MasterCard trials biometric bankcard with embedded fingerprint reader

MasterCard is trialling a Chip and PIN bankcard that includesan embedded fingerprint reader, introducingabiometric authentication layerfor card payments and taking a leaf out of the book ofApple Payet al in the process. The thinking here being: why pay by enteringa four-digit PIN when you can stick your thumb on it?

So far the biometric card has been trialled at two locations in South Africa, with additional trials planned over the next few months in Europe and Asia Pacific, according to a spokeswoman, and a full rollout expected later this year.

We are targeting consumer rollout by end of 2017 through issuers that choose to offer biometric cards,she toldus.

MasterCard is touting convenience and security as the drivers for embedding a fingerprint sensor in plastic bankcards after all, you cant shoulder-surf a fingerprint as you can a PIN number. Although the use of contactless payment technology in bankcards (a tech thats widespread in Europe) already offers a faster (and usually PIN-less) way to make card payments.

That said,there are some security risks with contactless payments, given theres usually no authentication performed so therecould be an advantage to combining a contactless bankcardwith a biometric one that also contains a fingerprint sensor in order to get speedy payments with at least a layer of security. (Although mobile fingerprint sensorshave been shown to be spoofable. So the size of the sensor and the process for capturing ausers print during enrollment are key considerations here.)

In this instance the MasterCard trial bankcard does not include contactless payment technology butthe spokeswoman toldus that a future version will include contactless adding to the simplicity, and convenience at checkout.

For now, testersare required to insert the card into the POS terminal and then place their finger/thumb on the reader to authenticate the payment, as pictured above (vs entering a PIN into the keypad in the usualway).

The spokeswoman saidthe card is configured to expect the fingerprint for authenticating a purchase but does still have a PIN as a fall-back. If the finger is too greasy or sweaty and the biometric doesnt go through, the cardholder would experience a small delay and then asked to put in their PIN to complete the transaction, she added. The PIN also allows cardholders to use the card at ATMsglobally.

One relatively large drawback for the convenience of the biometric card is that the spokeswoman confirmed users are currently required to go to a bank branch in order to register and enroll their fingerprint. (Which is then converted into an encrypted digital template that is stored on the card.) Whereas bankcard users are normally mailed both their card and its PIN through the post so theres no need to go to a branch to register before being able to use the card.

When asked about this the spokeswoman said MasterCard is exploring ways to make remote registration possible. Although again, while remote registration would be more convenient it could also open up the possibility for vulnerabilities with the implementation of the biometric technology depending on how the fingerprint enrollment is performed.

One thing is clear, global payments giantsaretaking plenty of inspiration from mobile tech.

Consumers are increasingly experiencing the convenience and security of biometrics, said Ajay Bhalla, president, enterprise risk and security, MasterCard, in a supporting statement. Whether unlocking a smartphone or shopping online, the fingerprint is helping to deliver additional convenience and security. Its not something that can be taken or replicated and will help our cardholders get on with their lives knowing their payments are protected.

MasterCard has also previously trialled facial biometrics for payments launching a so-called selfie pay app last October which lets people authenticate an online payment by showingtheir face to their phones camera.

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