Signature Dynamics Could Make Credit Cards More Secure

March 12, 2013

Usually when you're paying for items at a store with your credit card, the cashier will ask to see your card and will visually confirm the signature. Although this practice is a way to verify a signature, it's still possible for an identity thief to fake your signature and use your card. However, a biometric technology called "signature dynamics" may help prevent this type of theft and make credit card transactions more convenient.

According to the National Science and Technology Council Subcommittee on Biometrics, a dynamic signature is a type of biometric recognition. Biometric recognition is an automated way to identify a person based on their biological characteristics. Some common forms of biometric recognition include fingerprints, palm prints, faces and even the irises of your eyes.

Signature dynamics requires special technology to conduct the verification process. This isn't the same thing as an electronic signature capture, which is what takes place at a lot of cash registers that have payment terminals. This allows you to swipe your card into a reader and then sign a screen. This process simply captures a graphical image of your signature, which authorizes the transaction and allows the cashier to compare the signature to your card.

The technology around signature dynamics captures how you sign your name--from the direction you write your letters to the way you make the letter strokes, how much pressure you use to write your name and the shape of the letters.

The Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics Research IGD has created a way to use signature dynamics for bank credit cards. As the institute is located in Europe, its method involves cards that contain a smart chip. When a bank issues a customer a new card, the user would have to sign a special touchpad that would record the biometric aspects of his signature. These biometric characteristics would then be stored on the card's chip. When you use the card, you would swipe it through the card reader terminal at the cash register, just like a normal transaction. The card reader is connected to a writing pad, and you would sign it with an electronic pen. The technology then conducts a biometric scan of your signature and confirms its authenticity, after which your transaction is authorized. If the transaction is a higher dollar amount, you may also be required to use a PIN code to complete the process.

The Fraunhofer Institute says this technology can add more security to a credit card and make it more difficult for criminals to steal. "The combination of knowledge, possession and biometrics is ideal, and guarantees a substantial additional benefit to the convenience and security for the cardholder," says Alexander Nouak, head of competence center for identification and biometrics at Fraunhofer IGD, in a statement.

"The comparison between the presented data and the biometric data stored in the card is done directly on the chip in the bankcard, which is protected according to established standards," says Nouak. "So it is impossible for the biometric data to be stolen through an external device and be abused."

Whether or not any companies or card networks will incorporate this technology is yet to be seen, as it's still in development for use with cards. The researchers from Fraunhofer IGD have developed a prototype of its product, which it is showcasing at this year's CeBIT, a trade fair for high-tech, digital IT and telecommunications products that are designed for home and work use. Still, the could be the wave of the future in terms of credit card security and keeping identity theft at bay.

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