During the solitary moments of social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, I pondered over a topic of utmost importance. Many of us use Credit/Debit cards with a seemingly convenient feature: contactless payment. This feature operates using near-field communication (NFC) technology, enabling users to tap their cards close to the point of sale (POS) machines for payments. Alarmingly, with this convenience comes a vulnerability. Malicious actors can exploit this feature to pilfer crucial card details within seconds using just an NFC-equipped Android phone. Check this article to learn how to save yourself.
Understanding the Risk
NFC technology has made contactless transactions swift and convenient. However, it also has introduced new vulnerabilities that criminals can exploit to hack contactless cards. Here’s how:
1. Stealing Credit Card Info by Walking By
The Process: NFC operates through short-distance communication. Typically, a card should be within a few inches of a reader for it to be detected. However, this isn’t a hard and fast limitation. With powerful RFID readers, criminals can amplify the range up to 10 or 15 feet, allowing them to access card information without needing to be extremely close to the target.
The Risk: An individual with a concealed RFID reader in a bag or briefcase could walk through a crowd or stand near queues, silently skimming credit card details from the cards in people’s wallets or pockets. Once the data is captured, it’s displayed on a device like a laptop, and can then be used maliciously.
2. Use Apps That Steal Credit Card Info
The Process: With the advent of smartphone apps like NFC Proxy, the process of skimming has become even more straightforward. Such apps utilize the phone’s built-in NFC capabilities to read RFID chips in contactless cards. Once installed and activated, the phone can be used to skim information just like an RFID reader.
The Risk: The ubiquity of smartphones means that anyone could potentially be a skimmer without drawing attention. Furthermore, with the app, it’s not just about stealing; criminals can also use the same phone to make purchases using the stolen card details. This approach is alarming since the skimming app can pick up cardholder’s names, credit card numbers, and expiry dates. The only solace is that they can’t access the three-digit security code on the back, limiting the potential for large unauthorized purchases.
3. Other Ways to Steal
Counterfeiting: Once card details are skimmed, they can be embedded onto blank cards using mag stripe readers. These counterfeit cards are then ready for unsolicited purchases.
Identity Theft: While major purchases might be restricted due to the absence of the three-digit security code, the information stolen is still potent. It can be used for identity theft, where criminals can impersonate the victim, potentially changing address details or other personal information linked with the card.
Networking the Theft: Some sophisticated tools not only allow skimming but also the transmission of this stolen data across networks. This means the criminal act of skimming and the act of unauthorized spending can be performed at different geographical locations, making tracing the criminal even harder
|Security of RFID||RFID isn’t encrypted and is therefore more vulnerable to theft compared to the chip cards that plug into machines.|
|RFID Reading Distance||While designed for close proximity, increasing the power can extend the reading range significantly, making theft easier.|
|Identity Theft||Lacking the three-digit security code limits large purchases but facilitates identity theft, posing a significant risk.|
Protective Measures for Consumers
Although the risk currently predominates on the Android platform, consumers can adopt several measures:
- Identify if a card is RFID enabled using the pie-shaped symbol on it.
- Wrap the card in tin foil to block signals.
- Use metal or metallic lined wallets to prevent skimming.
While the debate on the security of NFC technology continues, it’s evident that with tools like NFCProxy, the vulnerabilities are becoming more apparent. Awareness and precaution are pivotal in safeguarding oneself against potential theft. Given the above revelations, it’s plausible that cybercriminals are well-versed in this methodology. The purpose of this article and demonstration is to heighten your awareness, urging caution each time you engage in a transaction. Remember, this isn’t a system vulnerability but rather an abuse of a feature.
1. How can I identify if my card has a contactless feature?
Wondering whether your card is contactless? There’s a couple of simple ways you can figure it out:
- The Sound Wave Sign: Think Wi-Fi symbol, but flipped on its side; that’s what the universal, contactless sign looks like. Your card might be sporting this nifty little emblem if it has the ability to ‘Tap to Pay.’ It follows a pattern of four curvy lines that decrease in size – pretty neat, huh?
- The Direct Approach: Bit like stating the obvious, really. Some firms jus
- RFID or NFC Markings: Not as common, but you may stumble across cards labeled with either “RFID” or “NFC”. The fancy terms are simply indicating the presence of contactless technology.
- Ask your Card Provider: If all else fails, why not get straight to the horse’s mouth and ring up your bank or card company? They’ll tell you without a shadow of a doubt whether you have a contactless card in your wallet.
2. Are there any protections in place against NFC fraud?
Yes, many POS systems have transaction limits for contactless payments. Additionally, technologies like Dynamic CVV are emerging to further bolster security.
3. Is it challenging to create an app that exploits NFC?
Surprisingly, no. With the right technical know-how, it’s relatively straightforward.
4. How can I ensure the safety of my card during transactions?
Always be cautious and aware during transactions, especially if handing your card to another individual. Embrace additional security features like OTPs for online transactions where available.