Visa Tests New Anti-Fraud Card Device, But What About The Data Leaks?

from the finger-in-the-dike dept

Visa is testing a new type of credit card that's got additional security measures built in as a means of cutting down on "card not present" (CNP) fraud -- the fraudulent sales rung up using stolen credit-card numbers and the security codes that are normally printed on the cards. Visa's new cards have a small screen on the back that displays a six-digit code when the cardholder enters a PIN on the card's keypad, making it sound like Visa has basically built in a tiny version of something akin to the SecurID, a popular two-factor authentication device for corporate computer networks. The devices generate an additional one-time password using an algorithm synced with the system on the other end; the user enters this password when they attempt to log on, or in Visa's case, make a CNP transaction. If the passwords match, the transaction goes ahead. It sounds like a good way to cut down on CNP fraud, but is it just a way to try and gloss over the massive data leaks that see millions of credit-card numbers lost out into the world? It almost seems that if these new anti-fraud cards make it to market, the party line will be "the data leaks don't matter anymore" -- but criminals will still be able to obtain credit-card numbers and make fake cards with the stolen info (for card-present fraud). It might make criminals' lives a little more difficult, but it won't make credit-card fraud impossible. Raising the level of security on credit cards is, without question, a good thing. But unless it involves doing more to stop massive data leaks, it's not enough.
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Filed Under: anti-fraud, credit cards, fraud
Companies: visa

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  1. identicon
    Jerry Leichter, 15 May 2009 @ 4:48pm

    Data leaks are a different issue

    The problem right now is that credit card numbers are supposed to be magical: On the one hand, their security depends entirely on their security. On the other, to *use* a credit card, you have to reveal the number. So you have this number you must keep secret, that is only useful if you reveal it to large numbers of people and institutions, whether you can realistically trust them or not.

    Sure enough, if you have to share "secret" information with large numbers of parties, there will be many copies - and some will inevitably leak.

    The only way to *really* fix the problem is to get rid of the whole nonsense of a secret-but-public number. That's what this kind of approach does: There's nothing to steal, because there's no value in the number given to any particular third party beyond a single transaction.

    It's not so much that crime gets harder, as that its nature changes. There are still plenty of attacks - they are just different, and require an attacker to be present in different places and have different skills and tools. (In fact, the attacks now are *so* trivial that any change is for the better!)

    A couple of things are worth understanding, however:

    - Credit cards are not the only "secret but public" pieces of information. All sorts of banking information is like that. There's enough information on any check you write to enable an attacker to empty your account! There haven't been as many attacks against this infrastructure because it's a bit harder to get away with crimes - you have to move money to an account at another bank, which is usually easy to trace unless you have more sophisticated connections - and it's been so much easier to attack credit cards. Make credit cards more secure, and attacks on banking information may rise rapidly.

    - There's plenty of other data that really *is* private (medical records, financial records, etc.) that can still leak, so we need general solutions here.

    - This fix is not without its convenience costs. Ever order something on-line in your pajamas? You'll have to go find your credit card now - you won't be able to type in your credit card number from memory. It remains to be seen whether people will accept these costs.

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