Near field communication: What is it, and how can I stay vigilant?

August 29, 2022

With digital technologies becoming more seamlessly intertwined with our everyday lives, it can be tricky to keep up with what’s new or emerging. PROTECT+ specialist Nilanga Perera pulls back the curtain on near field communication – what it is, how it is used, and how you can ensure you stay safe should you encounter the technology in nefarious circumstances.

Near Field Communication (NFC) technology can be found to be in our day to day lives, from contactless payments to the transfer of information. NFC can be found in items such as tags, smart cards, and stickers, and can be programmed to automate tasks including opening a website on a smart device, making a phone call, connecting to a Wi-Fi network, and so on.

NFC technology is quite convenient, and it is not a surprise that it is has become so popular. Most new smart phones and some smart watches nowadays come with built-in NFC chips, allowing us to use this exciting technology right out the box.

But what exactly is it? And if you run into someone using NFC for malicious reasons, how can you protect you and your data? We’ve got a few simple tips to share – keep reading!

What is Near Field Communication?

NFC is a short-range, high frequency wireless technology which uses an electromagnetic field to communicate with other devices within four and ten centimetres in range. NFC itself does not have the power to communicate, but instead is used by embedding this technology into other devices, such as smartphones, to provide power to the NFC technology.

Pre-programed NFC items such as tags, smart cards, and stickers are also available, and use the power of the connecting device at the time of the scan.

What to be aware of when using Near Field Communication

Every technology has its pros and cons as well as specific security concerns. As consumers, it is better to understand the technology and risks involved in order to keep yourself protected against any potential threats.

NFC is considered to be fairly secure, given it can only communicate with another NFC-enabled device within a short proximity, making it harder for an attacker to intercept. Attacking NFC can be quite a challenge, however, there are few well-known security concerns to keep an eye out for:

  • Eavesdropping on transactions
  • Data manipulation or Corruption (MITM Attack)
  • Service Interruptions (DoS Attack)

For example, even though the contactless payment transactions are encrypted an attacker might be able to try various techniques to decrypt the traffic and access the information. While it is important to be aware of these security concerns, they are considered to be a part of the NFC technology design and ecosystem; mitigation of such risk is out of consumer control.

Near Field Communication

How to keep yourself safe when using NFC technology

Although there are some security concerns that consumers cannot avoid, you do have the ability to make smart decisions about your own use of NFC – to protect yourself against any potential threats:

Keep your device software up to date

It is important to keep your device operating system software up to date as the vendors regularly release patches for the latest vulnerabilities, with improved security, and performances.

Turn off NFC when not in use

It is always the best, and most secure, option to turn off NFC when not in use, if your device allows you to turn it off.

Having a password protected device with a strong password

This decision is quite smart, and means no unauthorised persons can make contactless payments from your device.

Install antivirus protection on your device

Installing an antivirus software can protect your data and the device from navigating to a malicious website that you receive via NFC when scan on any NFC items such as tags, smart cards, or stickers. It would also protect your device from viruses or from installing other malicious applications.

Take these simple steps towards protecting yourself, and you’ll be an NFC expert in no time.

Check out more in our cyber tip series on our website. Find out more about PROTECT+.

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