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Skimmers Put Chip and PIN at Risk

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Just How Secure is Chip and PIN

If you knew that the unit you put your Chip and PIN card into could be transmitting your details to a fraudster, how happy would you be to use the card ever again? Just how secure is Chip and PIN? Has this new technology simply played into the hands of the fraudster? And where will that leave Smart Card based ID Card Systems like that proposed for the United Kingdom?

In fact, just how smart is it to enter your PIN nowadays, and just what is waiting to catch you out?

We're not talking about technology that is simple but "old hat", here. While it's well known that cameras can be aimed at ATMs to snoop on our keystrokes and on our card number when we key the data in, these are the crude end of the current advanced technology offerings.

Certainly they can be concealed well, perhaps in a leaflet dispenser, or perhaps a fake card reader can be manufactured to fix over the card slot to grab the card details as it passes through. Though that was far easier to do when scanning the older magnetic stripe card technology. After all, the chip has to register, doesn't it?

Certainly the chip itself is far more secure than the magnetic stripe. But picture a device like this wireless skimmer. This can be designed to look just like the one on the supermarket checkout, can be wired into the supermarket checkout, and can transmit full details of you, your card, and your PIN to someone sitting happily on a park bench next door with a receiver. They're not hard to design for Chip and Pin, or for Magnetic Stripe.

And worse, according to the Financial Times [10 May 2006], these devices are available in the internet for about 55. We quote the headline paragraph from the article on

Devices that "skim" data from plastic cards, enabling cash to be stolen from bank accounts, can be bought cheaply on the internet. "You can get small skimmers off the web for 55," said Mike Bond, security director at Cryptomathic, a company supplying specialist software to counter plastic card fraud. "This is not high-tech stuff."

[The article is © For the full FT article please go to".]

Those who want them know where to look. And fixing them to the right place is just a matter of either being the maintenance engineer, bribing the maintenance engineer, or masquerading as the maintenance engineer.

And what of cards like the proposed UK National ID Card?

With your life stored on the card, not on a central database, have the card skimmed and your identity is stolen. Or so the card's opponents fear. We'll know the truth of that as the system advances to rollout.

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