NFC and M2M – Cashless Society and the Internet of Things

One of the things I cherish about living in the West is Democracy, Freedom of Speech – and Credit and Debit Cards. I mean, can you ever get through a day without flashing some plastic? Convenience in the palm of you hand. No fumbling with smelly, dirty crinkled banknotes. Like ever. But a repose as I reflect, reticent…

I am now, by virtue of walking around with this modern day convenience, thanks to the increasing prevalence of M2M (Machine-to-Machine Communications), vulnerable to scammers and hackers. With increasing sophisticated methods of stealing my Debit Card information in the West, I am playing Russian Roulette with my money at the ATM. Welcome to the Cashless Society and the Internet of Things!

These M2M services use the 2G Data Services such as GPRS (Global Packet Radio Service) and EDGE (Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution). Working in the background M2M Services, at the Gas Service Stations, ATM, etc; inextricably intertwined with the Switched Voice Networks we know and love. Clever Telecoms engineers!

These Switched Voice Networks which will soon become empty of Voice Traffic only to be dominated by M2M. Most of the Voice and Data traffic will increasingly be on the 3G Data Networks such as HSDPA (High Speed Downlink Packet Access) and 4G Data services such as LTE (Long Term Evolution) and WiMaX (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access). A veritable Dead Zone.

In fact, the bulk of traffic on BOTH these Networks is increasing to the point that AT&T, a GSM Voice Network with 3G and LTE, is now connecting more and more devices capable of M2M over their Voice and Data Network. AT&T is looking to connect at least ten million (10,000,000) devices capable of M2M in the First Quarter of 2011 alone, mostly smartphones.

Even the GSMA (Global System Mobile Alliance) is also getting in on the act, pushing for the adoption of embedded SIM cards in everything including toasters, refrigerators, Television Sets and even Blu-Ray players. Great way for Big Brother to thwart Digital Music and Video Piracy – connect everything to the GSM Voice Network soon to be empty of traffic.

Thus the Data Networks will be equally taxed by the increasing traffic of Video Calling, streaming from services such as Hulu and Netflix and VoIP. So too will the Switched Voice Networks, with traffic emanating mostly from slow speed M2M Services e.g. ATM (Automated Teller Machines), POS (Point of Sale) Devices and Remote Telemetry devices for Remote Data Capture.

Seriously explains the recent push to adopt the various communication standards such as Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11n) and all her siblings and cousins, PowerLine AV, a Broadband connectivity standard using electrical wiring and LightPeak, an Intel supported Fiber Optic. All power hungry and very capable of 100 GBps speeds.

Worryingly, with AI (Artificial Intelligence) on the rise, I am not so comfortable about my appliances being able to talk to each other. Especially, as AI is on the horizon, its usage resplendent in Google Search Instant feature. More reason too, to plug them out when not in use!

Security is a must in this Brave New World a la Aldous Huxley. Encryption used by most of these M2M services as well as A5/1 on GSM Networks such as AT&T and T-Mobile is weak and easily crackable. So says German security expert Dr. Karsten Nohl, famous for decrypting the 64 bit A5/1 codebook with help from the Open Source Community and off-the-shelf computer equipment. Certainly puts a dent in the GSMA’s ambitions!

Thus recent forays into Mobile Banking by Jamaica based Telecom Provider, Digicel in Haiti and by the Big Three (3) banks, BNS (Bank of Nova Scotia), NCB (National Commercial Bank) and RBTT (Royal Bank of Trinidad and Tobago) may not be so secure. This knowledge is out and about quietly scaring Telecoms and IT Security people both in Jamaica and across the waters in the United States towards 128-bit A5/2 Encryption for their Switched Voice Networks in order to assure Banks the required security for financial transactions.

The Samsung Nexus S is a high profile handset that supports NFC technology

But as usual, technology roars back with an answer. The recently launched Google Nexus S now sporting Google Android OS 2.3 aka Gingerbread, is heralding a replacement for the pesky and weak encryption riddled RFID (Radio Frequency Identification). This wallet replacement can be used for everything from point-to-point 100MBps Data Transfers to paying for Bus, Subway and Movie tickets. Aptly called NFC (Near Field Communication), its strength lies in that it uses the same transmission schema as Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11n), WiMaX (IEEE 802.16d, e), 3G and LTE – WCDMA (Wideband Code Division Multiple Access).

It comes baked into smartphones such as the Google Nexus S and purportedly will makes its debut in Apple iPhone 5 refresh. Effectively a wallet, Credit and Debit Card replacement rolled in one, it strength lies in the fact that it only operates at point-contact ranges, similar to badge readers at more advanced workplaces. Not to mention it is a modification of Bluetooth.

Because of the close proximity requirement, which is within four centimeters (4 cm), the power level needed to transmit Data is considerably lower, thus the possibility of intercepting the transmission is next to impossible. Data is sent on an as-requested basis i.e. me nuh sen’ you nuh com’, in colourful Jamaican English.

So if a request for sending or receiving Data is received further than four centimeters (4 cm), even if the phone UDID or IMEI is known, it will not be acknowledged. Technological equivalent of “don’t talk to strangers, even if they are they claim to be friends”, surefire good ol’ security.

Worse, the electronics involved in the transmission are capable of speeds up to 100MBps in a single pipeline burst of Data, owing to the use of the smartphone’s SSD (Solid State Drive) memory and the smartphone’s battery. Combined with the strong encryption inherent in this flavour of WCDMA, the hacker would have to go to extreme lengths in order to access your cash. Like physically steal said phone.

With you mobile phones and smartphone being literally your “right arm”, it is not inconceivable that small merchants may be quick to sign up to use NFC super secure and convenient payment method in lieu of Cash, Debit and Credit Cards in their day-to-day financial transactions, even in ATM’s. The Internet of Things reincarnated as M2M, will power the Cashless Society revolution. Once the Banks, Telecom Providers and SME (Small and Medium Enterprises) are onboard and everyone has a smartphone. Just remember to turn off you appliances at night – they may be planning a revolt!

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Lindsworth is a Radio Frequency and Generator Maintenance Technician who has a knack for writing about his work, which is in the Telecoms Engineering Field. An inspired writer on themes as diverse as Autonomous Ants simulations, Power from Lightning and the current Tablet Wars.