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vkg,

You wrote, What are the risks with contactless cards?

Current contactless cards use cryptographic authentication technology similar to cards with chips; but instead of the reader making physical contact with the contact points on the chip, they communicate over near-field RF, similar to RFID. All this authentication technology does is guaranteed to the issuer that the merchant was (momentarily) in physical possession of an authentic card from that issuer for that account.

In my opinion there are still a handful of serious security issues with contactless credit cards. The most serious one is that someone with a sophisticated (probably phone) app could in theory use it to make a purchase by simply waving their phone / reader over your wallet / purse without you realizing it's being read. Using contactless payment technology on a cell phone doesn't generally suffer from the same problem because you have to launch the payment app and select a card for payment - so it requires a physical act to confirm the payment. A contactless card doesn't have that requirement as anyone in close proximity could initiate the payment.

Personally I'd never accept a contactless card from an issuer. I have other issues with using a phone for payments; but I might eventually consider that. My main concern about using a phone for payment is two-fold:

1. I'm not sure I trust that my phone can't be compromised if I lose it, and
2. I'm not certain that I trust that all the different payment technologies themselves have been validated as secure.

In particular I've worked for Samsung on their phones in the past. If they tell you something is secure, I wouldn't trust it. Also if they discover that an older model of something has been compromised, I wouldn't trust that they will (or even can) fix it. But my personal phone is a Samsung so I'm probably not going there any time soon even though it's technically capable of it.

- Joel
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