21 Jan 2018

MasterCard introduces cards with embedded fingerprint sensors

MasterCard has unveiled a payment card with a fingerprint sensor embedded. It's currently being tested in South Africa and hopes to be rolled out to the rest of the world by the end of 2017. This will depend on the results of additional trials in Europe and Asia Pacific, to be effected in the coming months.

The biometric cards are not thicker than standard debit or credit cards, but they have a built-in fingerprint sensor that is located in the corner. This offers a new, convenient way to authorise your in-person transactions. Instead of signing a paper receipt or entering your PIN while struggling to cover up the number pad, you simply place your thumb on your card to prove your identity.

biometric MasterCard

Card holders must place their finger over the square sensor when using the card for a transaction

How it works

A cardholder enrolls their card by simply registering with their financial institution. Upon registration, their fingerprint is converted into an encrypted digital template that is stored on the card. The card is now ready to be used at any EMV card terminal globally.

When shopping and paying in-store, the biometric card works like any other chip card. The cardholder simply dips the card into a retailer’s terminal while placing their finger on the embedded sensor. The fingerprint is verified against the template and – if the biometrics match – the cardholder is successfully authenticated and the transaction can then be approved with the card never leaving the consumer’s hand.

Benefits and limitations

The genuine owner of the card can transact and authenticate with fingerprint when shopping. This can also significantly improve speed in the process of transacting. The downside is that this type of biometric verification is useless when it comes to online shopping.

The new biometric credit card will work on existing chip-and-PIN readers and won't require store owners and businesses to buy any new hardware or do software upgrades, though older magnetic stripe-only terminals will not be compatible.

I wonder what happens if, for whatever reason, the user can’t use his fingers to authenticate the transaction or if fingerprint sensor malfunctions. Will the card become useless, or can user fall back to using the PIN to authenticate the transaction?

Fingerprint sensors have been bypassed before, remember the hacker that faked German minister's fingerprints using photos of her hands.

If the fingerprint information is stolen you only have nine fingerprint changes before you run out of options.
image credit: MasterCard