Science

Thumbs up, Mastercard! Fingerprint sensor-enabled payment cards unveiled

21 Apr 2017 | By Ramya Patelkhana

Mastercard unveiled the gen-next biometric payment card featuring a built-in fingerprint sensor after successful-trials in South Africa.

Combining chip technology with fingerprints, it safely and conveniently verifies the cardholder's identity; users need to only place their fingers over the sensor for in-store purchases.

The global payments industry leader tested it with Pick n Pay (South African grocery retailer) and Absa Bank (Barclays Africa's subsidiary).

In context: Mastercard payment cards with built-in fingerprint scanner

21 Apr 2017Thumbs up, Mastercard! Fingerprint sensor-enabled payment cards unveiled

How?How does the PIN-less payment card work?

Cardholders need to enroll their cards by registering with their respective financial institutions.

Post-registration, the cardholder's fingerprint gets converted into "an encrypted digital template that is stored on the card," which can be used at EMV (Europay, MasterCard, and Visa) card terminals.

Cardholders need to place their fingers on the card and insert it into the terminal; if biometrics match, the transaction is approved.

BenefitsThe card never leaves the consumer's hand

The card authenticates the payment transaction biometrically (fingerprint); it is a unique method to confirm if the person using the card is the genuine cardholder.

Merchants can also maximize consumers' shopping experience as the card works with existing card terminals and doesn't require any software and hardware upgrades.

Financial institutions can easily detect/prevent fraud, reduce operational costs, increase approval rates, and foster customer loyalty.

In-store PurchasesNo separate fingerprint scanners needed

The payment cards are considered the first to include both the user's fingerprint digital template and the sensor needed to read the fingerprints at the point-of-sale.

With both data and scanner on the same card, they can be accepted everywhere a regular chip-and-PIN payment card is used.

However, the biometric verification can only be used for in-store purchases and not online or card-not-present transactions.

Mastercard extending trials and plans

Earlier versions of biometric payment cards worked only when used in conjunction with a separate fingerprint scanner, which limited their usefulness as only those stores with correct equipment could accept them. Mastercard plans to bring the fingerprint sensor cards to Europe and Asia soon.

ConcernsFingerprint sensors can be compromised: Security experts

According to security experts, using fingerprints isn't a foolproof but "sensible" use of biometric technology.

Fingerprint recognition is seen as a safer and easier method, but there have been warnings it isn't entirely flawless.

Recently, some New York researchers said they created a set of "master fingerprints" that can break into many scanners.

High-definition photographs of fingers could also lead to fingerprints being copied.

Berlin Security Research Labs' Chief Scientist Karsten Nohl

Karsten Nohl said, "All I need is a glass or something you have touched in the past," to steal fingerprint information. However, he added, "(Fingerprint technology is) better than what we have at the moment," as it eliminates the PIN, which is the weaker element.