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article imageAddressing security fears when making contactless payments

By Tim Sandle     May 17, 2017 in Technology
Oxford - University of Oxford technologists have designed a prototype device designed to make contactless payments more secure. The device sends secret keys to encrypt information passed from a mobile device to a payment terminal.
Contactless payments are becoming increasingly popular with consumers and the process allows for purchases to be made in a rapid way. Paying in this way avoids the need to remember a personal identification number (PIN) or, in the case of some old-fashioned systems, signing for a payment. Contactless payment systems cover a wide spectrum, from credit cards and debit cards, to key fobs, smart cards or other devices. Alternative devices include smartphones and other mobile devices. There are different technologies that enable the payment process to work, including radio-frequency identification (RFID), near field communication (NFC), or Samsung Pay (MST).
Each of these technologies allows for, the most part, secure payments to be made. The most secure contactless cards are designed so that they can only be used a certain number of times before customers are asked for their PIN. However, as with any electronic system there are security risks from hackers.
The new technology aims to boost encryption using quantum technology. This process uses millions of single particles of light in order to send encryption keys. Here the prototype uses movable mirrors and ultrafast light emitting diodes (LEDs) to send a secure pin-code at a rate of more than 30 kilobytes per second. To protect the consumer, the protocol is able to detect unusual activities, such as electronic eavesdropping, and it can then shut down the communication to prevent further hacking.
With this measure, to prevent hackers from cracking the device code, by understanding which light sends which signal, the team created an innovative steering system. The quantum key is long enough to stop hackers from unraveling the key pattern at random.
As a final security measure, even if someone hacks the code and then attempts to pass it on, the very act of measuring the quantum signal, alters it. Explaining this, the lead researcher Dr Iris Choi, states in a research brief: "When a hacker attempts to tap into the channel it will change the content of the key. We're not saying this technology can prevent eavesdropping or hacking, but if people do, we know they are there."
The new system has been published in the journal Optics Express, with the research paper titled "Handheld free space quantum key distribution with dynamic motion compensation."
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