Mobile Payment Processing Techniques

PA DSS & PCI compliance

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on Mar30

There is no doubt, that the role of mobile devices in our lives is rapidly gaining importance. Nowadays mobile devices and payment applications installed on them are often used for handling of online purchases. In this article we are going to address the ways of making and accepting payments through mobile devices. We will discuss the ways in which mobile payments can be processed and the types of payments that can be made with mobile devices.
The main problem of payment application usage is how to deal with PCI compliance in each particular case. We are going to consider several conceptual approaches, which allow people and entities to accept payments, and, at the same time, reduce their PCI exposure.
Conceptual approaches to mobile payment processing are as follows.

Mobile payment processing through In-App payments

The first and most widely available approach is the so-called In-App payment. It is used by the most popular online stores, selling apps, such as App Store, Google Play, and others. They offer payment APIs, allowing to accept payments from the user of a given mobile app. In case of In-App payments, PCI exposure is completely avoided, as cardholder data is handled by the apps marketplace.

Mobile payment processing through a payment page

The second approach is usage of a classical web-page (payment page), which is accessed by an app that needs to collect the payment on a mobile device. In this case the payment page is located on the payment server of the payment service provider, which handles transaction processing for the app marketplace. This allows the app that needs to collect the payment to remain out of PCI scope.

Mobile payment processing through integration with the PSP

The third approach is to perform the integration of your mobile app with the external API of the payment service provider.
In this case you have to be careful not to increase your PCI exposure level.
If you choose to integrate your app with the payment system of your PSP, there are several ways you can follow.

  • You can use a payment application, provided by the gateway, and control its operation through so-called inter-app communication.
  • You can use the SDK/API, provided by the payment gateway.

Depending on your PCI strategy, you can choose one of the listed options.
In both cases it is better to consult QSA regarding your PCI status. However, if you do not have a QSA and plan to do a self-assessment questionnaire, then inter-app communication is the safer option.
The advantage of the inter-app communication is that your application code is completely separated from the payment application that actually processes the payment.
The disadvantage of inter-app communication is that you have to operate two payment applications instead of one.

How to process payments

Within the mobile environment both card-present and card-not-present transactions can be processed.
To process card-present transactions you can use some external device. Traditionally, conventional card-readers were used. However, nowadays, many other solutions emerged, which allow you to accept EMV cards and input PIN. Some of these modern devices are operated through Bluetooth technology. So, you can choose a device to integrate with, if you need to process some particular types of cards and transactions.
For card-not-present transactions two options can be used.

  • One option is to input card data manually, using the on-screen keyboard of the mobile device.
  • Another option is to use special external libraries, such as card.io. They allow you not to input card data manually, but instead just take a photo of your card using the camera on your mobile device. Cardholder name and card number are extracted from the card photo using image recognition algorithms. As we see, in this case, a traditional card-not-present transaction is performed, however the cardholder does not have to input card number manually.

Conclusion

There are different approaches, which you can utilize for mobile payment processing. Your choice will depend on your technical/functional needs and on transaction pricing offering of a specific PSP (for instance, in-app communication is quite expensive in comparison to classical payment gateway integration).

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