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An Apple Pay Keeps the Hackers Away

I remember the first time I held an iPad in my hands.  It felt like the future had been wrapped …

By Dave Eagle


I remember the first time I held an iPad in my hands.  It felt like the future had been wrapped up in this slim little device, and as I swiped my fingers left and right across the screen, tapping icons and generally having the sum of human knowledge at my fingertips, I felt like a crewmember of the USS Enterprise.  Stardate 2010, indeed.  Of course, Apple didn’t invent the idea of tablet computing, but it could be argued they perfected it.  The first tablet was brought down by Moses from Mount Sinai, only contained ten lines of code, and was fairly restrictive about what you could and could not do.  But it’s a long way from those early tablets—heck, it’s a long way from the first iPad.  Five years later and we’re seeing iPads and tablets slowly replacing consumer desktops and laptops, as well as popping up in retail and commercial spaces as self service kiosks and—you guessed it—POS terminals.  And now, five years later, the future I once held in my hands has been reduced to an even smaller bit of real estate: my thumb.  Because with Apple Pay, Apple is once again changing the way we do things, making it possible to pay for goods and services using our iDevices and our fingerprints.

The march to Apple Pay began with the iPhone 5S, the first model of iPhone that included fingerprint scanning technology as a way of unlocking your phone.  Some people at the time said that that was just a fancy gimmick, a “Look how cool we are!” feature that didn’t really enhance the user experience that greatly (full disclosure: those people were me, and some of the naysaying voices in my head, all of whom lacked vision for what was possible.  This is why I stick to writing about things that have already happened, and avoid opining on the future).  Having your thumbprint attached to your Apple ID was a nice improvement, actually, over having to type in the forcedly complicated password to get free software like Candy Crush.  But the thumbprint scanner in your phone is taking a leap into the big time with Apple Pay.  The iPhone 6 has an integrated Near Field Communication (NFC) antenna and fingerprint sensor, a combination of gadgetry placed inside the iPhone specifically for Apple Pay applications.  The NFC antenna allows you to wave the phone near an Apple Pay terminal to pick up the payment request; your thumb on the sensor authorizes the payment and the antenna transmits back to the terminal.  Payment processed.  The merchant never touches, let alone sees, your card.  The authorization happens between your device and Apple—the POS only gets the Yes or No.

Photo by TheTruthAbout
Photo by TheTruthAbout

Now, there are plenty of voices outside my head, all with much more credibility, that have labeled this a revolutionary way of conducting payments.  And I’m inclined to agree, because—as I just said—this claim is being made by people with way more credibility than I have.  Of course, a revolutionary payment system needs a revolutionary Point of Sale to conduct the transaction.  And that’s where Kounta comes in.  Kounta’s already changed the way thousands of merchants in Australia and beyond have done POS.  These merchants—in both the hospitality and retail spaces—have relied on Kounta to streamline not only the process of taking payment for their products, but to manage their businesses, as well.  They rely on Kounta to keep their operations and payments secure.  Kounta has already led the way with EMV—aka Chip and PIN—credit cards, going even further than just supporting the technology.  With EMV, Kounta just sort of steps aside: it lets the card and the terminal handle the authentication, and then lets the terminal communicate directly with the credit card processor for approval.  The whole authorization process happens independent of the POS: Kounta just wants the Yes or No.

Find out more about Kounta’s Apple Mac Point of Sale

Apple Pay, then, is just the next logical step in this progression of security.  The same approach—what’s called an Out of Scope payment—is inherent to Apple Pay, and fits well into the Kounta ecosystem.  All the data that’s transmitted is encrypted, and what’s encrypted isn’t even your card number: it’s a unique Apple Pay number, known as the Device Account Number.  It’s this number that’s protected and stored on a dedicated chip in your phone—and not on a server somewhere.  It’s this number, along with a unique transaction code, that’s transmitted back to Apple, during the payment.  This double layer of protection—the merchant never sees your credit card number, and neither does the network—is going to make things very difficult for hackers to intercept anything of use.  This kind of protection is going to usher in a brave new world of consumer security.  I know I said earlier that I’m better with writing things that happened in the past than predicting the future, but to me, this seems like it’s going to change the criminal landscape as much as it does the payment landscape.  Criminals will no longer be able to break into a retail store’s network and poach the millions of dollars worth of credit that’s often left lying behind.  If they want to steal, they can do it the way our grandfathers did it: by waiting outside a store with a switchblade and menacing looks on their faces.  Everything old is new again, I guess.