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AES behind Mastercard’s ‘quantum-resistant’ payment cards

By Dan O'Shea posted 20 Oct 2022

Mastercard last week announced the approval of what it described as “quantum-resistant” payment cards, and it has since become clear what technology the company is employing to achieve that.

The new cards, which will begin rolling out next year in some countries and regions, according to Mastercard, rely on the Enhanced Contactless (Ecos) specification first introduced by Mastercard last year, and created by EMVCo, the global body owned by Mastercard, Visa and other payment card companies that develops the technical standards for the payments industry.

Ecos uses both symmetric and asymmetric cryptography, with the former based on the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), which offer choices of 12 8-bit, 192-bit and 256-bit keys, the latter of which has been widely declared to be quantum resistant, due to its large block size and the high number of of qubits that would be required to crack it.. 

“Mastercard’s Ecos cards and technology have specific capabilities that make contactless payments quantum-resistant,” said Ajay Bhalla, President, Cyber & Intelligence at Mastercard, via email. “Next-generation algorithms and cryptographic key strengths provide enhanced trust while keeping the contactless interaction under half a second. There’s advanced protection when account information is shared between the consumer device and the merchant terminal, providing enhanced privacy. And there’s a more consistent experience across all form factors as one tap is all it takes to pay.”

One of the main goals of the transition to the new cards is just to make it seamless for consumers and for retailers and merchants accepting payments. Bhalla noted that moving to Ecos does not require merchants to get new payment terminal equipment.

Bhalla acknowledged that it is still early in the evolution of quantum computing and the ability for quantum computers to challenge existing encryption, but also that staying ahead of computing advancements. “Mastercard’s goal is to be a step ahead, to ensure that as our dynamic digital landscape evolves, and new technologies like quantum computing are introduced, consumers continue to enjoy the same high levels of security and convenience they do today in the decades to come,” he said.

He added that the company “has long been exploring the potential impact of quantum computing” and continues to work with EMVCo “to help evolve the innovation[Ecos] into an industry standard for contactless acceptance – future-proofing contactless to ensure consumers continue to enjoy the same high levels of security and convenience they do today in the decades to come.”

Dan O’Shea has covered telecommunications and related topics including semiconductors, sensors, retail systems, digital payments and quantum computing/technology for over 25 years.

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