The coming RFID revolution is real. There are countless uses for this technology but the PR has to catch up with the story. The voices of fear and misinformation are winning right out of the gate. So called privacy advocates are stirring up fear in consumers minds. People may not fully understand all the benefits of Radio Frequency Identification technology but they have heard that hackers or terrorists will steal your identity when you buy shaving cream from MegaLoMart.
So what needs to happen? The industry needs to get out there ahead of the technology to tell the story of data security.
There are small hints that need to be more fully explained. I found this story from RFID in Japan:
Takashimaya, which is one of the largest retailers in Japan, now sells anti-skimming cards called "Sherry" at their department stores. Consumers can just put the cards in their wallets in order to prevent their RFID-chipped train passes etc. from skimming attacks.
The anti-skimming card functions by creating "reverse" electro-magnetic field like Taiyo's technology. Not sure if the cards sold at Takashimaya are manufactured by Taiyo or not.
Skimming is the act of secretly reading an RFID tag without authorization. This is the great fear that causes consumer, privacy and civil liberty concerns. The recent PR debacle surrounding plans for the RFID tagging of US passports illustrates this fear. The government announced plans to imbed RFID tags in passports to facilitate document integrity and increase machine readability. Privacy advocates and the ACLU quickly and correctly pointed out that this step could easily enhance terrorists ability to locate and identify Americans abroad. Terrorists with RFID tag readers could move through crowds "skimming" passports without people knowing. When the scanners find a tag the terrorists have found and American. Fortunately, the plans were quickly scrapped.
This story has gotten a lot of blog attention. What has gotten even less attention is the technology that can safeguard consumers from skimming attacks. Simply partnering a tagged card(i.e. loyalty card, credit card, transit pass, etc.) with an anti-skimming card can prevent such information theft. Other kinds of protection can be built into wallets and purses to make them secure.
Another aspect of the technology that needs better communication to consumers is the scan proximity of different forms of RFID tags. Most passive(un-powered) tags like those in most consumer cards, IDs and passes have a scan range of just a few inches. Powered tags like an EZ-pass or I-pass on the windshield of your car can be read at greater distances. Could a hacker skim your EZ-Pass? Sure but all they gain is a unit ID number that is useless without the database that connects the ID number of your EZ-Pass unit with your name and credit card data.
The bottom line is that a better story needs to be told that clearly explains how the technology works and what steps need to be taken to protect oneself from data theft. Just like the credit card industry has developed safeguards so to will the RFID industry. Let's here more about the safeguards and opportunities before the rumors, memes and fear-mongerers fill the bandwidth.