Apple Pay was launched earlier this week alongside the release of iOS 8.1, allowing users to buy goods with their iPhones at a number of stores, but where exactly can iPhone users take advantage of Apple’s new digital payment platform?
Apple Pay is essentially the company’s own digital wallet service to take on the growing market of digital payment systems that have already been released by companies like Google.
Apple Pay allows you to store your credit card information on your iPhone and use it to buy stuff at any store that supports Apple Pay. The iPhone 6 has an NFC chip that allows you to tap the pay terminal at a store to instantly buy goods. It’s perhaps the easiest way to buy stuff and you don’t have to hand over your credit card to the cashier. It’s all done wirelessly between your iPhone and the pay terminal.
Furthermore, your iPhone can be disabled to make payments if your device ever gets lost or stolen, that way your credit card information itself can’t be stolen — much more effective than having to call the credit card companies to cancel a card if it ever gets lost or stolen.
Apple Pay also works with mobile shopping apps, allowing you to pay with a single touch of the Touch ID fingerprint sensor in shopping apps that support the feature.
However, one big thought that many users have is the security and safety of Apple Pay. After all, you’d think it’d be easier for hackers to steal your credit card info if it was stored on your iPhone, since there have been so many hacks on digital services recently.
How secure is Apple Pay? Let’s find out.
The Security Basics of Apple Pay
MasterCard has a handy infographic on how Apple Pay works, but for more details, keep reading.
First and foremost, when you add a credit card to your Apple Pay account, it doesn’t get sent to Apple’s servers for storage, but rather is only stored on your iPhone, so the only way that someone could technically use your credit card without your permission is if they had your iPhone in hand and also had your exact same fingerprints, considering that you have to use Touch ID to authorize a purchase. As you may know, fingerprints are unique, so it would be practically impossible for someone else to use Apple Pay on your iPhone.
Furthermore, Apple Pay uses a system called “tokenization.” When you add a credit card to Apple Pay, the system generates a random account number that associates with your iPhone, but not your credit card number, so whenever you go to pay for something at a store using Apple Pay, that random account number is sent through the store’s system rather than your actual credit card number.
So in that sense, Apple Pay is actually more secure than using a physical credit card, as your actual credit card details are not given to the store at all when you use Apple Pay, which also makes you less susceptible to store hacks like the ones we’ve seen recently from Target and Home Depot. If hackers were to break into credit card systems of national chains, they wouldn’t get your credit card info since you never gave it to the store in the first place.
Can Apple Pay Still Be Hacked Into?
Of course, Apple Pay isn’t the second coming of Christ, but many banks have lauded the security of Apple’s payment platform to the point where they will be liable for any fraudulent purchases. Of course, most banks already have this kind of policy in place, but it’s still good to know that Apple Pay won’t be hung out to dry if hackers actually do end up breaking into Apple Pay somehow.
And that’s where some users are still wary about the security of Apple Pay. As with anything, hackers can always find their way into secure systems, and we actually wouldn’t be surprised to see Apple Pay hacked into somehow, but the only way that it could be breached, even remotely, would be through stealing someone’s iPhone or using social engineering to hack into an account. The traditional ways of hacking into a server or mainframe wouldn’t work here.
Even then, there’s no way that someone could just browse through your iPhone and bring up your credit card information, as iOS blocks out all info except for the last four digits of your card, and they wouldn’t be able to take your phone and pay for something at a store, as they would need your fingerprint to authorize the purchase through Touch ID. You can also simply just logon to Find My iPhone on any computer and disable Apple Pay payments from your iPhone if it ever gets lost or stolen.
Apple was hacked just recently, you say? The company’s servers actually weren’t hacked into. It was mere password guessing that allowed hackers to access the iCloud accounts of numerous celebrities, only fortifying the argument that all users should have strong passwords attached to all of their accounts.
In the end, though, no, Apple Pay isn’t 100% secure. Hackers will always find a way in, although the methods to do so probably won’t be as orthodox. Security experts says that hackers could create an amplifier to boost the signal of the wireless iPhone payment by standing near the checkout terminal while you’re buying your groceries, and there have also been ways where you could technically fake a Touch ID scan by using carefully-made rubber fingerprints.
However, Apple Pay certainly isn’t any less secure than using a physical credit card, so if you’re paranoid about the security of Apple Pay, just know that your physical credit card in your wallet or purse isn’t any more secure.