Benefits and Functionality of RFID Could Overshadow Privacy Concerns

privacy-concerns-RFID-blogAs the adoption of RFID technology grows, concerns over privacy is increasing. However, an information security expert believes that the benefits and functionality of the technology could overshadow privacy concerns.

RFID refers to the wireless and contactless use of radio-frequency electromagnetic fields to transfer data, in order to automatically identify and track tags attached to objects. These tags contain electronically stored information and can be battery-powered or not powered. They can be read at a range varying from 10cm to 200m depending on the type of tag.

RFID is used widely across several industries, including transportation, logistics, fashion, automobiles, and pharmaceuticals.

Unlike a conventional barcode, an RFID tag does not need to be within line of sight of the reader, and it may be embedded in the tracked object. It is this feature of RFID which has led to the eruption of privacy concerns. Furthermore, forgery and other illegitimate or unauthorized uses of the technology could also pose a hindrance to its adoption.

“There have been widespread concerns about how individuals and organizations access data,” said Nicolai Solling, director of technology services at Help AG, an IT security services provider. “With high-security applications such as passports and payment cards, the risks are rather obvious. Someone with a cloned tag — which is effectively a forged copy even though it may not physically look anything like the original tag — may be able to make purchases or travel under your identity.”

As tags can be attached to clothing and possessions, privacy concerns also abound over whether these tags can be used for unauthorized tracking of people.

According to a Harvard report, RFID tags can be embedded into a wide variety of consumer goods such as clothes, shoes, books, and key cards, without the consumer being aware of their presence. These tags can also be tracked by anyone — an issue compounded by the fact that RFID readers will eventually be cheap to acquire and easily concealable.

“Irrespective of the security concerns, due to this ease of deployment, general simplicity and convenience of the technology, we are definitely going to see RFID being used for the foreseeable future,” Solling said. “Unfortunately, organizations are not always aware of the inherent security risks associated with technology…This is where the industry really has to step in — both to raise awareness and to help formulate standards upon which such technologies can be securely developed.”