South Africa Hosts Trials For Mastercard’s First Fingerprint Credit Card

By Dana Sanchez Published: April 20, 2017, 9:40 pm
Mastercard's first fingerprint credit cardBiometric payment card. Photo: Mastercard

Credit cards with built-in fingerprint readers are being tested in South Africa, eliminating the need for pin numbers or passwords, and MasterCard hopes to roll them out to the rest of the world by the end of 2017, Engadget reported.

The fingerprint sensor-enabled credit cards use technology that includes chips instead of pin numbers. It’s a convenient way to authorize in-person transactions.

South Africans’ willingness to try new technologies and their familiarity with using biometrics for identification made the country an ideal market to test the payment cards, said Mark Elliott, Mastercard’s Southern Africa president, according to Forbes.

“South Africa has embraced biometrics for the last five to six years,” Elliott said. “When I heard there was a product that would be rolled out globally, we saw an opportunity to bring it to South Africa because of that early adoption in cutting-edge technologies and an understanding of biometrics.”

The card itself is about as thick as a regular credit card. The fingerprint sensor is a small, thumbnail-sized rectangle in the top right corner, and is easily accessible when you stick the card into a payment terminal, according to Engadget.

You hold your finger over the built-in sensor when making a transaction at a point-of-sale terminal instead of typing in a pin code. It will work with any card terminal around the world, Forbes reported.

Here’s how it will work once the technology is ready for the public. You’ll have to go to your bank and get your fingerprints scanned. An encrypted digital template of your fingerprint is stored on the card’s EMV chip — it stands for stands for Europay, MasterCard and Visa, and it’s a global standard for credit cards that use computer chips to authenticate (and secure) chip-card transactions. No one else can use your card with their fingers. After your templates are saved, your card is ready to be used at compatible terminals worldwide.

The biometric method is only compatible with chip-and-pin cards, so it won’t work with stores that only accept the older magnetic stripe models, Engadget reported. In the U.S., embedded chip technology is increasingly popular due to regulations making merchants and financial institutions liable for breaches resulting from a lack of support for chip-and-pin cards. Merchants won’t have to get new equipment to accept your fingerprint-enabled cards.

Using fingerprints is not foolproof, but it’s a sensible use of biometric technology, security experts told BBC.

The fingerprint technology will help “to deliver additional convenience and security. It is not something that can be taken or replicated,” said Ajay Bhalla, Mastercard’s chief of safety and security.

However, fingerprint sensors can be manipulated. “All I need is a glass or something you have touched in the past,” said Karsten Nohl, chief scientist at Berlin’s Security Research Labs.

But the technology is “better than what we have at the moment,” Nohl told BBC.
“With the combination of chip and pin, the pin is the weaker element. Using a fingerprint gets rid of that.”

Mastercard tested the biometric card with Barclays Africa-owned Absa Bank and supermarket chain Pick ‘n Pay, Forbes reported.

This technology might eliminate having to use pin codes for credit cards, said Mark Elliott, Mastercard’s Southern Africa president.

“The reality is customers have too many pins in their lives to remember today,” he said. “Increasingly what we’re doing is introducing new technologies – such as selfie pay to authenticate the customer – so it’s more in tune with who you are rather than what you can remember. I think that’s where we’re going.”

In South Africa, people increasingly open their phones with a fingerprint. They enter hotel rooms with a fingerprint. “So it just makes sense that we start to use credit and debit cards with a fingerprint.”

South Africans willingness to try new technologies and their familiarity with using biometrics for identification made it an ideal market to test this, he said.

“South Africa has embraced biometrics for the last five to six years. When I heard there was a product that would be rolled out globally, we saw an opportunity to bring it to South Africa because of that early adoption in cutting-edge technologies and an understanding of biometrics.”

The cards are the first to include both the digital template of the user’s fingerprint and the sensor required to read their fingerprints at the point of sale, BBC reported.

Previous biometric payment cards only worked when they were used together with a separate fingerprint scanner. Only stores with the right equipment could accept them, which limited their usefulness.

Having the data and the scanner on the same card means that they should be accepted everywhere a normal chip and pin payment card can be used.

But the biometric verification will only be available for in-store purchases. Online and other card-not-present transactions will still require added security measures.

 

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