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Available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 4.0 International Licence




Near Field Communication (NFC) has become prevalent in access control and contactless payment systems, however, there is evidence in the literature to suggest that the technology possesses numerous vulnerabilities. Contactless bank cards are becoming commonplace in society; while there are many benefits from the use of contactless payments, there are also security issues present that could be exploited by a malicious third party. The inherently short operating distance of NFC (typically about 4 cm) is often relied upon as a means of ensuring intentional interaction on the user’s part and limiting attack vectors. However, NFC is particularly sensitive to relay attacks, which entirely negate the security usefulness of the short-range aspect of technology. The aim of this article is to demonstrate how standard hardware can be used to exploit the technology to carry out a relay attack. Considering the risk that relay attacks pose, a countermeasure is proposed to mitigate this threat. Our countermeasure yields a 100% detection rate in experiments undertaken – in which over 10,000 contactless transactions were carried out on a range of different contactless cards and devices. In these experiments, there was a false positive rate of 0.38% – 0.86%. As little as 1 in every 250 transactions were falsely classified as being the subject of a relay attack and so the user experience was not significantly impacted. With our countermeasure implemented, transaction time was lengthened by only 0.22 seconds.