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Technical problems mar Barclays' PINSentry roll-out

The tricky business of thwarting online fraud

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Logistic and technical issues have hampered the rollout of a system designed to thwart phishing scams by UK bank Barclays.

The bank is issuing calculator-sized chip-and-PIN 'PINsentry' card readers to its online banking customers in a bid to combat online fraud.

Barclays' online customers (both consumers and small business) are required to use the handheld device to generate a one-time passcode that will have to be entered at login and to run some online banking functions, such as setting up payments to new third party accounts. The device will only generate a passcode once the user's bank card has been read, and the PIN code entered. The approach is a refinement of two-factor authentication approaches already in use by some UK banks, such at Lloyds TSB, and more widely by banks in Scandinavia and elsewhere in Europe for some time.

Safety first

PINsentry was launched in April and initially offered on request and from branches in October. Late last month the bank changed its policy so that customers who set up new third-party account payments were obliged to use the technology. After initially restricting the roll-out of the technology to 500,000 customers, Barclays now expects to supply 614,000 readers by the end of 2007. Two million regular online banking customers, who only use the service to check balances or pay trusted parties such as utilities, aren't obliged to use PINSentry.

Nonetheless, the accelerated roll-out has been accompanied by reports of delays at call centres and other problems. The Barclays device should be usable by any other UK bank because it conforms to APACS standard. However, a developer familiar with the project tells us that initial plans to use it with existing cards have proved problematic because banks found that it could interfere with the existing anti-fraud measures built into the cards and back-end processing systems.

As a result a decision was made to separate PINSentry (which is based on Mastercard's Chip Authentication Program [CAP]) into a new 'application' on the card.

"Barclays, and most of the other banks who decided to deploy this have therefore been quietly issuing these new cards for quite some time as part of their normal card issuance/replacement programmes," the developer explained. "This is one of the reasons why it's taken so long to get the technology deployed."

All change?

As well as problems getting readers into the hands of customers - that can take six days according to Barclays, and longer according to critics - there's also the potential problem of having to issue new cards. We say 'potential problem' because the system can be made to work with existing cards if customers kick up a fuss, according to anecdotal evidence from Reg readers. Some customers have succeeded in deferring the application of the technology after complaining.

This in turn has contributed to delays in reaching Barclays's call centre helplines. A Barclays spokesman admitted to possible delays in call centres, but maintained that the roll-out was proceeding smoothly.

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