EBICS and EDS: weaknesses of salary payments with confidential information

For many years the electronic distributed signature (EDS) has been an important functionality used by various people to upload and release payments even from different locations.
The order types and their business content intended for this from the EBICS protocol permit a release based on the total data available – via the accompanying note – or based on the content payment data. For this purpose, the EBICS servers provide the most important information for each of the contained single payments already in prepared form. A customer system that shall display this data must not even know the specific payment format. That is what makes the software so convenient. As an exception, even a complete payment file can be transmitted. However, especially for large bulk payments this counters the convenience just described.
In payments practice, not only are simple payments and direct debits included in the ES folder but special payments with very personal data that requires special protection must be included as well. This includes pension and salary payments as well as bonuses and gratuities which are not intended for the general public and certainly not for inspection by the staff of a company.
This is exactly where a weakness of the EBICS specification becomes apparent: the business transaction code or purpose code that specifies the type of payment is missing when the single payments are transferred. That is why the EBICS products used by the customer are not able to protect the confidential data in a payment order, even if this was what the company wanted. The software lacks the criterion to decide whether payment details should be displayed or hidden.
Without an identifier in the specific payment order, it is not possible to distinguish confidential from normal payments. This means that the EDS is in principle unsuitable for checking and releasing salary payments by EDS because it cannot be ruled out that unauthorised employees will take a look at the possibly confidential information.
The EBICS society should therefore consider an extension to the XML for the HVT, which will also transmit this important information for the payment type. As long as this does not happen, the EDS can only be used for salary payments to a limited extent.
Author: Michael Schunk


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