Engineering & Security, KYC

NFC: The Keystone of Trust in a Digital World – Why Physical Document Verification Matters?

Apr 30, 2024
7 min read

Vlad Simakov



Governments across the globe are increasingly integrating Near Field Communication (NFC) technology into National ID cards. This shift enhances security measures and enables convenient contactless verification methods. NFC-enabled IDs create a more streamlined and reliable process for identity authentication, streamlining and digitising various processes like border control, financial transactions, and access to government services. Countries like Belgium, Germany, Singapore, and Argentina are among the many nations that have adopted NFC-enabled identity cards, demonstrating the technology’s global reach.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has emerged as a global leader in embracing digital transformation across its public and private sectors. The nation’s commitment to combating financial crimes like Anti-Money Laundering (AML) and fraud prevention is particularly evident in the UAE Central Bank’s “Guidance for Licensed Financial Institutions on Digital Identification for Customer Due Diligence.”  This comprehensive guidance emphasises the crucial need for the physical verification of identity documents as an essential security measure.

In practice, specialised card readers were traditionally used to extract data from the Near Field Communication (NFC) chips embedded within modern identity documents. However, with NFC technology enabled on smartphones for over a decade – since the iPhone 6 launched in 2014 – the same technology is now readily available in many devices (89% of all smartphones). This provides convenient, reliable and easy-to-deploy verification capability based on physical evidence. Despite this, there’s a surprising reliance on standalone technologies for document verification(such as OCR and government APIs).

The Limitations of Digital-Only Verification

While digital-only verification methods offer convenience and speed, relying solely on technologies like Optical Character Recognition (OCR), Biometrics and Government APIs for document verification falls short in high-stakes scenarios.

  • OCR: OCR systems excel at extracting text and data from images, with OCR, we can extract data from the document, but as yet, we can’t guarantee that the data extracted is either genuine or hasn’t been tampered with.
  • Tampering detection: Even the best-in-class tampering detection cannot fully guarantee protection from deep fake or other sophisticated technologies. The rise of AI-powered image manipulation tools allows for the creation of convincing forgeries that can slip past such checks.
  • Biometrics: Facial recognition and other biometric modalities are becoming increasingly sophisticated. However, technologies like deepfakes can generate realistic synthetic images or videos, potentially enabling adversaries to bypass biometric checks. A publicly available example like DeepFaceLab or Onlyfake demonstrates the ease of creating convincing deepfakes. With such tools at their disposal, criminals can effortlessly bypass online verification systems, posing a significant threat to cybersecurity and online fraud.
  • Government APIs: Online verification against government databases (e.g., civil registries) confirms the validity and up-to-date status of the information on a document. However, this method alone cannot guarantee that the person presenting the document is the rightful holder. For instance, in Europe and the US, a major challenge arises when data is provided by credit agencies. These agencies can offer a name, date of birth, and address for someone with a strong credit score, making it relatively easy for fraudsters to generate a fake card with any photo and use it for fraudulent activities. Therefore, relying solely on government APIs for identity verification is not sufficient to prevent identity theft and other forms of fraud. Additional measures, such as biometric authentication or multi-factor authentication, may be necessary to enhance the security and reliability of identity verification processes

The adoption of NFC technology offers a uniquely robust solution and is rapidly becoming a global standard.

NFC: The key to unlocking trust

Historically, NFC chips were not widely embedded in identity documents. However, this is rapidly changing. In line with international standards like the ICAO’s (International Civil Aviation Organization) Doc 9303, ‘Machine Readable Travel Documents’, many countries now incorporate NFC chips into passports, resident IDs, and citizen IDs. For instance, as of December 2023, 172 countries have passports with a contactless (NFC).

The MENA region is not simply keeping pace with global trends in secure identity document technologies – it’s actively leading the charge. The rapid adoption of NFC (Near Field Communication) chips in identity documents is a prime example of this forward-thinking approach e.g.:

Country National ID Card NFC Support Added
UAE Emirates ID, UAE Pass 2013
Saudi Arabia Al-Hawaiya 2008
Oman Omani Resident Card 2006
Qatar Qatari Resident ID card 2009
Kuwait Kuwait Civil ID 2020
Bahrain Bahrain eID Card 2004


The MENA region’s commitment to NFC-enabled identity cards highlights its emphasis on robust and convenient document verification. This trend significantly expands the potential for secure physical document validation and sets a benchmark for the rest of the world to follow.

NFC within documents offers unparalleled evidence of a document’s physical presence and its association with a specific individual due to:

  • Cryptographic Security: Data within NFC chips is stored in an encrypted format and utilises robust authentication protocols. Replicating this encryption and mimicking the chip’s unique identifiers requires significant expertise and specialised equipment, creating a high barrier to entry for counterfeiters. Also data on NFC chips is digitally signed.
  • Digital Signature. Data on NFC chips is digitally signed thus allowing to check validity of the certificates and prove certificate issuers.
  • Anti-Skimming Protection: Well-designed NFC chips incorporate anti-skimming measures, preventing unauthorised devices from surreptitiously intercepting the data exchange between a legitimate reader and the chip.
  • Physical Proximity: NFC’s short-range requirement necessitates the document being physically present during the verification process. This drastically reduces the potential for remote attacks compared to image or video-based verification methods.

A Comprehensive Approach: NFC, OCR, Biometrics, and Government APIs

While NFC offers unmatched assurance of physical document presence, a multi-layered approach is crucial for comprehensive identity verification. Here’s how these technologies work together:

  • Cross-referencing: Data extracted by OCR (name, date of birth, ID number) from the NFC-verified document can be validated against both:
    • Biometric data collected from the person presenting the document
    • Information retrieved from relevant government APIs
  • Anomaly Detection: Any discrepancies between the OCR data, NFC data, biometric data, and government records raise red flags, signalling a potential forgery attempt and triggering further investigation.
  • Enhanced Security: This strategy safeguards against scenarios where a single technology might be compromised. For instance, even if a deepfake manages to partially fool the biometric system, inconsistencies with the NFC-verified document will expose the fraud attempt.

The seamless integration of technologies like NFC, OCR, biometrics, and government APIs paves the way for innovative and efficient processes across various sectors.

The Shura Council’s Members Election in Oman (2023) exemplifies the potential of this synergistic approach. This historic event represented the first fully digital election, extending the traditional concept of requiring a voter’s physical presence for participation. This breakthrough demonstrates the power of such technologies to foster secure, transparent, and accessible democratic processes aligned with contemporary global advancements.


In an era marked by sophisticated cyber threats and the increasing sophistication of digital forgery techniques, NFC stands as the linchpin of trustworthy document verification. It provides irrefutable evidence of a document’s physical presence, linking it to the person submitting it for validation.

The combination of NFC with OCR, biometrics, and government source integration forms a powerful alliance for robust identity verification. This alliance ensures that not only does the document exist, but it’s physically present and belongs to the person claiming the identity.

Vlad Simakov


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