Money

MasterCard Wants To Link Your Credit Card To Your Fingerprint

It's much harder to forge a finger than a PIN

Money
Photo Illustration: Diana Quach
Apr 20, 2017 at 11:15 AM ET

We thought biometrics and mobile payments would replace credit cards, but Mastercard is experimenting with a new concept: adding biometrics to its credit cards.

Mastercard announced Thursday that it’s adding fingerprint scanners to its “next generation” cards in order to safely verify the cardholder’s identity whenever they’re making in-store purchases.

The new biometric cards will be similar to normal ones. They’ll be just as thick and work on all EMV terminals, which are the payment machines that read chips (it won’t work on swipe-only machines). The only difference this card has is that holders are required to scan their finger rather than insert a PIN or signature.

“Consumers are increasingly experiencing the convenience and security of biometrics,” Ajay Bhalla, president of enterprise and security at Mastercard, said in a press release. “Whether unlocking a smartphone or shopping online, the fingerprint is helping to deliver additional convenience and security. It’s not something that can be taken or replicated and will help our cardholders get on with their lives knowing their payments are protected.”

Biometrics can be convenient when unlocking accounts and making payments, and also give the illusion that they’re safer than passwords and pins. However, Ayay’s claim that fingerprints can’t be replicated is wrong. It’s been proven before that you can steal and fake someone’s fingerprint, and unlike passwords and pins, you can’t change your fingerprint whenever you want — the identity thief has it for life. Regardless, security experts generally believe that fingerprints are safer than PINs, especially because whoever wanted to steal your fingerprint would probably have to go through great lengths to do so.

“With the combination of chip and PIN, the PIN is the weaker element. Using fingerprint gets rid of that,” Karsten  Nohl, chief scientist at Berlin’s Security Research Labs, told BBC News. “Fingerprints have helped us avoid using terrible passwords, and even the most gullible person is not going to cut off their finger if [a criminal] asks nicely.”

Mastercard will roll out its new cards in South Africa for test trials. The company then aims to roll them out in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region. There’s still no word if they’ll hit the U.S. market.