Credit card technology is in a never-ending race to stay ahead of criminals intent on racking up fraudulent charges on your account. The simple magnetic swipe that worked for many years is rapidly giving way to chip-and-PIN technology – but even that technology has weak points. Point-of-sale transactions are beginning to accept alternate technologies to traditional credit cards, such as contactless payments using near-field communication (Apple Pay, for example). Will the chip card become obsolete before it becomes dominant?
Don’t count out card insertion technology just yet. MasterCard plans to introduce a variation of the chip-carrying credit card that uses fingerprint identification to produce secure point-of-sale transactions. The card is currently in a trial phase in South Africa, but MasterCard intends to expand testing to Asian and European markets within a few months, targeting a worldwide rollout by the end of 2017.
Here’s how it works: Your fingerprint pattern is encrypted and stored on the card’s EMV chip using a fingerprint reader embedded in the opposite end of the card. When you insert your card into a chip reader to initiate a transaction, you place your finger over the fingerprint reader portion of the card (which stays outside the merchant’s chip reader). The chip validates your identity by matching your fingerprint to the stored pattern, allowing the transaction to proceed. The change is simple for merchants, since those that already have a chip reader do not have to invest in a separate fingerprint reader.
Theoretically, this biometric card improves security over chip-and-PIN because a thief may have managed to get your PIN as well as your card – and a fingerprint card is certainly more secure than a chip card that requires only a signature.
Fingerprint reading devices are not infallible, as they have been breached in several inventive ways on phones – but thieves are not likely to take the effort to fool point-of-sale…