If you bought a smartphone in the last few years, it almost certainly came with NFC capability.
The technology allows users to effortlessly transfer money, share files, and eliminate a growing list of other tasks. But that data transfer can create vulnerabilities. The BBB has tips on what NFC can do and how to stay safe when using it. But first….
What exactly is NFC?
NFC stands for Near a communication field. It is a data transfer that only works within a very short physical range. We are talking about inches, not feet. Some forms of this technology require you to tap one device against another or wave them back and forth very closely.
NFC are based on RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology, a process that uses radio frequencies to identify objects. Near Field Communication is high frequency RFID that makes it easy for one device to communicate with another.
Near Field Communication uses a number of protocols to make transactions easier and faster. People use them to make contactless payments, share digital content, connect one device to another, and a list of other tasks that grows longer by the day.
How do they work?
An NFC is based on proximity, so when users get close to a device they want to interact with, they usually get a prompt asking for permission. Follow the on-screen prompts from there. It’s convenient because it doesn’t involve downloading an app or signing up to get started.
When you turn on some NFC technologies, they enable Bluetooth and use it to perform their data transfer. That means you don’t have to fumble with your phone to find Bluetooth settings, choose the device you want to pair with, enter the key or code, etc.
Other NFC technologies enable Wi-Fi between two devices so they can “talk” back and forth. The big benefit here is that Wi-Fi Direct has much higher bandwidth, so large files transfer faster.
What smartphones come with NFC?
New portable devices are available all the time, so the list of compatible devices is constantly changing. NFC world maintains an exhaustive list of phones and tablets available now and soon. But for most people, their mobile is already capable. Android devices running 4.0 or later come with the ability to use NFC for financial transactions. Phones running Android 4.4 or later allow users to exchange files and messages via NFC. The iPhone took a while to jump on the bandwagon. However, if you have an iPhone 6 or later, it supports Near Field Communications.
Are they only for financial transactions?
The possibilities and uses of near-field communications are, for the most part, limited by the imagination. Here are some things people can do with them:
- open car doors
- Share contact information
- Share any link you program to have
- Make wireless payments with smartphones and tablets
- Create an automatic Wi-Fi/Bluetooth pairing between your phone and vehicle for hands-free driving
- Pay for and receive access to parking and public transportation
- Send photos or videos between digital cameras, cell phones, and media players
- Allow shoppers to receive and redeem coupons
- Prevent hard sleepers from turning off the alarm until they are actually awake
- Allow healthcare workers to monitor medications and track physical symptoms
- Create interactive toys and games.
The simplified connectivity is great and being able to exchange funds without digging through our wallets was becoming popular even before social distancing was around. Now it’s even more useful because it means we don’t have to touch cash or transaction terminals. But every time a technology is widely adopted, hackers start to focus on how they can exploit it for unfair gain.
Near Field Communications and Cybersecurity
Convenience is great, but if you’re like most people, you might recognize that when data is just floating around, there’s a security risk, especially when technology is tied to your credit card or bank account. So how risky is NFC technology?
The good news is that if you’re comparing your phone to a friend’s to share music or check with a trusted provider, the security risk is pretty low due to the proximity requirement. The devices need to be four centimeters or less apart, and during the fractions of a second it takes for the data transfer to take place, it would be hard for a hacker to get in there without you noticing.
It takes more than a bump for a transaction to occur; both sending and receiving devices must be ready to accept the data transfer. It would be difficult for a hacker to brush past you in a crowd and withdraw money from your bank account wirelessly. You’re not likely to run into a stranger at the grocery store and accidentally send all your personal information to their phone. But that doesn’t mean NFCs are risk-free.
One problem occurs when people lose their phones or have their devices stolen. If a thief can unlock your device, or if you don’t protect it with a strong password, there’s nothing stopping them from passing it through a payment terminal or ATM to get your money.
NFC tags are also vulnerable to tampering. For example, users tapped on smart tags thinking they were going to access movie trailers or visit a provider’s website, but instead had their personal information feel bad actor
7 NFC security tips
Keep your data safe by taking these precautions:
- Password protect your mobile device
- Enable two-factor authentication for all money transactions
- Please read data usage policies before downloading apps to make sure they protect your privacy
- Update installed apps regularly
- Turn off your NFC when not in use (with Android devices, this is in settings. With iPhone, NFC is disabled within individual apps)
- Update your device as needed to receive security patches and firmware updates
- Only use Near Field Communications with vendors and people you know to be reliable
Source: BBB.org and BBB serving East Central Texas
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