Most everyone probably remembers the news that came out during the Christmas shopping season about the massive data breach at Target that resulted in the theft of credit card data of hundreds of thousands of people. This data breach resulted in renewed calls to do something to make credit cards and the information they contain more secure. This is a major, far reaching problem that potentially impacts everyone in the US and beyond but fortunately researchers in the Ohio State Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering are on the case.
The major problem with credit cards in the United States is that the vast majority of them rely on magnetic strips to store the credit card data. While this is an easy means of storing and transmitting the data to the terminal at the checkout, all you have to do is swipe your card, it isn’t very secure as the data on the magnetic strip is static and unencrypted. All a thief needs is a means to get the data that the terminal reads in and they have everything they need to use your credit card.
The need to find a more secure means of storing data on a credit card has been known for a while and most of the rest of the world has taken steps in this direction by moving to a ‘chip and pin’ system. Instead of storing the credit card data on a magnetic strip, the data is stored on a silicon chip that is on the credit card. To make a purchase you insert the card into the terminal which reads the encrypted data that is stored on the chip, you then enter a pin number in the terminal’s key pad to authorize and complete the transaction. Because the ‘chip and pin’ system allows for the credit card data to be encrypted, even if thieves steal the information from the terminal, the information is useless to them unless they have the means to break the encryption which is a much more difficult and resource intensive task.