Are you familiar with RFID technology? You are probably seeing and using it every day now without even realizing it. In fact, if you’ve ever bought something from a store and walked out to set off alarms, it may have been because an RFID tag was still attached to your purchase. RFID technology can be used as spyware as well as anti-spyware.
It’s like fighting fire with fire.
First we’re going to cover types of RFID technology and how it’s used, and then we’ll tell you what you can do to detect spyware and get rid of it.
What is RFID?
RFID stands for radio frequency identification. This system uses radio waves to read, transmit, and capture information stored on a tag that’s attached to an object. For example, in another tip, we told you to wrap your keyless remotes in aluminum foil so that thieves don’t wirelessly steal your codes — and steal your car. They use RFID to steal your information.
The genius of the RFID system is that the tag can be wirelessly read from up to several feet away. It’s also multi-directional, meaning the tag doesn’t have to be directly within a reader’s line of sight to be read.
With the current advancements in RFID technology, the tags are now smaller and cheaper to produce. Better yet, passive RFID tags also don’t require internal power to work.
This is why RFID tags are now widely used and they can be found virtually everywhere.
How an RFID system works
A basic RFID system is made up of just two components – a tag/label and a reader.
The tag/label has two parts – a microchip that stores and processes the data and an antenna that receives and transmits the radio signal.
Fun fact: The average passive RFID tag can only store one KB of information! This sounds so tiny but it’s enough to store sensitive information like your name, credit card details, Social Security number, and address.
The reader, on the other hand, has a two-way radio transmitter/receiver (known as an interrogator) that sends out a signal to communicate with a nearby tag. The tag will then respond with the information written in its storage chip.
Types of RFID tags
Here are the three types of RFID tags:
- Passive tag – This type of RFID tag is the most popular since it doesn’t require an internal power source. This tag relies on the reader’s radio wave energy for power. Since passive tags are cheaper to produce, they are meant to be disposable.
- Active tag – This RFID tag has a small onboard battery for broadcasting its data at set intervals. These are more expensive to produce and are meant for objects that need to be read over greater distances.
- Semi-passive tags -Similar to active tags, semi-passive tags also have internal batteries. However, this type of tag only activates when it is near a reader.
Examples of RFID technology
Let us be clear: RFID technology isn’t bad. It’s been around since the 1970s, and it is used for a variety of functions including some you may have seen:
- Contactless payments/payment cards — if you’ve ever tapped a credit card to a point-of-sale device to pay for something, that’s RFID at work.
- Pet tracking — you can find collars with built-in pet trackers, as well as microchipping technology that helps reunite lost pets with their owners.
- Race timing — anyone who’s run a 5K, marathon or other race has probably used RFID attached to a shoe or race bib.
- Key cards and time cards — if you work in a secure building as we do here at Komando.com, you might use an ID badge or time card that relies on RFID technology.
- Inventory management — supply chain managers and warehouse employees use this type of technology to scan items as they enter and leave inventory.
- Passports — current US passports have RFID chips (according to U.S. Customs, there is no personal information attached to the chip, just a unique number that’s stored in a government database)
RFID can also be used to detect audio and video recording devices that transmit data over radio waves. Another tactic to find hidden cameras involves a network-scanning software program called NMAP. In the short video below, Kim explains NMAP works.
RFID security concerns
Over the last few years, you have most likely received the newer EMV-chip equipped credit and debit cards. With these types of cards, you simply insert them in a register’s reader instead of swiping.
Aside from EMV chips, some of these newer credit cards may also have embedded RFID tags that can be used for contactless payments via NFC (near field communication). With an RFID-enabled credit card and an NFC-capable register, you can make payments by touching the card to a payment system or just by putting it near the payment system.
That’s convenient, for sure, but this system does come with its own share of security risks.
Criminals can use hacked portable payment terminals to skim information from RFID-capable payment cards while they’re still on the victim’s wallet or purse! It may sound like a proof-of-concept hack, but in theory, an enterprising thief can actually stand next to you and steal your credit card information without your knowledge.
Note: Although heavily encrypted, newer electronic passports also have embedded RFID tags that can be susceptible to remote skimming techniques.
RFID blockers and detectors
If you’re concerned about RFID tag skimming and remote attacks, you can get RFID blocking wallets, purses and even clothing for your peace of mind. RFID blockers have built-in shielding that blocks the radio waves that RFID tags rely on.
Protect your devices with RFID blockers, which you can get at any electronics store. Below are example products that Amazon carriers.
Look for hidden cameras using RFID detectors, which are also available from electronics stores. Here are two RFID detectors from Amazon: