EMV is a plastic card standard codeveloped by the payment systems Europay, Mastercard, and Visa and named for the first letters of their respective names.

EMV cards’ enhanced security comes from an embedded chip called Secure Element. The chip can run applications and exchange commands with point of sale terminals. Information stored on the chip is protected, so reading information from the chip is significantly harder than reading it from a magnetic stripe.

Types of EMV cards

Two types of EMV cards are available:

  • Chip-and-PIN cards,
  • Chip-and-Signature cards.

The difference between them is the method used to authenticate transactions: With the former, the user needs to input the PIN to validate a transaction; the latter requires only a signature. Chip-and-PIN EMV cards are considered more secure; it’s easy to forge a signature. A card can be compatible with both Chip-and-PIN and Chip-and-Signature authentication methods, letting the user choose.

EMV cards security and compatibility

Most of the debit and credit cards issued during the past few years are EMV cards. Because migration to the EMV standard takes a lot of time both for banks and for merchants, most EMV cards still have a magnetic stripe, making them compatible with the legacy equipment still in use in many countries.

Despite EMV cards being significantly more secure than magnetic-stripe-only cards, they can still be cloned because of the loose authentication requirements of the standard, incorrect implementations of the EMV standard, and the chips’ ability to load and run arbitrary programs. And because most EMV cards have a magnetic stripe as well, card information can also be copied by skimmers, devices cybercriminals employ to steal card data.

Some EMV cards are also compatible with NFC contactless payments. In addition to the EMV chip, these cards use an NFC chip and an RFID antenna to make contactless payments.

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