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How E-Commerce Protects Against COVID-19 and Cyberthreats

8/3/2021 8:00:00 AM

COVID-19 has expedited higher ed’s transition into the e-commerce sector as university leaders seek to transform their schools into contactless campuses. Reducing in-person transactions helps prevent and mitigate the spread of the coronavirus among students, faculty and staff who are on campus, and  provides them with peace of mind that their administrative leaders are keeping them safe.

For example, in-person transactions cause people to come into direct contact with each other through point of sale devices, increasing the risk of germ transmission. Adopting e-commerce practices and becoming 100% contactless can eliminate these types of interactions, helping colleges and universities open their doors to accept more people on campus in the fall. 

In addition to creating safer environments against germs and viruses like COVID-19, e-commerce also enhances security in the digital world by providing improved data protection and privacy. 

E-commerce through Digital Wallets and Alternative Payment Methods 

Most e-commerce transactions are completed via digital wallets on people’s smartphones, which come preinstalled with advanced fingerprint or facial recognition security features. Unlike popular belief, digital wallets do not store credit card numbers. Instead, they create a device-specific number and a unique transaction code, also called tokenization. So if a phone is ever hacked, the hacker only has access to these tokens and not the credit card number. 

Additionally, these tokens have no real value, so cybercriminals can’t use them to blackmail institutions.  According to the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), tokenization is one of the most effective ways to minimize the scope of your PCI compliance. 

Research shows that students feel safer using digital payment apps and are already adopting this technology. Since the pandemic, 40 percent of students have used or plan to use digital payment apps such as Venmo, Paypal, Apple Pay and Google Pay, according to a 2020 survey1 on students’ relationship with the mobile world conducted by TouchNet. Meanwhile, 56 percent of students feel secure paying bills and making purchases using these platforms.

Increased Security for ACH Transactions & 2021 Nacha Updates  

While Automated Clearing House (ACH) transactions are an established secure e-commerce payment method, Nacha has new rules that it began enforcing in 2021 to improve how schools accept payments and issue funds. Institutions need to be aware of the following new Nacha requirements:

  • verify consumer checking accounts for debit transactions before it can be used for web payments, as of March 19, 2021.

  • secure debit and credit financial data at rest (data that is in storage or not currently in use) if parties send six million or more ACH transactions per year, as of June 30, 2021.

  • secure debit and credit financial data at rest (data that is in storage or not currently in use) if parties send two million or more ACH transactions per year, beginning on June 30, 2022. 


By providing additional opportunities to conduct business in safer ways, higher ed can foster many more interactions and better prepare for the future.  The pandemic demonstrated that change can be immediate and transformational. Adopting e-commerce practices will help colleges and universities not only thrive now, but quickly adapt and react to unforeseen changes ahead.


Be on the lookout for the 2021 Connecting the Dots survey this Fall. 

Download the 2020 Connecting the Dots Student Survey

1More than 300 students from across the U.S. participated in the study, most of whom are enrolled in large, four-year colleges and live off campus. Participating students also attended smaller and two-year institutions, including community colleges.