Vulnerabilities / Threats
8/3/2010
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Researcher Reads RFID Tag From Hundreds Of Feet Away

Demonstration raises privacy and security concerns with RFID EPC Class 1 Generation 2 used in some passport cards, inventory tags, and driver's licenses

A hardware hacker has likely broken the world's record for reading an RFID tag from the farthest distance -- 217 feet.

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Security researcher Chris Paget demonstrated his homegrown RFID-reading equipment at both Black Hat USA and Defcon 18, last week in Las Vegas, to illustrate the lack of security in the Electronic Product Code (EPC) Class 1 Generation 2 RFID technology used in U.S. passport cards (not books), enhanced driver's licenses, and in clothing and other items at Walmart for inventory purposes, for instance.

Paget -- who last week at Defcon 18 also successfully faked several attendees' cell phones into connecting to his phony GSM base station during a live demonstration to illustrate security issues with GSM technology -- was able to find the RFID card from a balcony 30 stories up at the Riviera Hotel in a demo for reporters during Defcon. But his hardware blew after he attempted to boost the signal, so he was unable to show the full tag-reading step as a Defcon volunteer held up the tag from the road below.

"I've read it from 217 feet," Paget said, but his homemade RFID-reading system -- which included two large antennas, ham radio equipment, software radio peripheral, and a slimmed down Linux-based laptop -- is capable of reading the EPC Class 1 Gen2 RFID cards at much greater distances.

Paget plans to get the Guinness Book of World Records to confirm his feat, which beats records of 69 feet set by Flexilis at Defcon 13 and 65 meters by ThingMagic at another venue.

The RFID technology here isn't encrypted, he notes, nor does it contain any access control features. "I could tell what color underwear you were wearing" if you hadn't taken the tag off from Walmart, he says.

Paget says his research was all about proving that these RFID tags could be read from afar and how it poses a serious privacy risk for users. "It's inappropriate to put this technology in ID cards,"' he said. His research shows how people's information could be surreptitiously read from afar while they carry their passport cards, for example.

Among the information that could be read from the tags, he said, is the person's name and state of residence via a unique identification number used in the tags. The tag's prefix identifies the user by his home state, he said, information that could be used to scam tourists. And tag-reading could be used by bad guys for reconnaissance prior to robberies or other crimes in a neighborhood.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message.

Kelly Jackson Higgins is Executive Editor at DarkReading.com. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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