Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.


End of Bibblio RCM includes -->
08:15 PM
Connect Directly

Who's In Your Wallet? Exploring Mobile Wallet Security

Security flaws in contactless payments for transportation systems could lead to fraud for stolen devices, researchers find.

The rise of mobile wallet apps like Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay has made it easier for smartphone owners to pay for goods and services without touching a payment terminal. But as researchers found, some inconsistencies could make it easier for cybercriminals to commit fraud on stolen devices.

Tim Yunusov, a senior expert with Positive Technologies, says these inconsistencies specifically exist in contactless payments for public transportation, as seen in major public transit systems in places such as New York City and London. Yunusov and his research team were able to defraud devices, using stores around the globe, without the phones ever leaving their owners' pockets.

The team has been exploring different aspects of mobile payment security for years, but their goal for this research was to determine whether it's possible to make payments on a phone if it's stolen or lost and then picked up by a fraudster. Two years ago, when they were researching Visa cards and closely looking at Google Pay, it was the only mobile wallet that allowed payment on locked devices, Yunusov says. Everything else required a PIN or fingerprint.

In the past two years, however, a lot has changed. One factor has been the use of smartphones to pay for public transit because, as he points out, it's inconvenient for every rider to unlock their phone before going through the gate. Apple and Samsung introduced a transport scheme in which people didn't need to unlock their phone to pay for a public transportation system.

This made Yunusov curious. Would it be possible to bypass security mechanisms and use this feature for fraudulent purposes? Mobile wallet providers claim to protect cardholders and their payment details because they don't disclose the information of the original card, but he wondered whether there might be a way to sidestep their protective measures.

Compounding his interest is the popularity of lost-and-stolen fraud, which he says is among the most popular types of fraud affecting modern payment cards. In these attacks, when people lose a phone or card, there's a gap when the card isn't yet blocked during which fraudsters can buy goods and services. Modern EMV contactless cards and mobile wallets, as well as their predecessors, don't allow one to clone a payment card, motivating attackers to steal them. 

"Therefore, the main goal for fraudsters probably would be to use stolen devices or cards for payment fraud," Yunusov says.

Hacking at the Tube
Conducting the research "was kind of a journey," he says. Normally, the team buys the devices they need to do their research and does their work at home or in the office. In this case, because he was researching contactless payments for public transportation, his research brought him into the London tube station.

"To carry out most of the checks, I personally had to go to the London metro basically every day, trying to collect all the data and find a way to bypass security mechanisms that were implemented in Apple and Samsung Pay in order to find an answer to the question," he says.

Six months to a year later, the team found inconsistencies in contactless payments for public transport that lead to potential fraud on lost or stolen mobile phones. Their findings specifically relate to Apple and Samsung; Google Pay doesn't yet have a specific transport scheme. 

Yunusov will share more details about the process in an upcoming Black Hat Europe talk, "Hand in Your Pocket Without You Noticing: Current State of Mobile Wallet Security." The goal, he says, is to highlight some issues with contactless payments in hopes of improving their security.

For those who use mobile wallets, Yunusov advises locking all cards attached to them as soon as they realize their phone is lost or stolen. Keep an eye on what's happening in notifications and transactions and stay alert for suspicious activity.

Kelly Sheridan is the Staff Editor at Dark Reading, where she focuses on cybersecurity news and analysis. She is a business technology journalist who previously reported for InformationWeek, where she covered Microsoft, and Insurance & Technology, where she covered financial ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
I Smell a RAT! New Cybersecurity Threats for the Crypto Industry
David Trepp, Partner, IT Assurance with accounting and advisory firm BPM LLP,  7/9/2021
Attacks on Kaseya Servers Led to Ransomware in Less Than 2 Hours
Robert Lemos, Contributing Writer,  7/7/2021
It's in the Game (but It Shouldn't Be)
Tal Memran, Cybersecurity Expert, CYE,  7/9/2021
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
Everything You Need to Know About DNS Attacks
It's important to understand DNS, potential attacks against it, and the tools and techniques required to defend DNS infrastructure. This report answers all the questions you were afraid to ask. Domain Name Service (DNS) is a critical part of any organization's digital infrastructure, but it's also one of the least understood. DNS is designed to be invisible to business professionals, IT stakeholders, and many security professionals, but DNS's threat surface is large and widely targeted. Attackers are causing a great deal of damage with an array of attacks such as denial of service, DNS cache poisoning, DNS hijackin, DNS tunneling, and DNS dangling. They are using DNS infrastructure to take control of inbound and outbound communications and preventing users from accessing the applications they are looking for. To stop attacks on DNS, security teams need to shore up the organization's security hygiene around DNS infrastructure, implement controls such as DNSSEC, and monitor DNS traffic
Flash Poll
How Enterprises are Developing Secure Applications
How Enterprises are Developing Secure Applications
Recent breaches of third-party apps are driving many organizations to think harder about the security of their off-the-shelf software as they continue to move left in secure software development practices.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
PUBLISHED: 2023-05-26
Craft is a CMS for creating custom digital experiences. Cross site scripting (XSS) can be triggered by review volumes. This issue has been fixed in version 4.4.7.
PUBLISHED: 2023-05-26
Django-SES is a drop-in mail backend for Django. The django_ses library implements a mail backend for Django using AWS Simple Email Service. The library exports the `SESEventWebhookView class` intended to receive signed requests from AWS to handle email bounces, subscriptions, etc. These requests ar...
PUBLISHED: 2023-05-26
Highlight is an open source, full-stack monitoring platform. Highlight may record passwords on customer deployments when a password html input is switched to `type="text"` via a javascript "Show Password" button. This differs from the expected behavior which always obfuscates `ty...
PUBLISHED: 2023-05-26
Craft is a CMS for creating custom digital experiences on the web.The platform does not filter input and encode output in Quick Post validation error message, which can deliver an XSS payload. Old CVE fixed the XSS in label HTML but didn’t fix it when clicking save. This issue was...
PUBLISHED: 2023-05-26
GDSDB infinite loop in Wireshark 4.0.0 to 4.0.5 and 3.6.0 to 3.6.13 allows denial of service via packet injection or crafted capture file