WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The explosion of electronic, mobile and other payment methods will ultimately make for a safer system, but the technology needs to be rolled out “in a prudent fashion” with recognition of possibly unexpected risks, Federal Reserve Governor Jerome Powell said on Thursday.
As the U.S. relies more heavily on electronic payment methods and beefs up security with changes like chip-and-pin credit and debit cards, banks, data processors and merchants need to keep pace with the criminal networks that are steadily improving their methods as well, Powell said.
“You will be attacked,” Powell said at a conference on payments security in Kansas City, Missouri, sponsored by the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank. “Criminals today are often motivated, intelligent, well-organized and well-funded.”
More then 120 billion non-cash electronic transactions take place a year, and both consumers and merchants want faster and more convenient options for paying for goods and transferring money.
Ultimately, Powell said he felt market innovation would also improve security.
“Technological innovations can provide substantial benefits to payment system efficiency and security in the long run, but they often introduce new, unanticipated risks,” Powell said.
High-profile data breaches at major retailers like Target have shown that the shift to electronic payment processing and record keeping comes at a cost, with theft no longer limited to phony checks but encompassing entire databases of information and systemic attacks on payment networks.
The Fed has organized a series of task forces to work on issues like improving payment speed and security.
Powell said the need for an improved system is obvious in the fact that data breaches often go undetected for months. In 2014, he said half of the recorded data breaches were not found for more than 200 days.
Banks and merchants “need to plan for a potential attack,” he said.
Reporting by Howard Schneider; Editing by Andrea Ricci