07 February 2016

Smart Card Alliance slams end-to-end encryption

14 September 2009  |  11240 views  |  1 Security/Risk

The US payments industry should use contactless chip cards along with dynamic cryptograms - rather than end-to-end data encryption - in the fight against fraudsters, according to an industry association.

In a new paper, the Smart Card Alliance says the flurry of interest in end-to-end encryption systems that has emerged in the wake of high-profile breaches, such as the Heartland case, is misguided.

"Implementing end-to-end encryption is not a panacea; in fact, it may be more akin to putting a steel door on a grass hut," says Randy Vanderhoof, executive director, Smart Card Alliance.

The alliance says that many issuers are already providing contactless payment cards with dynamic cryptograms in order to provide consumers with a fast, convenient way to pay.

But contactless transactions can also improve security because dynamic cryptograms make each payment unique. The chip card must be present to generate a valid cryptogram, which is verified online when the transaction is authorised.

Therefore, expanding use of contactless cards throughout the US payment system would lower fraud because stolen payment information could not be used to make fraudulent cards, argues the group.

In contrast, end-to-end encryption is less secure because it does not end reliance on magnetic stripe cards. Since payment cards would still use static cardholder data for processing, they would remain vulnerable to the primary type of fraud that end-to-end encryption is trying to prevent, which is credit card cloning using stolen data.

Says Vanderhoof: "In our paper we discuss a different approach optimized for the U.S. payment market: using contactless chip cards, including a dynamic cryptogram with each transaction and authorizing transactions online. This stands in sharp contrast to previous considerations of implementing 'chip and PIN' based on the full EMV standard. Instead, this proposal builds on what is already happening in the US - the issuance and merchant acceptance of contactless cards-while keeping in step with globally interoperable EMV standards."

Comments: (1)

Mark Bower - Voltage Security - Cupertino | 14 September, 2009, 19:16

End to End Encryption is not in conflict with smartcard models - in fact, they are achieving the same end-game which is to protect data from attackers along the payments stream from the moment of capture.

However, whilst chip cards certainly have a role to play they bottom line is that many systems around the world have clear credit card data - from POS systems to in house merchant databases, loyalty schemes, e-commerce systems where its not easy to use a smartcard, recurring payments and so on - least of which the US payment systems have not yet upgraded to chip based systems. Chip and PIN has also focused on cardholder verification - whilst the threats today are acutely targeted at bulk card data repositories and processing environments.

The pure costs of migrating entire POS processing systems and the cardholder wallet of plastic mag stripe cards cannot be ignored in contrast to much easier to implement end to end encryption technology.

For example, upgrading an entire system to chip and PIN requires substantial hardware and software updates to multiple independent systems which can take many years. In contrast, we have successfully deployed End to End technology in less than 60 days with merchants and payment processors.

So, I see a future where both end to end encryption and chip and PIN can embrace and mitigate the risk of data threats - but end to end can solve major risk problems on an immediate basis as has been proven in production noted in the article.

Mark Bower
Vice President, Product Management
Voltage Security

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