Jun 11, 2019

Security expert bristles at EV charging station proposals

Photo: belchonock via Getty Images

Several states, including California, Vermont and Arizona, are considering requiring electric vehicle charging stations to accept physical, magnetic stripe credit cards rather than other payment options. A new report outlines how that will be a dramatic downgrade in security.

Why it matters: Last October, the 1 millionth electric car was sold in the U.S. Charging stations could be a viable way for credit card thieves to increase their thievery.

Background: Just as gas-powered cars require gas stations, an electric vehicle (EV) needs spots to stop and refill. But unlike gas stations, EV stations are entirely automated and can be placed anywhere, including in garages, rest stops and parking lots.

  • As it stands, EV stations offer a variety of ways to pay for electricity, including mobile apps, contactless credit card payments, mobile app payments and payment by phone. But there is no guarantee any one station accepts any one kind of payment.

Details: In a new report from the security advocacy group, the Digital Citizens Alliance, author April Wright details why adding magnetic stripe payments — the old school, chip-free, swipeable credit card payments — might lead to an increase of credit card fraud.

  • Magnetic stripe card readers are vulnerable to skimmers — credit card thieves that place an unnoticeable device on top of a magnetic stripe reader to steal credit card information. The chip cards are vulnerable to a variant of the attack known as shimming.
  • "Gas stations usually have attendants and are already targeted frequently by skimmers [at the on-pump payment systems]," Wright told Axios. "EV charging stations are in remote locations" where skimmers can install their devices unabated.

The bottom line: "The problem with the proposals being made is not that it's offering more payment options, it’s that they are offering less secure ones," Wright said.

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