Mastercard next gen biometric card combines chip with fingerprints

South African trials demonstrate convenience and security

Mastercard has unveiled the next generation biometric card, combining chip technology with fingerprints to conveniently and safely verify the cardholder’s identity for in-store purchases.

South Africa is the first market to test the evolved technology, with two separate trials recently concluded with Pick n Pay , a leading supermarket retailer, and Absa Bank, a subsidiary of Barclays Africa.

The new card builds on fingerprint scanning technology used for mobile payments today and can be used at EMV terminals worldwide.

“Consumers are increasingly experiencing the convenience and security of biometrics,” said Ajay Bhalla, president, enterprise risk and security, Mastercard. 

“Whether unlocking a smartphone or shopping online, the fingerprint is helping to deliver additional convenience and security. 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.”

How it works
A cardholder enrolls their card by simply registering with their financial institution. Upon registration, their fingerprint is converted into an encrypted digital template that is stored on the card. The card is now ready to be used at any EMV  card terminal globally.

When shopping and paying in-store, the biometric card works like any other chip card. The cardholder simply dips the card into a retailer’s terminal while placing their finger on the embedded sensor.

The fingerprint is verified against the template and – if the biometrics match – the cardholder is successfully authenticated and the transaction can then be approved with the card never leaving the consumer’s hand.

Authenticating a payment transaction biometrically – in this instance via a fingerprint – confirms in a very unique way that the person using the card is the genuine cardholder.

Merchants can easily maximize the shopping experience delivered to their customers, as the card works with existing EMV card terminal infrastructure and does not require any new hardware or software upgrades.

For issuers, the technology helps detect and prevent fraud, increase approval rates, reduce operational costs and foster customer loyalty. Additionally, a future version of the card will feature contactless technology, adding to the simplicity and convenience at checkout.

Trials underway
The recent South African trials mobilized employees from Pick n Pay and Absa Bank to test the potential ways convenience and security could contribute to the checkout process. Over the next few months, additional trials will be conducted with the biometric card. A full roll out is expected later this year.

Richard van Rensburg, deputy CEO of Pick n Pay, said: “We are delighted that this innovation has been trialed for the first time at Pick n Pay stores in South Africa.  Biometric capability will mean added convenience and enhanced security for our customers. 

"The technology creates a platform on which we can further our strategy of personalizing the shopping experience in a meaningful way.  We have been extremely impressed with the robust and secure nature of the technology.”

For Absa, the biometric card forms part of the bank’s strategy to test and develop sophisticated technology capabilities designed to improve its payment operations and client service, reduce risk, and make banking easier and even more secure for its customers.

“We are very proud to be the first bank in Africa to test – in a real payment environment – the single-touch authentication technology that will unlock the benefits of biometrics,” said Geoff Lee, head of card and payments at Absa Retail and Business Banking. 

“The technology will effectively enable our customers to rely on their unique fingerprints to make payments in a face-to-face environment. Following the test period, we will make it available to our customers in a way that is affordable, reliable, and convenient and, most importantly, extremely secure.”

Industry comments
Tim Erlin, VP at Tripwire, said: “The payment card industry is always looking for technology that removes friction from the buying process. Security, while absolutely necessary, is a major source of friction.

"The use of fingerprints for authentication isn’t new, and there are known flaws. Using fingerprints at the point of sale is an improvement over the use of PINs or signatures, both in security and convenience.

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

Mark James, IT Security Specialist at ESET, commented: “We have long been plagued by the 
simple forms of protecting our data and or identity using four digit codes or usernames and passwords. Whenever a new process is available we typically look at the security implications and possible vectors of attack, and rightly so, security should be a big concern, reviewed and improved where possible.

"However, we should also embrace the fact that it’s a lot safer than a four digit code. Biometrics are a good way to secure our everyday items that need that extra layer to keep our data safe. 

"There are measures that can be used to protect the storage of the biometric data and of course proof of concept will dictate that someone somewhere has the means to copy your fingerprint, through “finding” a mug that you have used and duplicating your fingerprint and use it with your card. I for one welcome the extra security and would embrace any method of moving away from an antiquated four digit code.”

Dr Anton Grashion, MD, Security practice, at Cylance, added: “Anything that makes credit card transactions more secure without adding a burden on the user is to be welcomed. 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.”

Additional trials are being planned in Europe and Asia Pacific in the coming months.

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