Imagine A Future…
Imagine a future in which your every belonging is marked with a unique number identifiable with the swipe of a scanner, where the location of your car is always pinpoint-able and where signal-emitting microchips storing personal information are implanted beneath your skin or embedded in your inner organs.
This is the possible future of radio frequency identification (RFID), a technology whose application has originally been limited largely to supply-chain management (enabling companies, for example, to keep track of the quantity of a given product they have in stock) but is now becoming a standard for passport tracking, among other things.
RFID-enabled items as shampoo, lip balm, razor blades, clothing and cream cheese, are promoted by retailers and marketers as the next revolution in customer convenience. Consumer advocates say this is paving the way for a nightmarish future where personal privacy is a quaint throwback.
★ How RFID Works
There are two types of RFID tags: active and passive. When most people talk about RFID, they talk about passive tags, in which a radio frequency is sent from a transmitter to a chip or card which has no power cell per se, but uses the transmitted signal to power itself long enough to respond with a coded identifier. This numeric identifier really carries no information other than a unique number, but keyed against a database that associates that number with other data, the RFID tag’s identifier can evoke all information in the database keyed to that number.
An active tag has its own internal power source and can store as well as send even more detailed information.
The RFID value chain involves three parts: the tags, the readers and the application software that powers these systems. From there, the data generated by the application software can interface with other systems used in an enterprise, or, if they obtain the information or collect it themselves, concievably by governments or all kinds of nefarious organizations.
Still, RFID may be yet a few steps from being everywhere… so far.
But this is not to be taken lightly.
★ Where it’s Being or Likely to Be Used
Analyst firm IDTechEx, which tracks the RFID industry, estimated that more than 585 billion tags have been delivered in 2016. Among the largest growth sectors, IDTechEx lists the tagging of food, books, drugs, tires, tickets, secure documents (machine-readable passports and visas), livestock, baggage and more.
● Passport Tracking
American and other passports are being developed that include RFID-based chips which allow the storage of considerable amounts of data such as fingerprints and digitized photographs. In the U.S., these passports started being issued in October of 2006. Early in the development of these passports there were gaping security holes, such as the capability of being read by any reader, not just the ones at passport control (the upshot of this was that travelers carrying around RFID passports would have been openly broadcasting their identity, making it easy for wrongdoers to easily and surreptitiously pick Americans or nationals of other participating countries out of a crowd.)
★ Implications for Privacy Seekers
Obvious or not, RFID has clear implications for those who are worried about their privacy and safety. Major threats are:
● Can be read without your knowledge
Since the tags can be read without being swiped or obviously scanned (as is the case with magnetic strips or barcodes), anyone with an RFID tag reader can read the tags embedded in your clothes and other consumer products without your knowledge. For example, you could be scanned before you enter the store, just to see what you are carrying. You might then be approached by a clerk who knows what you have in your backpack or purse, and can suggest accessories or other items.
● Could be Linked to a Credit Card Number
The Universal Product Code (UPC) implemented with barcodes allows each product sold in a store to have a unique number that identifies that product. Work is proceeding on a global system of product identification that would allow each individual item to have its own number. When the item is scanned for purchase and is paid for, the RFID tag number for a particular item can be associated with the credit card number it was purchased with.
● Potential for Counterfeit
If an RFID tag is being used to authenticate someone, anyone with access to an RFID reader can easily capture and fake someone elses unique numeric identifier, and therefore, in essence, their electronic ‘signature’. If an RFID-tagged smartcard is used for shopping, for instance, anyone who intercepted and reverse-engineered your number, and programmed another card with it, could make charges on your account.
● Can be Read at Greater Distances
With a high-gain antenna For various technical reasons, RFID reader/tag systems are designed so that distance between the tag and the reader is kept to a minimum. However, a high-gain antenna can actually read tags from much further away, leading to privacy problems. Governments or others could punch through privacy screens and keep tabs on people.
● Difficult to Remove
RFID tags are hard for consumers to remove; some are very small (less than a half-millimeter square, and as thin as a sheet of paper) – others may be hidden or embedded inside a product where consumers cannot see them. New technologies allow RFID tags to be printed right on a product and may not be removable at all
What makes RFID a more significant privacy threat than mobile phones is the fact that readers will be readily available and ubiquitously deployed. In other words, RFID readers will soon be an accepted element of everyday life, while eavesdropping equipment for mobile phones is unlikely to be.
★ How To Thwart RFID Technology
There are a few approaches you can take to thwart RFID tags… but before you take proactive steps, note that sometimes the very absence of a tag or its signal in places its expected could arouse suspicion. For instance, if youre carrying what is expected to be an RFID-tagged passport and your tag isn’t working, say, you may invite unwanted scrutiny. Be careful which tags you choose to disrupt.
Wherever disrupting is appropriate the safe way to disrupt RFID tag detection is blocking.
● Products (such as Clothing)
The simplest, most permanent approach to disable RFID tags is to destroy them. If you can detect them and wish to permanently render them useless, remove them and smash the small chip component with a hammer. If youre not sure whether a product you own contains a tag, consider putting it in a microwave to destroy the tag if the object is otherwise safe to be microwaved. Be careful with some plastics. Note there have been reports of RFID materials catching fire in microwaves.
● Credit Cards and Card Sized Documents
If you are concerned about RFID emissions from work badges, school IDs, new generation drivers licenses, credit cards, and even cash in the future containing RFID tags, buy or make an → RFID-proof wallet. Or get a set of → ultra thin protective sleeves to individually hold your cards [TGSO-Link]. DIY? You can secure your cards also by constructing a simple conductive foil box that will shield the tags inside.