If you have a smartphone that was purchased in the last few years, it must have come with NFC capability.
This technology allows users to easily transfer money, share files, and roll out a growing list of other tasks. But this data transmission 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 Close range communication. It is a data transmission that only works within a very short physical range. We’re talking inches, not feet. Some forms of this technique require tapping one device against another or waving it back and forth in close proximity.
NFCs rely on RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) Technology, a process that uses radio frequencies to identify objects. Near Field Communication is a high-frequency RFID that makes it easy for one device to communicate with another.
What do you do, or what do you do?
Near Field Communication uses a series of protocols to make transactions easier and faster. People use them to make contactless payments, share digital content, connect one device to another, and the list of other tasks gets longer every day.
How do they work?
NFC is based on proximity, so when users get close to a device they want to interact with, they usually get a prompt request for permission. They follow the onscreen prompts from there. It’s convenient because it doesn’t involve downloading an app or registering to get started.
When you activate some NFC technologies, they enable Bluetooth and use that to transfer your data. This means that you don’t have to fiddle with your phone to find Bluetooth settings, choose which device to pair, enter a key or code, and so on.
Other NFC technologies enable Wi-Fi between two devices so they can “talk” back and forth. The big advantage here is that Wi-Fi Direct has much more bandwidth, so large files are transferred faster.
What smartphones come with NFC?
New mobile devices become available all the time, so the list of compatible devices is constantly changing. NFCWorld Maintains a comprehensive list of phones and tablets available now and soon. But for most people, their cell phone is already capable. Android devices running version 4.0 or later have the ability to use NFC for financial transactions. Phones running Android 4.4 or later allow users to exchange files and messages via NFC. iPhone was a little late 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 only by imagination. Here are some things people can actually do with them:
- Open the car doors
- Exchange of contact information
- Share any link you programmed to have
- Pay wirelessly using smartphones and tablets
- Create an automatic Wi-Fi/Bluetooth connection between phone and vehicle for hands-free driving
- Pay for and get access to parking and public transportation
- Send photos or videos between digital cameras, mobile phones and media players
- Allow shoppers to receive and redeem coupons
- Prevent heavy sleepers from turning off the alarm until they actually wake up
- Enabling healthcare workers to monitor medication and track physical symptoms
- Create interactive games and games
Streamlined communication is great, and the ability to exchange money without having to dig through our wallets became popular even before social distancing became important. It is now more useful because it means we don’t have to touch cash or transaction terminals. But each time a technology is widely adopted, hackers begin to focus on how to exploit it for unfair gain.
Near Field Communications and Cyber Security
Convenience is nice, but if you’re like most people, you might realize when data is in circulation, there’s a security risk, especially when technology is tied to your account. Credit card or a bank account. So how dangerous is NFC?
The good thing is that if you happen to bump your phone with a friend to share music or check out a trusted vendor, the security risks are fairly low due to the proximity requirements. The distance between the devices must be four centimeters or less, and in the split seconds it takes to actually transfer the data, it will be difficult for a hacker to get there without you noticing.
It takes more than just a bump for a transaction to happen; Both the sending and receiving devices must be ready to accept data transmission. It would be difficult for a hacker to attack you in a crowd and wirelessly withdraw from your bank account. You’re not likely to bump into a stranger at the grocery store and accidentally send all of your personal information on 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 the thief can unlock your device, or if you haven’t secured it with a strong password, there’s nothing stopping him or her from waving it through a payment terminal or ATM to get your money.
NFC tags are also vulnerable to tampering. For example, users clicked smart tags thinking they were about to access movie trailers or visit a vendor’s website, but instead they had personal information Sent to a 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 financial transactions
- Read the data usage policies before downloading apps to ensure they protect your privacy
- Update installed applications regularly
- Turn off NFC when not in use (With Android devices, this is under Settings. With iPhone, NFC is disabled within individual apps)
- Update your device as required in order to receive security patches and firmware updates
- Only use near field connections with vendors and individuals you know to be trustworthy
Source: BBB.org & BBB Serving Central East Texas
Have you heard of or been exposed to an NFC scheme or scam? When you let us know, you can help spread awareness and protect others BBB Fraud Tracker. To find trustworthy businesses go to bbb.org.