Nymi Puts Its Heart Into IoT Authentication

Using its proprietary heartbeat authentication system, Nymi is rolling out wristbands that serve as physical and logical access-control devices, and, in the future, may double as MasterCard payment cards.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Oct 27, 2015

Passwords and PINs are easily forgotten and can be stolen. Security badges can be counterfeited or stolen. That's why banks, corporations and other entities that demand high security levels are interested in using biometrics for authentication purposes. But instead of installing fingerprint readers or iris scanners, what if a piece of wearable technology could be issued to an individual and then serve to positively identify that person without the need for any additional infrastructure?

That is Nymi's pitch. The Toronto-based company, founded in 2011, has developed technology that enables an individual to capture his or her heartbeat—or rather, electrocardiogram (ECG)—and then use that data to authenticate himself or herself. Each person has a unique ECG, and Nymi has developed a wristband that captures, digitizes and securely stores the user's ECG, which is then used to authenticate his or her identity as a first step in a secure transaction.

The Nymi wristband
On Monday, MasterCard announced that the Nymi system is one of a number of new technologies that the credit card company expects to integrate into a Near Field Communication (NFC) contactless-payments module. MasterCard has not issued a specific timeline for when the Nymi band will become available to U.S. customers, nor will Nymi confirm exactly how consumers will acquire the bands.

In Canada, MasterCard has already completed one pilot project to test Nymi's biometric technology as a means of authenticating contactless payments using NFC. Nymi and MasterCard Canada plan to launch a second pilot next month.

This summer, 100 MasterCard cardholders who are also employees of Toronto-Dominion (TD) Bank were issued Nymi bands containing an NFC module matched to their MasterCard accounts, says Shawn Chance, Nymi's VP of marketing and business development. During the 10-week trial, these pilot participants used the Nymi bands instead of contactless credit cards to make payments at retailers that accept NFC contactless payments.

"There was no new infrastructure needed," Chance explains. But the microcontroller inside the wristband would not allow the NFC module to begin a payment transaction unless the band's owner was wearing it.

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