Flaw in UK Visa cards could ring up a very large fraud

Visa's contactless payment cards in the UK allow large transactions in currencies other than the pound

Visa's contactless payment cards will approve very large transactions in currencies other than the British pound due to a flaw in a protocol, U.K. researchers contend.

They concluded it would be possible for criminals to turn a mobile phone into a point-of-sale terminal and pre-set a large amount of money to be transferred from a payment card even if it was in someone's pocket.

The type of card, known as EMV after its developers Europay, MasterCard and Visa, uses a microchip to facilitate transactions rather than a magnetic stripe. EMV will soon be used widely across the U.S.

Some types of EMV cards are configured for "contactless" payments, where a customer doesn't have to enter a PIN for smaller transactions that in the U.K. are limited to £20 (US$32).

Researchers with Newcastle University found that Visa's contactless card would authorize a transaction up to 999,999.99 without a PIN if it was in a currency other than the pound.

If an improvised point-of-sale device gets close enough to someone's card in a wallet, the contactless card would approve an offline transaction in less than a second.

The researchers cautioned, however, that they did not test the back-end system of banks, so it is unclear if the transaction cleared by the card would be be fully processed. It wasn't clear from the payment protocol's documentation how banks would deal with the inconsistencies the research uncovered.

Still, they wrote in a news release that "the fact that we can bypass the £20 makes this new hack potentially very scalable and lucrative. All a criminal would need to do is set up somewhere like an airport or the London underground where the use of different currencies would appear legitimate." It isn't clear whether the researchers tried to contact Visa or the banks about the flaw.

EMV cards have been used for many years in Europe and other parts of the world. The microchips that contain account information and authorize transactions are not easy to forge unlike the magnetic stripe data on cards today, which can be easily copied.

But the researchers predicted that as the magnetic stripe is phased out, contactless payments may become interesting to criminals.

Visa officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

Send news tips and comments to jeremy_kirk@idg.com. Follow me on Twitter: @jeremy_kirk

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags visasecurity

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jeremy Kirk

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Kurt Hegetschweiler

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

It’s perfect for mobile workers. Just take it out — it’s small enough to sit anywhere — turn it on, load a sheet of paper, and start printing.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?