Are NFC transactions and instant payments secure?

Anton P. | June 11, 2020

Near-field communication (NFC) is a feature available in nearly every mobile device. But, chances are, you haven’t noticed it before. The technology works automagically to make contactless services like Apple Pay, or Android Pay possible. However, tap-and-go technology can do a lot more than pay for your Starbucks coffee. Still, the idea of transferring sensitive payment data from your smartphone may be understandably concerning. Therefore, how safe are NFC transactions?

What is NFC?

Near-field communication is a protocol which allows two devices to communicate wirelessly while being in close proximity. Usually, the distance between the devices should be 4 inches or less. The protocol evolved from radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology. The latter is behind keycards that you tap on the reader before entering a building or passing toll booths.

These days, nearly all smartphone manufacturers add NFC chips in their products. Since people do not need to carry wallets, mobile payments became a popular transaction method. Hence, by holding your smartphone a few inches away from the contactless payment reader, the NFC chip prompts your digital wallet to pop up and complete the transaction. Such mobile payments are direct and instantaneous, differently than the traditional PIN technology.

However, Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay, and other digital wallets are just a part of what NFC can do. You can find the technology behind VR headsets, video games, and tech accessories like smartwatches or speakers. It can also work as an alternative to Bluetooth and transfer digital data between two NFC-equipped devices. Then, there’s an option to implant an NFC chip into your body.

NFC on Android

Depending on your smartphone, you can use either Google Pay or Samsung Pay (if it runs on Android 4.4 or later versions). Android mobiles with 4.4 or later versions (up to 9.0) can also utilize Android Beam. Based on NFC technology, this data-sharing feature lets you exchange any information by placing your mobile next to another NFC-enabled device. Without any pairing processes, the nearby placement of widgets automatically prompts the “Would you like to beam” message.

NFC on iOS

iPhone 6 and all newer smartphones support NFC. Currently, it’s only usable for mobile payments, and file-sharing over this particular technology is not yet possible. Still, iOS creators did not limit Apple Pay usage on iPhones only – it’s also available on some of the iPad, and Apple Watch models.

How safe is NFC?

The idea of storing credit card information and paying through a mobile device can be reasonably worrying. With the current variety of financial fraud and scamming techniques, payment security matters more than ever. Luckily, NFC payments are incredibly secure. In fact, they are more reliable than regular magnetic-stripe cards. As opposed to the static information stamped on your credit card, the data involved in mobile payments is encrypted and dynamic. Hence, it changes continuously.

Apple Pay and Android Pay services offer airtight security for all mobile transactions. To ensure secure digital data transfers, Apple Pay, and Android Pay use tokenization technology. It replaces your real bank details with a series of random numbers. Although the number string is unique and belongs only to you, fraudsters won’t be able to associate it with your real financial account details.

Also, to make a mobile payment, you need to verify it with 2-factor authentication (2FA) beforehand. With Apple Pay, you can authenticate it with Touch ID or Face ID technologies. With Android, you need to enter a PIN or use your biometric data. However, it’s no news that you should always password-protect your device, not only the mobile payments.

The bottom line

NFC technology is one of the most secure payment options nowadays. Experts consider it to be even safer than traditional swiped transactions. Although services like Apple Pay or Android Pay do everything to protect your operations, you can secure them even more. In the end, stolen identities and other fraudulent activities are still genuine concerns. If you want additional protection when handling sensitive data over your smartphone, install a VPN. Without any exceptions, VPN encrypts your communications, data transfers, conceals your IP, and prevents suspicious entities from monitoring your digital actions.

Anton P.

Anton P.

Former chef and the head of Atlas VPN blog team. He's an experienced cybersecurity expert with a background of technical content writing.



© 2023 Atlas VPN. All rights reserved.