The business of banks relies on keeping savings safe, but hackers are finding ever more sophisticated methods to access them.

Swindlers stole £755 million across payment cards, remote banking and cheques in 2015 according to Financial Fraud Action UK, an increase of 26 per cent compared to 2014.

Image: BT
Image: BT

The declining cost of technology iss lowering the barriers to entry for budding fraudsters, while emerging technologies give them new methods of theft.

However the banking sector is developing solutions to match them. BT showed Techworld some future security solutions at its Adastral Park research centre in Suffolk.

Quantum key distribution

Cryptographic protection for real-time banking transactions today relies on mathematical equations that are normally sufficient for our computation powers. Contemporary encryption keys are often changed intermittently, as constant changes can be a major inconvenience for everyone involved.

"That's fine the way it is", says BT lead consultant Ian Monteath, "because these keys would take the age of the universe to crack."

The rise of quantum computing introduces a disturbing threat to the way things are. Its vast computing power means encryption could be broken in a relatively short amount of time.

Help is at hand for the security teams of the future. Quantum key distribution developed by BT and Toshiba can mitigate the threat by exploiting the laws of physics to make data encryption almost unbreakable.

Encrypted data is transferred through the quantum key distribution system (left) and monitored by the eavesdropping device

Encoded information is fired down optical fibre in single photons of light at a rate of up ten gigabits per second. Keys can be checked every millisecond if required, so a quantum computer has to crack potentially trillions of keys in order to access a meaningful volume of data.

An eavesdropping device monitors any evidence of interruption creeping into the transmission on a tapping meter, which is reflected in the time of its arrival. 

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The laws of quantum physics dictate that you could change anything in the quantum world just by observing it.

"That's what makes this look like an ideal way of transferring keys," says Monteath. "Anybody that tries to break and have a look at the data, they essentially start to corrupt the data."

Any breach is identified immediately and the transaction aborted to avoid disaster. Because it can exchange data at such a high rate, an uncompromised key can still be used from the catalogue that’s been stockpiled, and a new key can be sent automatically with no noticeable disruption.

Biometric security

On the counter of the BT's model high street bank branch stands a Fujitsu biometric palm reader that can verify the identity of customer with a touch of the hand.

Monteath places his palm above the device and it scans the veins underneath the surface of his skin by emitting an infrared beam sensitive to light reflected off haemoglobin in his blood. The pattern is recorded by the sensor and compared to his record on a database before access is granted.

Two uses of biometrics supported by BT: the Fujitsu biometric palm reader (right) and the Iproove facial recognition scanner

"There's another technology which uses fingers, which are much more prone to constriction in the cold conditions," says Monteath. "The reason they went for the palm in this instance was the depth of the veins within the palm are sufficient, and they don't tend to constrict as much as the ones on your fingers."

A further form of biometrics is also on display. The facial biometric recognition tool known developed by a startup called Iproov can authenticate identity through a smartphone camera.

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Monteath positions within a circle on the smartphone screen before a sequence of colours flash light across on the details of his face.

Most similar devices only analyse an image, but this one goes a step further by streaming a video to the servers. Using a photo wouldn't work as it wouldn't reflect the light off his features in the same three dimensional way. It may be possibility to deceive by making a first-rate bust, but only if it's of a quality that few are capable of creating.

"It has to be Hollywood-grade prosthetics," says Monteath. "It has to be that good before you've even got a change of it working."