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RFID – Radio Frequency IDentification

An RFID tag hidden under a label
An RFID tag hidden under a label

An RFID tag is nothing more than a little chip attached to a paper-thin antenna. The chip's basic function is to store and transmit a small amount of information, usually just a unique identifier. What good is that? Well:

Pros

Besides these, there are hundreds of visionary and useful things you can do RFID and these are just some of them. However, because there are little to no security controls included, most of the advantages quickly become outweighed by the disadvantages:

Cons

RFID Assassination

The same chip used in passports triggers a <i><a href=http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/news/2006/08/71521>RFID smart bomb</a></i>
The same chip used in passports triggers a RFID smart bomb

As if that wasn't bad enough, consider the fact that making yourself "machine readable" makes it possible for someone to program a bomb with your "number" on it. As soon as you walk near the bomb, you're done for. Think that's extreme? Ask the people fighting in the middle east if they want to see roadside bombs become more efficient and deadly than before.


Making RFID Safe

RFID to prevent infant abduction
RFID to prevent infant abduction

Why not just chuck this technology to the curb if it's so bad? Because it has so many valid and useful applications! RFID can be used to prevent infant abduction in hospitals, allow for advanced home management, and all of the other things we mentioned at the beginning of this article.

Stopping the progression of technology is a fool's game, but harnessing it and directing it to proper security while maintaining privacy is the path for the winning team. To do this, we need to look at three risk aspects of RFID:

1. Lack of authentication

One of the primary issues with RFID and the main thing that makes all the nightmare scenarios possible is that the dumb things broadcast to anyone and everyone. For any implementation of RFID to be acceptable, the chips must be programmed only to speak to proper readers who authenticated themselves first.

In other words, say you have a refrigerator that scans the food inside. When you put food inside, the fridge should program the food with a one-time code that makes it impossible for the chips in the packaging to respond to any other reader.

Note that the RFID in US passports have a system like this, but it's fairly weak and can be bypassed. But at least it's a start.

2. Lack of encryption

Even after a chip authenticates a reader, if it sends the data out in the open, anyone else nearby (or not so nearby) can read it too. All communications between a chip and authenticated reader must be encrypted to prevent eavesdropping by others.

3. Use of Long-term RFID

Implantation is permanent. Passports are good for 10 years. Companies plan to replace UPC barcodes with RFID that will transmit ID codes for the life of the product (from creation to landfill and beyond).

It doesn't make sense for every implementation of RFID to include authentication and encryption, but for the ones that don't (and even the ones that do), RFID must be a limited duration function.

First, once a human is walking around with an RFID on them, privacy and safety concerns have to be addressed. Any RFID in products that people wear or carry on a daily basis should be disabled upon sale.

Second, RFID implementations will eventually be hacked by someone. All it takes is one person in the ENTIRE world to find a way to break the system and the security is no good anymore (like the millions and millions of pounds wasted with the UK passports). Secure implementations of RFID must consider this fact in their design and account for it.

In Summary

RFID is fun and leads to many amazing and cool possibilities, but as it is now, it's dangerous, impractical, and irresponsible. Any company or government agency that implements them without first considering the drastic privacy and personal safety concerns is playing with disaster.

Even if RFID makers implement the measures I've suggested, people have a right to know there are tracking chips in the products they buy so they can make informed choices to participate or not. Laws need to be drafted to control the rampant planned and current abuse of RFID by companies and the government.

To become better informed of the dangers of RFID to personal privacy by over-zealous marketers, please see my article on Spychips

Guide Navigation
prev: Data Abuse|INDEX|next: Privacy Alias/Persona

The Basics

The Geek Privacy Principle: an argument for why you should choose to keep information to yourself most of the time.
Ever heard someone say they have Nothing to Hide? Learn why that's such a bad thing and what you can say in response when you hear it.

Current Dangers to Privacy

Data Abuse - Companies buy and sell all kinds of data about you from the foods you like to the color of your hair to the names and ages of your kids.
RFID - Radio Frequency IDentification - Companies are beginning to use tiny radio transmitters on products and in clothing to track your movements and add it to their profiles on you for marketing purposes.

Protecting Your Privacy

Build a Privacy Alias/Persona to give to people or organizations you don't trust.
Data Defense - Learn how to keep your information to yourself.
IDENTITY THEFT
How to Steal Identities - Why It's So Easy
Credit Freeze
Data Defense
Credit Monitoring
Id Theft Insurance
The Identity Theft Victim's Mini-Guide to Recovery
PRIVACY
The Geek Privacy Principle
Nothing to Hide
Data Abuse
RFID - Radio Frequency IDentification
Privacy Alias/Persona
Data Defense
INTERNET SAFETY
Online Addiction
The Consequences of Posting Online
Photo Safety
Tricks and Scams
Account Hijacking
Trusting Companies
PASSWORDS
Bad Passwords
Password Tips and Tricks
Password Protection
Password Mugging
Computer Security
E-mail Safety
Kids and Computers
Shopping Online
Retailers
All About Warranties

The Geek Privacy Principle

The most basic principle of privacy is to be able to choose who knows what about you and when. The Geek Principle describes why you should choose by default not to share information.

[Click for full description]

Nothing to Hide

Do you say "I have nothing to hide" or do people you know say it to YOU? Read this tutorial about why no one should ever say they have nothing to hide again.

[Click for full description]

Data Abuse

Learn how your data is taken from you and used against you by large companies for their own benefit.

[Click for full description]

RFID - Radio Frequency IDentification

One of the most risky technology when it comes to your privacy is Radio Frequency Identification Tags (RFID). These radio chips broadcast your identity sometimes hundreds of feet and can be found in passports, farecards, credit cards, and even some clothing.

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Privacy Alias/Persona

Sometimes you are required to give away information to be able to get service, but you know the company has no real need of your data other than to share and sell it. In these cases, having a personalized alias comes in handy.

This guide will explain in more detail why you should have one and how to create it.

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Data Defense

One of the most important, but least understood, threats against us today is the creeping data-abuse by companies seeking to compile complete profiles on every American in order to enable "targeted marketing".

Until laws are in place to control their use of your data, learn the tips and tricks to make it harder for them while improving your identity-theft defense at the same time.

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