New Contactless Cards Might Have On/Off Switch

A U.K. firm has developed an on/off "switch" for RFID cards that could protect cardholders from being hacked. The cardholder activates the RFID transmission by squeezing the card between his thumb and forefinger when it must be scanned by a reader, according to this story from Dark Reading. The patented polymer-based technology comprised of metal particles is embedded into a circuit and gets built into a smart card during the lamination process. When compressed, it acts as an RFID signal conductor. "The difference is that RFID is always on and being interrogated, but this is always off until the instant you want it read," the story said.

The approach from Peratech has good potential, as the biggest security risk for contactless payment cards is a thief wirelessly interrogating the card while standing nearby. But the approach—which the firm said would cost "cents, not dollars" per card—may not be much more than potential, as no one has yet agreed to use the technology in card manufacturing. With the razor-thin card margins today and an utter lack of consumer demand for better security, it's unclear if those few pennies could be justified.