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06 January 2010, 10:18

EC card problem persists

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EC Card Logo It appears the year 2010 problem concerning EC cards and other debit/credit cards containing EMV chips won't be solved as swiftly as initially anticipated – while withdrawing money at cash points is reportedly no longer a problem, it will be at least another few days before the affected cards will be fully functional and accepted by all retailers. In a press release, the German Association of Savings Banks, Deutsche Sparkassen- und Giroverband (DSGV), has even recommended that customers "carry normal amounts of cash so they can pay without card if they need to". Customers of other banks are generally also affected and should heed the DSGV's recommendation.

Reportedly around 20 million of the approximately 45 million Girocards issued (formerly EC-cards) and about 3.5 million of the 8 million credit cards issued by savings banks and banking institutions are affected. On the retail side 200,000 retail terminals are said to be affected. Terminals only appear to exhibit the problem if the software installed on them supports the latest "electronic cash TA 7.0 Typ 3 and Typ 4" ZKA security standards.

The affected cards carry a chip with the SECCOS-5 card operating system built by a specific vendor. A programming flaw causes the card to reject certain terminal commands when processing the date. For instance, a generate application cryptogram (generate AC) command for authorising a transaction appears to return an error code and this causes EMV transactions to be aborted.

Since the flaw is difficult to correct on the Girocards themselves, other than by replacing them, the respective network operators are reconfiguring all their "TA 7.0" terminals in such a way that they no longer communicate with cards via the EMV application, but use the "electronic cash ecc" or the magstripe-based "electronic cash Spur 2" applications to authenticate cards and correctly read their data. However, this won't happen overnight – network operators anticipate they will need up to ten days. The DSGV expects that 85 per cent of the retail terminals will have been reprogrammed by Thursday.

The problem will continue to exist for credit cards because further reprogramming is required. Therefore, the DSGV recommends that, from next week, customers in Germany should try to use their credit cards but also carry an EC card if they intend to pay by card. The situation outside Germany can reportedly best be described as a "trial and error" scenario: "German holiday makers who are currently abroad are advised to attempt using their cards, because more than half of the cards are not affected by the flaws, and because even affected cards are fully functional on many terminals. If this fails, the DGSV advises customers to use their credit cards to obtain cash at a bank counter". As a final resort, customers can contact their savings bank directly. Card holders who travel in the near future have been advised to take travellers cheques.

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