What is RFID?
Radio-frequency identification (RFID) refers to a technology where digital data encoded in RFID tags or smart labels are captured by a reader via radio waves. RFID technology embeds digital information into objects such as passports, security badges, car keys, apparel, and smart tags, which enable activities such as asset tracking, personnel tracking, access control, ID badging, counterfeit prevention, supply chain management, contactless payments, and remote start. RFID systems are composed of three elements: a smart label or RFID tag, an RFID reader, and an antenna. RFID tags contain an integrated circuit and an antenna which are used to transmit data to an RFID reader called an interrogator.1 The reader then converts the radio waves to a more usable form of data and then it is transferred through a communications interface to a host computer system. The data is then stored in a database for future analysis.
RFID tag types include:
Passive tags. Passive RFID tags work by relying on the power of a reader’s electromagnetic field. Passive tags are limited in their scope because they operate over a shorter distance and transmit a smaller amount of data.
Active tags. Active RFID tags are able to transmit a larger amount of data over a larger distance, and they can do this at any time. They are more powerful because they have on-board batteries.
An advantage of RFID over bar codes is that RFID tag data can be read outside the line-of-sight, rather than with an optical scanner. A disadvantage is that RFID technology can leave your personal and confidential data vulnerable due to RFID skimming. RFID skimming occurs when a cyberattacker uses the RFID wireless technology to acquire information embedded in your RFID chips such as your name, credit card number, expiration date, and other information. RFID skimming can happen at locations such as ATMs, banks, airports, buildings with security keys, DMVs, retail stores, public buildings, hospitals, and garages. To protect yourself from RFID skimming:
Use an RFID blocker. Many wallets, card holders, passport cases, and even clothes, have been constructed with protective metal material designed to block radio waves from being transmitted to an RFID reader. Keeping your RFID cards and badges in these specially designed products will protect your data from being accessed by nearby RFID readers.
Keep RFID cards together. Keeping RFID cards next to each other in your wallet makes it more difficult for them to be read by RFID readers.
Keep RFID cards in your front pocket. Keeping RFID cards in your back pocket leaves them more vulnerable.
Be aware of your surroundings. As you are using your RFID card, be aware that people near you can be RFID skimming. Be alert for strange behavior and awkward movements.
1 ABR, 2022, “What is RFID and How Does RFID Work?”