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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

With the UKey card, a user controls the currency on the card, as opposed to it being on the Internet. In that way, the UKey card serves as a wallet that stores the cryptocurrency keys and tokens that the cardholder is using for payments. It can include Bitcoin, Ether, Bitcoin Cash, Litecoin, ERC20 Tokens and Unikeys Tokens, and offers security without the complexity of storing and securing passwords. That's where the biosensors and RFID technology come to play.

MeReal Biometrics' technology leverages multiple sensors and NFC chip to ensure that the person using the card is authorized to do so (see MeReal Biometrics Combines Biometrics and NFC Technologies for New Card Solution). The card includes a fingerprint sensor that ensures it can't be used by anyone other than the cardholder, as well as wired mode or wireless NFC. The card also includes a 13.56 MHz NFC chip compliant with the ISO 14443 standard, as well as an acoustic frequencies sensor and a rechargeable battery that can be charged wirelessly.

Unikeys' Alexandre Tabbakh
An individual using the card would first scan his or her fingerprint on the card. The card's secure element (SE) stores that fingerprint data and requires the matching fingerprint for each transaction. The user then stores a Bitcoin or other token in the card's SE, which is paired with the fingerprint. The card can accommodate up to eight fingerprints from one individual.

When a payment for a product or service, an individual places his or her finger or thumb over the fingerprint scanner. If he or she is using NFC technology, then that person taps the card near an NFC-enabled reader, which could consist of an NFC-enabled mobile phone or tablet. The transaction is forwarded to the blockchain ledger and is then authenticated. The benefits are multi-faceted for consumers, Tabbakh says. By using the card, he states, "[you can] control your funds, secure your crypto assets and facilitate your user experience."

To gain substantial traction, products like UKey cards would need adoption of crypto payment functionality among a significant number of merchants, and Unikeys is presently in conversations with several companies about this. The firm intends to launch a pilot in Hong Kong, as well as in other parts of the world. Tabbakh says top-tier banks are already testing cryptocurrency payment systems internally, and he expects some of those banks will be early participants in piloting the technology.

For instance, a bank could provide tokens to consumers, who would then download those token for use with the UKey card at participating stores. The stores could employ their own NFC-enabled devices to capture NFC tag reads. Unikeys is further developing a payment terminal that comes with NFC and Bluetooth functionality, in order to capture tag reads and forward the collected data to a phone or tablet via a Bluetooth connection.

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