Identity Verification powered by NFC – all you need to know about the Tech Trend

Near Field Communication (NFC) has been around since the early 2000s, but has experienced a real coming of age throughout the last couple of years and especially during the pandemic with broadening application. NFC technology is on the rise as it powers our smartphones and credit cards to be used for contactless payments or doors to unlock by the touch of a smart key. Many more applications and use cases like NFC-Based ID Verification in Shared Mobility are possible, many as of yet unforeseen.

For instance, did you know, that Near Field Communication can also be applied during identity verification?

Smartphones as the key to unlocking the power of NFC

NFC can be applied as a means to read out data for the purpose of identification and authentication. In contrast to Optical Character Recognition (reading out a document using a camera and then identifying what is written on the document), NFC reads out data from identification documents that contain RFID chips with the same personal information coded on them as the physical ID. Many are even supplemented by biometric information like a picture, fingerprints and more (biometric IDs).

Back in the 2000s, the application of NFC was not yet widely spread as distinct machines were necessary for operation – a hurdle for day to day usage. However, nowadays almost every person carries what is needed in their pocket, as modern smartphones typically come equipped with the necessary functionality.

The right counterpart – Electronic Identity Documents

NFC read-out obviously requires the right medium to extract information from. Thankfully, most identification documents come equipped with a chip where all relevant information is saved. Institutions like the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) have been the drivers of creating standards for such documents to assure that countries do not go their own way, but create an ecosystem of interoperability to accommodate the identity needs in a globalized world. The standard ICAO 9303 has been well established and adopted by more than 188 countries, who model documents like passports accordingly and equip them with chips to turn them into ePassports, ready for touch and go identification via NFC-enabled smartphones and other devices.

Security first – Everything in a nutshell

With such highly sensitive data encoded on the chip, security naturally is a top priority. ePassports and similar documents come with an array of security measures to stop fraudsters and identity thieves in their tracks:

  • Privacy Protection during data read-out: To protect ID owners from attempts of “eavesdropping” on the data transmission (trying to skim data during the read-out), security measures like the Basic Access Protocol (BAC) are integrated.
  • Measures for Authentication: RFID Chips are typically signed digitally by the issuing country. Every country has its own country certificate, which can be verified to detect forgery and manipulation. The process is called passive authentication. More advanced measures like active authentication and clone authentication are available to evaluate if a real chip has been duplicated.
  • Protection from identity theft: Many electronic IDs do not just contain personal information, but also biometric data like a photo and fingerprints. While fingerprints cannot be accessed through any other organization than the authorities, the biometric photo saved on the ID can be compared to a selfie recorded during identification to ensure customers are who they claim to be and avoid identity theft.
Coming soon! NFC capability for IDnow AutoIdent

IDnow is strongly committed to the NFC technology as a trailblazer for convenience during customer onboarding processes combined with security features at government-level. Besides IDnow eID, which uses this technology for identifying users based on their German electronic ID and government-issued PIN, we will also add NFC capability to IDnow AutoIdent to integrate the fraud and identity theft detection capabilities into the AutoIdent process while providing a great user experience through speedy onboarding with a high degree of automation. Stay tuned for more!


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