Time to get smart about smartcards

The U.S. must let go of obsolete technology if it hopes to stay safe from growing fraud and theft.

Luis Ruuska

The recent string of cyber attacks against retailers like Target and Neiman Marcus has sparked a national conversation about the U.S.’s failure to adopt tried-and-true anti-theft technology.

If you visit retailers at most other countries around the world, including many in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, you’ll find that the magnetic strip on the back of your card is antiquated.

This is because many countries moved away from magnetic strip technology in the past decade, and  have instead implemented integrated circuit cards (ICCs), more commonly known as smartcards.

If you don’t have a smartcard, you’re not alone. The Smart Card Alliance estimates that only 2 percent of Americans have one.

Ironically, Target wanted to be a leader in smartcard technology a decade ago. Between 2001 and 2004, Target tried to implement ICCs in its cards, but it eventually phased the program out due to customer disinterest.

In light of its recent security snafu, Target once again hopes to lead smartcard technology to Main Street. It promised to invest $100 million into making its registers and REDcards chip-friendly.

It’s estimated that a combined effort between banks, card associations and retailers to adopt smartcard technology across the U.S. could cost upward of $8 billion.

Yet this should not deter these institutions from doing what’s best for customers — and for themselves.

The card payment industry spends $8.6 billion each year related to card fraud and theft. At the same time, smartcard-friendly countries have seen a significant decline in fraud and data theft since adopting the technology.

However, major credit card companies, while behind, are taking steps in the right direction. Visa and MasterCard plan to adopt smartcards by October 2015.

While there is hope, the country needs to take a hard look at other areas where our technological security is obsolete in order to prevent crime.