Near-Field Communication Technology Supports Contactless Student ID at Universities

Universities phase out traditional transactions in favor of mobile digital offerings.

A new partnership among Apple and three universities turns students iPhones and Apple Watches into contactless student IDs. Blackboard and Swedish lock manufacturer Assa Abloy are also involved.

Students will now be able to add their ID information to their Apple Wallets, allowing them to complete routine tasks with a swipe of their devices. 

At Duke University, the University of Alabama and the University of Oklahoma, students are already equipped, and more universities are expected to join in 2019.

“iPhone and Apple Watch have brought us into a new era of mobility, helping to transform everyday experiences,” Jennifer Bailey, Apple’s vice president of internet services said in a statement. “[W]e’re now thrilled to be working with campuses on adding contactless student ID cards to bring customers even more easy, convenient and secure experiences.”

VIDEO: See how the University of Maryland uses new point of sale systems and digital signage to enhance the fan experience.

What Is Near-Field Communication?

Near-field communication is a wireless technology, evolved from radio-frequency identification, that allows two devices to interact with each other when placed close together, usually within a few centimeters

Most phones and mobile devices are now equipped with secure elements in the form of smart chips to protect any banking or personal information used in a wireless transaction with an NFC terminal

The ability to transfer data wirelessly has become a major selling point for universities, which have started to invest in multiple modes of wireless communication, including beacon technology. 

However, unlike beacons, which provide only outbound communication to the user’s mobile device, an NFC enabled device sends secure data back and forth with a terminal, supporting transactions on higher education campuses, such as mobile payments. 

This means that while beacon technology may be useful for sending an alert for an upcoming sale to anyone who passes by the school store, NFC devices are better equipped for handling the purchase of items.

NFC Sensors Offer a New Level of Convenience on Campus

Implementing NFC terminals and Apple student IDs has helped streamline daily activities on campus, according to the colleges that are testing the technology. 

“The use of iPhone and Apple Watch as an alternative to physical ID cards is a great way to improve the student experience,” said Duke University Chief Information Officer Tracy Futhey in a press release. “Blackboard has been an innovative partner in helping us bring this capability to our campus and make access to facilities and services even easier.”

One of the main draws of student Apple IDs is improving ease of payment for students on campus. Students can now tap their Apple Watches to buy lunch at their dining halls or schools supplies on campus. 

This convenience also extends to anything that once required student ID cards, including student ticketing for events or accessing dormitories, the campus gym or restricted buildings on campus. 

For example, a chemistry lab at Duke University may be restricted to students within a specific major or class. By using NFC chips embedded in the lab’s door, students permitted to use the space only need to tap their iPhone or Apple Watch to get in

Universities are also using NFC technology to help students find academic material. At Florida International University, students can scan NFC tags and codes at the library to access digital reading material instantly. 

The program also lets students digitally sign out materials, download audiobooks and gather portable travel guides. 

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Contactless Student IDs Make Campus Transactions More Secure

Universities adopting Apple student IDs claim the technology is not only more convenient, but it keeps students safer by eliminating the risk of losing a student ID on campus.

However, the use of a digitally connected ID card does raise questions about security, especially as students rely so heavily on their ID cards interact with campus facilities. 

“The fear with NFC is that a hacker could steal credit card information in a simple way utilizing a variety of methods and not-so-sophisticated equipment,” according to an InfoSec blog post from this year. “For example, other than using a malicious code on the device used by the payer, a remote attacker could intercept the signal during a contactless transaction using a spoofing method through a simple radio receiver.”

Infosec experts found the security around the smart chips holding valuable data used in contactless payments would make stealing information directly from an Apple watch or iPhone extremely difficult

To put their minds at ease, users can adjust certain features on their Apple student IDs through Apple Wallet, setting up additional protections, including requiring Face ID, Touch ID or a passcode to access certain features, according to an Apple white paper released in September 2018.

Any application students download that will use a student’s digital ID will also need to support two-factor authentication.

All things considered, while users’ hesitation is understandable, NFC technology is likely much safer than regular card swiping, Infosec experts conclude. 

“NFC opens up a completely new world of possibilities, especially when it comes to enabling contactless payments that are to replace the old-fashioned swipe-and-sign system,” experts write.

BlackSalmon/Getty Images
Dec 21 2018

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