NFC - The Changing Face of Digital Identity

February 3, 2023

Most smartphones nowadays come with built-in Near Field Communication technology (NFC). Tiny NFC chips have the power to turn phones into mobile wallets by enabling customers to make quick and secure contactless payments with the flick of a wrist, using apps like Apple Pay or Google Pay.

With close to 4 billion active smartphones today, global smartphone penetration is at an all-time high. There are more than 2 billion NFC-enabled devices, with most being phones. Therefore over 20% of the world’s population already has access to NFC. Demand for contactless experiences has surged further during the pandemic, according to a recent survey by ABI Research.

All this means the possibilities for NFC tech are growing. But despite its newfound popularity, NFC is nothing new – it is an evolution of radio frequency identification (RFID), a decades-old wireless connectivity solution widely used in hotel key cards and entry passes. However, NFC is more fine-tuned than RFID and operates at a much shorter range of around 4cm-10cm, making NFC a more secure solution.

Apple’s adoption of NFC in the iPhone 6 and onwards massively boosted the profile of NFC, but NFC has many other applications besides mobile payments. For example, it’s found in contactless credit cards, transit passes, and modern identity documents like e-passports and driver’s licenses. 

Around the world, some 150 countries now have an ID card that is NFC chip-enabled. These cards are securely encrypted, and the data on the NFC chip cannot be forged or changed.

Such increasingly widespread adoption of NFC in identity documents opens up new possibilities for digital identity services and onboarding companies using eKYC.

Many onboarding firms had to pivot fast to remote-first solutions for eKYC during Covid restrictions. Previously, these firms used AI-based document checks and biometric verification during eKYC. But now, NFC chips means customers can also directly scan their chip-based ID documents using their NFC-enabled smartphones for additional verification. This makes the eKYC process much more secure and reliable while staying super convenient for the customer.

The steps involved in NFC identity verification are simple. First, a customer would snap or upload a picture of their NFC-enabled ID document using their camera phone. At this point, the software uses OCR to read and extract the writing on the document. Next, the user holds the camera up to their face to allow real-time facial recognition to match their features against the image on their ID document. Then the software scans the document’s ‘Machine Readable Zone (MRZ)’ to extract all relevant information.

Finally, the ID document is tapped against an NFC reader in the smartphone. This reads the relevant information via the document’s embedded NFC chip and automatically verifies it against the OCR, MRZ, and facial recognition data to add an extra layer of verification. 

NFC may not be the world’s most secure or foolproof digital identification solution, but it can offer numerous advantages. 

For one, NFC chips in ID cards are usually issued by government bodies, so the information extracted is highly likely to be authentic and is also verifiable. Secondly, NFC will be the future standard for ID cards for some time and therefore is supremely convenient for customers who already have NFC readers in their pockets. It, therefore, provides an excellent method for customers to process their ID documents during eKYC. 

In addition to other ID verification checks, such as AI facial recognition, NFC helps build more robust eKYC solutions, so digital ID providers can ensure their customers are exactly who they say they are. 

Are you an eKYC provider looking to explore the potential for NFC in your business? Reach out to ShareRing’s business development team at stewart.s@sharering.network for more information. 

From the ShareRing Blog

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