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NFC, Biometrics Bring Security to Crypto Payment Card

Cryptocurrency startup Unikeys is employing Near Field Communication and biometric technology in its payment card, so that users can safely make payments with tokens from services such as Bitcoin without exposing passwords or other data to the Internet.
By Claire Swedberg
Aug 20, 2018

Hong Kong cryptocurrency solutions company Unikeys has partnered with security technology firm MeReal Biometrics to provide Unikeys' customers with a battery-powered fingerprint card that employs RFID technology, Bluetooth, a fingerprint sensor and acoustics to enable and secure payments at stores.

The UKey card is aimed at providing biometric authentication during cryptocurrency-based transactions. The exchange of digital assets, such as tokens, through cryptocurrency is gaining share in financial transactions worldwide, and some companies and banks are now striving to make these cryptocurrency transactions possible and secure in stores. The UKey card serves as a payment card in either contact or contactless modes, says Alexandre Tabbakh, Unikeys' CEO and co-founder, and enables secure cryptocurrency and token-based payments at the point of sale (POS).

The UKey card
Unikeys launched in early 2018, following two years of research and development, as a provider of universal tools for cryptocurrency ecosystems. The UKey card is its first commercially available product. Although cryptocurrencies launched with some hype around Bitcoin, Tabbakh says, traction has been slow and steady. Crypto payments can be made online, but are still rare at brick-and-mortar stores and other physical locations.

Until now, Tabbakh says, "there's been a huge gap in crypto acceptance because there's been no robust and user-friendly tool to help vendors accept crypto payments." Merchants have their own POS terminals connected to MasterCard and Visa. Transitioning to crypto payments in stores will require a secure cryptocurrency-based wallet that can be presented at a point of sale, and a POS capacity to receive crypto payments securely.

The UKey provides the bridge by acting similarly to a credit card, but with cryptocurrencies and tokens rather than a bank account number. Merchants that offer cryptocurrency payments often employ a QR code that customers would scan to make a Web-based payment.

To ensure the security of these payments with cryptocurrencies, users traditionally store private keys on their phones or in Web-based "hot wallets." However, hot wallets come with inherent vulnerability because they are connected to the Internet any time they are used, thus exposing them to possible hacking. Taking a further step, some people use "cold wallets" that require writing keywords they might record on paper or store in a USB device. In that way, they can ensure those keys are not vulnerable to hackers—but that makes the cryptocurrency more complex to use in daily activities. "I don't see Grandma using a USB drive to make a transaction," Tabbakh says.

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