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RFID – Growing Concerns in the Real World

Introduction

RFID is becoming more and more prominent in people’s day to day lives. For those of you that do not know, RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification, it’s small, cheap, and cost effective for companies to implant in products. We use RFID for many things including credit cards, hotel room keys, NFC payments, basic smart cards, and much much more. You would think that based on the fact that we use it to transmit so many different types of sensitive information there would be security measure in place to protect users from potential attackers, however that assumption would be wrong.

NFC Proxy (Credit Card Theft on the Cheap)

To demonstrate the problem with the current lack of RFID security I will draw your attention to a tool developed by Eddie Lee called NFC Proxy. It’s an Android app that was released at this years Defcon. It allows for your to utilize your phones NFC to essentially skim and use people’s credit cards for illicit transactions. It does this by replicating the transmission that the RFID chip in your credit/debit gives to the phone. The phone essentially acts in the same way that a credit card reader that you use at a store does, it requests information from the RFID chip on the card, and the chip replies. This is the problem that I am trying to draw your attention to, the technology in RFID while low cost is also low security, of course there are exceptions such as Google Wallet, however they are using NFC and a software to provide security to the RFID hardware.

Current Protections

The current protection against these skimming attacks is by wrapping your card up in a protective metal sleeve. The problem with this is it’s not 100% effective, actually it’s not anywhere near that effective and with these attacks growing in popularity it is now trivial to bypass these sorts of protections. The metal sleeve interferes with the power of the signal to and from the RFID chip, however to bypass this attackers can just increase the power of their antenna and render the sleeve useless.

Conclusion

You should be fearful of bringing your NFC enabled cards out in public at this point. I would say to protect yourself to opt out of current NFC enabled solutions and keep to regular magnetic strip cards for the time being. There are companies currently working on hardware to protect your cards from attackers.

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