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Securing Mobile Payments

As the mobile payment industry continues to develop at lightning speed, best practices have yet to be solidified

As mobile phones become as indispensable as credit cards for purchasing goods and services, mobile payment developments are quickly gaining pace. Many different service providers are competing for their piece of the action. Within the last year, we have witnessed the arrival of mobile payment solutions such as MasterCard's PayPass, Google's Android-based eWallet scheme and Starbucks' emerging Quick Tap PayPass service.

A study from Juniper Research predicts that mobile contactless payment transactions are to reach nearly $50 billion worldwide in 2014 and NFC solutions will be used in 20 countries within the next 18 months.

However, with the widespread adoption of this technology, there is a need to debate which type of scheme works best and is the most robust.

Setting the Standard
As with traditional payments, standardization is vital. Several effective standards are already gaining momentum in delivering a secure mobile payments ecosystem:

  • Organizing Mobile NFC Services - The Trusted Service Manager (TSM) acts as an intermediary between Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) and third-party service providers that wish to offer additional services to subscribers. GlobalPlatform's ‘System Messaging Specification for Management of Mobile-NFC Services' defines the messaging between each of the three parties to guarantee secure ‘provisioning' of services to the device.
  • The SIM Alliance Open Mobile API - Applications utilizing the Secure Element (the cryptographically secured piece of hardware on newer mobile devices) to secure their critical operations, such as payments, banking or transport tickets, can have a component running within the device's operating system that ensures the user can securely interact with the keyboard/touch screen while enjoying a rich graphical user experience. The SIM Alliance Open Mobile API allows application developers to utilize additional security of the Secure Element more easily, be this in a UICC SIM, a dedicated Secure Element built into the device or a secure SD card, by providing a common means of interfacing with it.
  • Trusted Execution Environment (TEE) - The Secure Element cannot easily host apps with a highly developed or cutting edge user interface, but can look after critical data on the mobile handset. Applications that require complex user interactions must run on the device's primary processor. The TEE secures these apps; GlobalPlatform is leading the standardization and interoperability in this area to ensure that software and data are sufficiently protected. For example, payment apps that run their user interface in TEE and their transaction security in the Secure Element would have a particularly high level of security.

Such standards encourage the industry to work together and benchmark best practices, but they remain as fundamental elements of successful mobile payment security. It is also required that technology that makes the security of provisioning mobile payment applications is as safe as issuing cards, and designing the necessary infrastructure requires much needed consumer confidence.

Security Issues Prompt Consumer Fear
Consumer's perceived fear surrounding new mobile payments technology often looms around security. The lack in consumer confidence originates from the threat of information being intercepted during a transaction. Yet risks are prominent at every stage of the mobile payment life cycle, including how payment applications get onto a phone securely in the first place. Constructing the data needed to issue a payment application and generate the secure messages to personalize a handset can be a lengthy and inefficient process, and the various cryptographic functions pose the possibility that sensitive data is at risk of exposure.

This initial set-up process or ‘provisioning' usually takes place over-the-air (OTA). The process increases security risks due to the various parties involved - typically the payment application provider (usually a bank), a Trusted Service Manager, the Mobile Network Operator and the end user. A vital success factor is maintaining security throughout this procedure, ensuring that no data is compromised. Successful provisioning utilizes unique personalization keys to not only encrypt the loading of data onto a device, but also the succeeding transactions performed by the application.

Mobile Payment Security as Secure as Traditional Payment Cards
By implementing the newest cryptography methods, users can ensure that ‘provisioning' occurs securely with the same level of protection provided by traditional payment cards. Providers of physical cards tend to favor Hardware Security Modules (HSMs), which generate and secure the encryption keys crucial to managing issuance risk. This method is also relevant for provisioning services to a mobile phone and can significantly reduce the complexities associated with the process while simultaneously avoiding the weakness of keys stored in software. The primary benefit of an HSM is to secure encryption keys and sensitive data in a way that safeguards such data from exposure. With this method, service providers reduce risk.

While encryption is crucial to the security of mobile payments, it isn't the only answer. For a more comprehensive approach to optimize security, encryption and authentication must be combined to provide protection for data exchanges and authorizations.

Reducing Risk
As the mobile payment industry continues to develop at lightning speed, best practices have yet to be solidified. Operators and related parties are still unsure about who ultimately controls the mobile wallet. But one thing that is for sure is that security remains the primary hurdle most consumers can't get over.

Extinguishing this concern is no easy task; it requires a mixture of robust standards and best practices, accompanied with the right technical path to ensure the experience is safe from the second that a user opts to download a payment app. If businesses want to take advantage of the mobile payments, security needs to be at the forefront of their approach to mitigating risk and encourage comprehensive consumer adoption.

More Stories By Ian Hermon

Ian Hermon is Product Marketing Manager at Thales e-Security. He has more than 15 years’ experience in the payment industry, being responsible for the Thales portfolio of payment and transaction security products. He represents Thales on both the MasterCard Global Vendor Forum and Visa Europe Vendor Forum, is a member of the Smart Card Alliance Payments Council and the Smartex Smart Payments Forum Steering Committee. Ian also represents Thales as a participating organization on the PCI Security Standards Committee and is an EMV subscriber.

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