Mastercard unveil biometric security in new trial

New biometric card boasts limitless spending, unlike NFC

Mastercard has deubted a new biometric credit card after conducting two successful trials in South Africa. These trials were conducted with Pick n Pay, one of South Africa’s biggest supermarket chains, and Absa Bank (a subsidiary of Barclays Africa).

“Whether unlocking a smartphone or shopping online, the fingerprint is helping to deliver additional convenience and security,” said Mastercard’s president of risk and security, Ajay Bhalla, “It’s not something that can be taken or replicated and will help our cardholders get on with their lives knowing their payments are protected.”

This new card does away with the need for consumers to enter a PIN to conduct a transaction. Instead, it relies on fingerprint scanning technology. Consumers will recognize this technology, as it has been used in mobile payments for some time now. However, where mobile payments utilizing fingerprint scanning technology or NFC have been capped after a certain price point (if only for the initial rollout of the technology), there are no payment limits associated with the new card.The news has been largely welcomed by the security community.

“Anything that makes credit card transactions more secure without adding a burden on the user is to be welcomed,” says Dr Anton Grashion, managing director at Cylance. “Security of the biometric data would obviously be very important as well as the infrastructure that supports the system. It’s not always the obvious point of use that becomes the weakest security spot but in general, where we add additional layers we sometimes add additional opportunities for exploitation.”

(Mastercard/Rebecca Kaufman)

Frictionless Payments

The new biometric card will be easy for both consumers and retailers to adapt to. Before attempting to use the card, the owner will have to register their fingerprint to it through their financial institution. After this is done, a digital template of their fingerprint will be stored on the card to be read by a small area with an embedded fingerprint scanner on the card. In order to authorize a transaction with the card, all the customer will have to do is place their finger on this scanner while swiping or inserting their card into the retailer’s existing card terminal. There will be no responsibility on retailers to purchase new point of sale technology or upgrade existing technology in order to accept payments from the new biometric Mastercard.

The benefits of this biometric card for security greatly improve upon PIN and EMV chip technology. PINs can be easily lost, stolen, or forgotten, and the EMV chip does not prevent against purchases made on a stolen card. However, not everyone is convinced this is a long term security solution.

“Criminals are adept at adapting, and there should be little doubt that any widespread payment technology will be challenged.” notes Tim Erlin from Tripwire. “Security is never completely foolproof, but the objective isn’t perfection; it’s profit.”

There are 10,000 possible four-digit PIN combinations, there is only a one in 50,000 chance of successful forgery with the embedded fingerprint scanner on Mastercard’s new cards. Additional trials are being planned for Europe and Asia before a full rollout, and contactless technology is in development for future versions of the card.