Your security is just dandy, Apple Pay, but here comes Android

Sometimes a token gesture is a good thing


Analysis Most security experts estimate that the security offered within (and by) Apple Pay is superior to that seen in existing contactless credit or debit card systems.

However, the success of the technology in the UK may well depend more on commercial factors than anything else, with one payments expert warning that merchants fees in the UK are likely to be higher than those in the US.

Apple Pay landed in the UK last Tuesday, allowing iPhone and Apple Watch users to "tap-and-pay" with their device for the first time.

The service is available to anyone with an iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPad Air 2, iPad mini 3 and the Apple Watch (those Apple devices with NFC, or Near Field Communication, chips). Visa Europe, among other banking and payments organisations, is backing the launch.

Users would enter their credit or debit card details onto the device before gaining a convenient way to make payments of up to £20 without the need to fork out their debit or credit cards.

The iPhone requires users to touch their fingerprint reader, checking to make sure it's the registered user making a request, before payment is authorised.

Secure element

Consumers’ credit card numbers are not stored on devices. Details are instead tagged to a unique device account number that is stored in the “secure element”, a specially designed chip on an iPhone, iPad or iWatch. Security experts see this architecture as offering additional security protection.

"It's good that the card details aren’t stored on the device, just a device-specific token (the Device Account Number) and a cryptogram generated per transaction," said David Emm, principal security researcher at Kaspersky Lab.

"This reduces the opportunities for card data to be stolen, and even if token and cryptogram were intercepted, it would not be possible to re-use them. And since the retailer doesn’t hold the card data, a breach of their systems wouldn’t result in compromised card details," he added.

Emm advised users not to jailbreak their iThings before using the payment facility.

"It [Apple Pay] makes it more important than ever that people don’t ‘jailbreak’ their device, thereby stripping away the built-in security. It’s also important that people don’t let anyone else store their fingerprints on the device, to ensure that transactions can only be authorised by the owner of the device," he added.

Dabs

Unlike contactless payments not just anyone holding the card can use Apply Pay – a security win, even if biometrics are far from bullet-proof. More particularly, the iPhone's iTouch fingerprint scanner has repeatedly been hacked by security researchers.

“The use of the iPhone’s fingerprint scanner may add another level of security compared with contactless cards, but biometric security still has some issues," said George Anderson, director at security software firm Webroot.

The sheer amount of fingerprints the average individual leaves behind day-to-day means that this data can be compromised relatively easily.

"Add the fact that fingerprints stay with you for life and cannot be changed like a traditional password, and biometrics carry a big risk. This problem was highlighted when the iPhone 5s fingerprint scanner was hacked less than two days after its release," he added.

Anderson concluded: "Apple Pay essentially makes our phone a wallet, so protection needs to be in place – both in terms of authentication and software to ensure the impact is limited should the device be stolen."

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