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Are wireless payments safe?

Whether you’re in a big supermarket in the city or at a remote farmer’s market out in the countryside – nowadays you will be able to pay wirelessly almost anywhere . From paying by card to using smartphone services such as Google Wallet and Apple Pay – when it comes to making a payment we’re as flexible as never before. But as convenient as this technology might be, is it really safe to use?

NFC – what it is and how it works

NFC stands for “near field communication” and it is the technology behind wireless and mobile payments. It enables two electronic devices with an NFC chip to transfer data when being held approximately 4 cm from each other.

We differentiate between passive and active NFC devices. Passive devices such as NFC tags can send data without needing their own power sources. Active devices such as smartphones can receive and send data. The data is transferred via radio waves and it is sent at either 106, 212 or 424 kilobits per second.   

What are the risks?

It is possible that a malicious person might try to tamper with the transferred data. This might happen if somebody floods the communication channel between two devices with abnormal data, essentially blocking the signal.

Another, potentially more dangerous problem, is the interception of data. It means that somebody might be able to steal sensitive information. However, it’s not very easy for criminals to do so, because they’d have to be very close due to NFC’s very short-distance range.  

Malware poses another risk. If one NFC device is close enough to another to establish a connection, it’s possible that malware could be downloaded. This could happen by simply bumping into a stranger in the streets. The malware might steal bank details, passwords, etc. and send them to a malicious third party.

How to protect yourself

One way to protect yourself from data tampering is by using a VPN (Virtual Private Network). Ben Taylor from BestVPN.com comments: “Using a VPN service means your traffic is encrypted, so even if someone manages to intercept your connection all they will see is garbage. The truly paranoid may prefer to avoid public Wi-Fi altogether and instead use a portable cellular hotspot, or ‘tether’ to the data connection on a smartphone.”

You should also always lock your phone with a safe password or a fingerprint confirmation system. While modern phones do require strict security checks, such as a fingerprint, or biometric checks before confirming payments, there is still the concern of theft.

Make sure all your devices have adequate anti-virus software installed. This is particularly important for Android users, because Android’s open-source policy makes their phones a little more vulnerable.

Wireless payment is very convenient in today’s day and age where every second counts. It’s fast and efficient and you don’t even have to remember a pin code anymore, with advancements in biometric security . It’s important that you protect your device properly though to avoid tampering attempts from malicious people.

Cover Image via Wikipedia


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