You can call it 'cash 2.0': a new age of wireless payment technology that may replace even the smallest cash transactions in the coming years with the wave of a credit card or mobile phone. But as major corporations like CVS, McDonald's, and Walgreens begin deploying new RF, or "contactless," payment technology, the Federal Reserve is taking a closer look at the technology and is asking the payment industry and card companies, among other questions, whether the new payment systems are secure.
The rapid deployment of RF-equipped contactless payment technology was behind a meeting at the Boston Federal Reserve in May. According to interviews with those at the meeting, the payments industry argued that, while not foolproof, the new RF payments systems are a vast improvement over existing, "magnetic stripe" payments technology and that Americans' casual handling of their credit cards poses a far greater risk to sensitive financial information than wireless hackers that might target the cards. Contactless payment technology uses RF technology embedded in credit cards, mobile phones, or USB devices to negotiate credit and debit transactions. As opposed to older generation magnetic strip technology, the RF cards can be waved in front of a card reader.