Feeds

Pay-by-wave: At least it's better than being mugged

Takes 400ms to nick £15, but you'll get it back quick

The essential guide to IT transformation

Analysis The public thinks that paying with a tap of the phone is risky, with criminals able to intercept and steal credentials, so it seems a good time to take a closer look at proximity payments.

Orange Quick Tap is already deployed in the UK; we used one to buy cookies in Inverness and they were delicious. In the US Google Wallet is already on the streets and can host a pair of payment schemes within its secure element.

But in order to understand how secure proximity payments really are, we chatted to Orange, Barclaycard and security biz Gemalto to gauge how confident they are that no one is going to pick pockets by radio.

Millions of UK credit cards already have pay-by-wave payment technology built in, and hundreds of thousands of retailers accept these proximity payments, but Gemalto (which makes the secure elements in SIM chips) found that only a third of the population knows what near-field communication (NFC) is. More than a third reckon they'd never pay by tap because they believe it will never be secure. Which is a shame, because it's at least as secure as the alternatives, and it will come whether the public wants it or not.

How does it work?

Today's proximity payment systems are based on the NFC standard, which uses a radio connection at 13.56MHz for short-range peer-to-peer communications. The same frequency is used by RFID tags, in a simplistic way, but NFC is a good deal more complicated, and expensive.

RFID tags are powered by the received radio signal, so various groups have demonstrated that by upping the radio signal strength they can read the tags at a considerable distance - 80 miles if some are to be believed. But NFC devices are a lot more complicated, and (critically) draw power from a wireless induction loop in the reader, not from the radio signal.

That's important, because a radio signal can easily be amplified to increase the range, but running induction power over a distance of more than a few inches requires huge amounts of energy and an enormous loop. So anyone planning to interact with your NFC card, or phone, from more than a meter will probably have your hair standing on end and coins heating in your pocket.

Not that most would bother: snuggling up close is easy enough on public transport so getting within 10cm of your phone, or credit card, should't be a problem.

But it's not just a matter of getting close. The NFC component won't communicate with just anyone, our miscreant needs to get hold of a legitimate reader - perhaps by registering as a merchant under a suitably false identity. That registration will provide a bank account for our thief to stash his ill-gotten gains, temporarily, though it also exposes our crook to considerable attention which will make it easier to track him down later.

Soft readers, which are smartphone apps that can operate as an electronic till, will come along soon enough, making it easier for our thief to nick cash. But even then the bank will only transfer money into a named account, so our swindler will have to have that set up and register it with the payment scheme.

But assuming creative use of a false moustaches and forged identity documents our man now has his fake merchant account and is right next to you, with a reader communicating direct to your pocket. Transactions are supposed to complete within 400ms so he won't have to stand close for long. But far from just reading the NFC tag the process is comprised of a number of cryptographic steps which further complicate things for our chap.

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Ice cream headache as black hat hacks sack Dairy Queen
I scream, you scream, we all scream 'DATA BREACH'!
Goog says patch⁵⁰ your Chrome
64-bit browser loads cat vids FIFTEEN PERCENT faster!
NIST to sysadmins: clean up your SSH mess
Too many keys, too badly managed
Scratched PC-dispatch patch patched, hatched in batch rematch
Windows security update fixed after triggering blue screens (and screams) of death
Researchers camouflage haxxor traps with fake application traffic
Honeypots sweetened to resemble actual workloads, complete with 'secure' logins
Attack flogged through shiny-clicky social media buttons
66,000 users popped by malicious Flash fudging add-on
New Snowden leak: How NSA shared 850-billion-plus metadata records
'Federated search' spaffed info all over Five Eyes chums
Three quarters of South Korea popped in online gaming raids
Records used to plunder game items, sold off to low lifes
Oz fed police in PDF redaction SNAFU
Give us your metadata, we'll publish your data
prev story

Whitepapers

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup
IT departments are embracing cloud backup, but there’s a lot you need to know before choosing a service provider. Learn all the critical things you need to know.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Backing up Big Data
Solving backup challenges and “protect everything from everywhere,” as we move into the era of big data management and the adoption of BYOD.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?