6 NFC Payment Myths Debunked For Good
Over the past few years, the term “NFC” has been popularized through smartphone-based contactless payments. But when a technology receives a wave of hype, it’s natural for myths and misconceptions to crop up.
So, let’s debunk these myths and misconceptions and understand what NFC truly is.
A Quick Overview of NFC
NFC (near-field communication) allows two objects to communicate wirelessly over a very short distance. Magnetic field induction is used for this method of communication, which can be either one- or two-way, depending on the purpose. The most well-known example of an NFC application is contactless smartphone payments. Contactless payment cards have been around for some time, but the ability to use your phone to pay at the terminal makes things all the more convenient.
In the process of NFC communication, a tag sends information to a receiver. In the case of phone payments, the phone sends your payment information to the payment terminal (the security of which we’ll discuss a little later). NFC tends to max out at about a four-centimeter distance, though certain factors can affect this figure.
The Top 6 NFC Myths and Misconceptions
So, what is being misunderstood or misconstrued about near-field communication?
1. NFC Can Be Hacked From Afar
Unlike Wi-Fi or even shorter-range technologies like Bluetooth, NFC cannot be hacked from a distance. As previously mentioned, the connection range of NFC is incredibly short, sitting at around four centimeters. This makes in-person hacks very difficult, as the attacker must be within an incredibly short range of your phone for a specific period to carry out the hack successfully. So it’s almost impossible that a cybercriminal in another town or city will be able to hack your device via NFC.
But this doesn’t mean that NFC hacks cannot happen. Drive-by NFC hacks are certainly possible, wherein a malicious actor could exploit your device’s NFC feature to conduct payments without your knowledge. This may even be possible over tens of meters, which is something to keep in mind. Deactivating your device’s NFC feature whenever it is not in direct use is a great way to avoid this short-distance hack.
2. NFC Is a Modern Technology
Though NFC has become widely popular over the past decade, the technology it’s based on is by no means new. NFC stems from something called RFID (radio frequency identification). NFC technology was officially invented in 1983 by Charles Watson, though many individuals contributed to its creation.
Like NFC, RFID allows for wireless connection, using tags and readers for identification and tracking. The tag acts as the object or device identification while the reader recognizes it. The two communicate with each other using radio waves. From this earlier technology, NFC was later born.
RDIF and NFC are certainly very similar, but there are some particularly important differences between the two. Firstly, while RFID uses radio waves for communication, NFC uses a magnetic field. On top of this, RFID facilitates one-way communication, whereas NFC can offer two-way communication, giving it more versatility.
3. Only Smartphones Use NFC
Given that NFC is mostly known for facilitating phone payments, it’s natural to assume that this technology only exists on smartphones. But this is not the case. Other devices can use NFC, including computers, tablets, and even smartwatches. After all, many smartwatches now offer a contactless payment option, and NFC is a requirement for this.
It’s also worth noting that your contactless payment cards use RFID, which is very similar to NFC. Contactless payment cards contain small chips and antennas that communicate with payment terminals. While this isn’t exactly the same as smartphone-based payments, there are various similarities between the two methods, as we’ve already discussed.
4. NFC Payments Are Not Secure
Making an NFC payment is by no means the same as handing over cash or calling out your payment details. This technology has parameters to protect your data, including encryption capabilities. When your payment information is sent from your phone to the terminal to process a transaction, encryption ensures that a possible eavesdropper cannot steal it easily.
NFC also uses tokenization to protect your data and funds. This process involves replacing the sender’s true payment information with a unique number (known as a token) that prevents the theft of data and payment fraud. Every time you use your chosen NFC payment app on your phone, your payment details are tokenized upon payment. A token cannot be hacked, which therefore safeguards your sensitive data.
However, NFC security is not airtight. It’s worth noting that the key purpose of this technology is convenience, so security sometimes takes a back seat. While NFC payments are encrypted, software vulnerabilities may allow cybercriminals to exploit your device or payment information.
5. NFC Is Only Used in Phone Payments
Today, millions of people opt to use their smartphones to make contactless payments, and this convenience has massively contributed to the popularization of NFC. But things don’t stop there.
NFC can also be used to exchange content between two devices, such as a video or image, over a short distance. For example, say you want to send something from your tablet to your smartphone, and both devices are next to each other. Using NFC, this can be done quickly and easily. But remember that a very short range is required for NFC data transfers, which you may find limiting.
6. NFC-Based Payment Cards Can Be Duplicated
Many digital forms of data can be easily replicated, and payment cards are also frequently cloned by criminals to sell on illicit marketplaces or use for themselves. So should you be worried about a malicious actor replicating your NFC-based payment method for their own use?
In short, no. NFC payments cannot be replicated for unauthorized use. This relates to the tokenization of NFC payments, which replaces your information with a number to protect you from prying eyes. Along with encryption, this makes NFC card duplication essentially impossible. Remember, NFC can be hacked and isn’t a completely secure technology. So it is only card duplication that is not possible here.
NFC Is a Convenient and Versatile Technology
NFC isn’t perfect and has certainly amassed its fair share of myths and misconceptions. But it has many benefits that can aid you in your daily life. So whether you want to speed up your payments or exchange content over a short range, NFC can be a great fit.