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Credit Cards and Security

July 07, 2011

I recently returned from a wonderful trip to Norway.  One tech thing that stood out was that everywhere you go there they have portable card readers that read cards with a chip or magnetic stripe.  Looking into it, the "chip" is EMV technology adopted in Europe in 2005 due to security concerns.  Every single place I tried to use my non-chip credit or debit card came with a puzzled look and the statement, "no chip?!" Being a tech geek I definitely felt out of date.  You could tell by the way they acted that they didn't swipe cards very often, as everyone only uses the chip there.

I remember when I applied for my first credit card, the American Express Blue card, which I still have.  It came with a USB card reader and a chip in the card to help secure online transactions.  I never used the card reader, but it was the main reason I got the card, and that was back in 1999.  Unfortunately that is not an EMV chip, so it doesn't work in Europe.

Swipe cards, just like plain text account numbers lack any sort of security. This is widely known, however we currently have a chicken/egg problem of not many cards with chips and not many readers for these chips in the US. Square and other companies are making card readers more accessible, however is still based upon fundamentally insecure swipe card technology. Some say mobile payments, such as NFC will provide a more secure technology and are more practical to deploy in the US over EMV technology.

Frankly, I don't care too much what technology is used, however I would prefer the option to choose a more secure credit/debit card.  Seems like there shouldn't be an issue supporting both.  Recently I just go a new ING Direct MasterCard, that has no embossed numbers on the card.  In fact, all of the account information such as my name and account number and expiration are printed on the back.  It certainly looks cool, albeit almost fake, and it won't leave my CC number imprinted in my wallet, however im not sure it makes it my account any more secure.  I guess they decided that no one makes card imprints anymore.

Im looking forward to see some innovation in banking over the next year. Seems like the market is poised for a shake-up.