their card close to a receptor. The usual fraud detection algorithms would identify suspicious usage patterns and transactions outside expected dollar amounts.

For more on this topic, check out this MIT site dedicated to RFID and privacy.

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