Stop Electronic Pickpocketing - Prevention Tips for Credit Cards, ID Cards
Many people are becoming concerned that thieves can steal money from credit cards and steal identity information from cards in pockets and in bags purses. Many of those nifty hi-tech plastic cards with in-built chips use radio frequency identification technology, or RFID.
Such tags, or labels are attached to various objects for identification, including plastic cards, consumer items, clothing and they can even be embedded in the body of human and animals. E-tags on freeways, implantable pet tags, and cattle tags use similar technology.
Two-way radio transmitter and receivers, referred to as readers or interrogators, send signals to the tag that transmits data back in response. This technology is the basis for PayPass and other Swipe and Pay credit card systems that need no physical contact to make a payment. Very convenient, but potentially very insecure.
The readers running RFID software receive vital ID information and process it.
The potential fraud issue via this process is bigger than thefts from credit cards as the chips are being fitted to Passports, some Drivers Licences, your employee ID and building access card.
Your identity may be at risk. What can you do about it?
Is this Fact or Fiction? How can you protect yourself? Learn more in this article.
How Does Radio-Frequency Identification Work and Why is it a Risk
There are generally three parts to a RFID system
- Transponder - the RFID tag or chip - that has been programmed with information to send back stored information.
- Antenna that transmits a scanning signal
- Transceiver with software to decode the data
The scanning antenna such as a credit card reader puts out radio-frequency signal over a relatively short range or distance. This radio signal does two things:
- It provides a way of interrogating and communicating with the RFID tag transponder
- It transmits a tiny amount of energy to the RFID tag so it can send back some ID information (for passive RFID tags that lack in-built batteries).
The scanning antennas are generally permanently attached in the form or a reader in the shop or an e-tag transmitter fixed to a bridge or other structure over the freeway.
But handheld antennas are also available and various portable computers and even iPads can be programmed to do the job.
When an RFID tag moves through the field emitted by the scanning antenna, it detects the coded activation signal.
This causes it to awaken, and it ingest the energy transmitted.
It then transmits the ID and other data stored in its microchip via radio signals that are received by the scanning antenna.
The read and response time is rapid (less than 100 milliseconds).
Are You Credit Cards and ID Cards Safe?
Conceivably a modern day pickpocket with a laptop or iPad and an antenna could sneak up to within a metre or so of you, and zap-n-go - lift the digital contents of the cards in your wallet or purse without you being aware of it.
People have been doing similar things with Wifi and smartphones for various scams.
Although there have been no reports of large-scale RFID based theft, various teams of researchers have proven that the concept is definitely feasible.
The makers of the RFID cards and the banks and credit card companies insist that the data are encrypted and safe.
Yet can you really afford to take the risk?
What can You Do to Protect your Credit and ID cards from Electronic Pickpocketing?
Essentially you need to block radio waves by installing some sort of shield.
Water and metal are effective.
Water is too hard and messy, and so that leaves a metal cage or sleeve.
Wrapping you cards in moderately thick aluminum foil ( more than 27 microns thick) can block RFID signals.
Various manufactures have started to market RFID protection devices
RFID Blocking Wallets and Card Protection Sleeves
Ready-made RFID protection sleeves and aluminium wallets are available that block RFID signals.
Various government agencies have recommended that these protection sleeve devices are used by their employees.
Improved Security Codes, Rolling Codes and Encryption
The card manufacturers are working feverishly to improve the security of their cards and tags to block ID theft.
Credit Card Switch
Various devices are being developed to block instant access to the ID information.
One such device is to install a virtual switch on the card itself that turns the card on or off when part of the card is held.
This solution is easy to implement, has been trialled and is inexpensive to incorporate into manufacturing of the cards.
There is minimal disruption for the user and it also block inadvertent swipes and pays at various outlets from innocent passers-by. These devices are under being patented and developed.
© 2013 Dr. John Anderson
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