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Univ. Research Leads to Mobile Transaction Security Advances

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Research by Georgia Institute of Technology engineering faculty has led to a new layer of security on transactions by mobile phones. The work of engineering professor Steven McLaughlin is also being commercialized by Whisper Communications, a company he co-founded to take the technology to market.

The ability of smart phones and other mobile devices to make financial transactions uses a set of protocols called digital wallet technology that can replace plastic credit cards. This technology transfers data from the customer’s mobile phone to a merchant terminal a few feet away, but robust security is needed to keep eavesdropping devices from capturing that information.

Research by McLaughlin and colleagues at Georgia Tech is the basis for a method of encoding developed by Whisper Communications that makes data signals transmitted beyond its immediate proximity useless to any eavesdroppers. With this software, the mobile device would automatically encode the users’ credit card information, which would then be decoded by similar software on the merchant side of the transaction.  The information would be readable within two or three feet of the merchant terminal, and garbled beyond that distance.

Whisper Communications has licensed the basic technology from Georgia Tech, for which a patent has been applied. McLaughlin already holds some 30 patents.

Whisper Communications is working with First Data, a major payment processing provider, to demonstrate this layer of security using two new Android phone models, which is planned for later this summer. Company CEO Jeffrey McConnell says the software could be ready for the marketplace within six months after that.

Read more: Software Helps Reduce Battery Drain on Mobile WiFi Devices

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