There are a lot of people now pointing to the Europay MasterCard Visa (EMV) card (aka “Chip and PIN”) as the savior from breaches such as those at Target and I am sure Visa and MasterCard are very pleased with that fact. Well, I hate to burst your bubble, but if the US was only using EMV like Europe and Canada, it probably would have had only a minor impact.
Are you stunned by that statement? After all, that is not how Visa and MasterCard are portraying EMV. If you read their media statements, they imply that EMV is the answer to these breaches.
To make sure I was describing the security features of EMV correctly, I reached out to my friend and EMV expert Andrew Jamieson, Security Laboratories Manager, at Underwriters Laboratories – Transaction Security in Kew, Australia. Underwriters Laboratories tests and certifies a lot of things, one of which is card terminals (magnetic stripe and EMV) to the PCI standards. As such Andrew has a lot of knowledge in the area of EMV and how it works.
I asked whether or not EMV cards are encrypted.
“EMV cards are not encrypted, per se, but instead store a couple of secret keys which are used as part of the authentication of the entire transaction. All card data can be output from the card in the clear – PAN, CVV, etc – except for the customer PIN and the secret keys. The CVV will also be different from that on a magnetic stripe, either static (called an iCVV) or can also be a dynamic value that changes with each transaction (dCVV).”
Well there is a piece of interesting news. While the transaction gets encrypted with the secret keys, an EMV card would still provide some information in a Target-like breach.
Then I asked if there is a risk even with EMV.
“So, any chip based transactions from an exposure such as the Target one would only have exposed the PAN (technically, the PAN on the card can be different from the PAN on the face/track, but in reality this never happens), not the full track. As the CVV would not have been exposed, the PAN would have limited value.”
If the magnetic stripe was not present, the CVV would not be required or recorded in the chip, so only the iCVV or dCVV would be available and those would not be usable as the code printed on the card would not match either of those values. Therefore the information gathered would not allow for the cloning of cards because the information recorded in the chip is not the same as the information that is printed on the physical card. But this should not be a surprise because that was what the EMV standard was designed to do, prevent the cloning of cards.
However in a Target-like breach where the terminal and/or POS system were compromised, the chip would have still given up enough information to be used in card not present transactions such as those conducted via eCommerce. As a result, the attackers would be limited to only defrauding online merchants but that is where most card fraud is being committed.
EMV is not a “silver bullet” such as the card brands like to imply. Yes, it is better than the magnetic stripe, but it does nothing to stem the tide of the growing fraud in online transactions. There are a number of new technologies on the horizon that will minimize the fraud risk of using credit/debit cards in both card present and card not present situations. But until the card brands get behind those solutions, they will continue to push their old solutions and not address the current problems.