Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Attacks/Breaches

9/11/2008
09:20 AM
Connect Directly
Google+
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

New 'On/Off Switch' Protects RFID Cards From Hacks

Technology would let cardholders activate RFID transmission only when card goes through a reader

A U.K. firm has developed an on/off “switch” for RFID cards that could protect cardholders from being hacked. The cardholder activates the RFID transmission by squeezing the card between his thumb and forefinger when it must be scanned by a reader.

The patented polymer-based technology comprised of metal particles is embedded into a circuit and gets built into a smart card during the lamination process. When compressed, it acts as an RFID signal conductor. “The difference is that RFID is always on and being interrogated, but this is always off until the instant you want it read,” says a spokesman for Peratech, which says it’s currently in discussions with smart card vendors.

RFID hacking has been well-documented, and a popular target for researchers. RFID readers can be easily hacked, and RFID-based cards, cloned with little effort. (See Black Hat Researcher Hacks Credit Cards.) This has made RFID-based building passes, passports, credit cards, and other contactless cards vulnerable to identity theft or other types of fraud. “Your identity and financial information could be stolen by the person sitting behind you on the bus, on the train, in a queue -- even walking down the street -- and you would never know that is was happening,” says David Lussey, CTO of Peratech.

Peratech’s underlying Quantum Tunnelling Composites (QTC) technology itself is used in astronaut spacesuits, robotics, and defense. Its application to RFID cards is not the first attempt to protect RFID from hacks. There are a variety of “shields” and stainless steel wallets that you can slip your RFID-based card into to prevent any tampering, for instance. But unlike some of these more bulky approaches to securing personal information stored on RFID cards, the 70-micron thick switch is rugged and compact. “It’s like a thin piece of paper,” Peratech’s spokesman says.

The concept of an on/off switch to protect user privacy in RFID isn’t new, either. Nate Lawson, principal with Root Labs, who recently reverse-engineered the popular RFID-based FasTrak toll tag that many drivers in the San Francisco Bay Area affix to their windshields for pre-paying highway tolls, is building a prototype on/off switch of sorts for FasTrak users. “You press a button on it so when you near the toll plaza, it activates RFID, and then immediately cuts the power to the whole circuit when it’s done,” Lawson says. (See FasTrak Toll Hacked, Exposing Privacy Dangers.)

Lawson says the Peratech switch concept represents a positive development for RFID security. “It won’t change the world, but overall, this is a [positive] development,” he says.

The key is making it inexpensive enough to attract card manufacturers. “Even a penny difference is something these manufacturers are concerned about,” he says. “That’s why you haven’t seen smart cards replacing mag-stripe” credit cards to date, he says.

Peratech won’t say just what it will cost per card, but that it would be a matter of “cents,” not dollars.

Lawson says an indicator light or auditory beep would be helpful to alert users that the card had successfully been enabled.

Just when Peratech’s RFID on/off switch technology gets incorporated into smart cards is unclear, however. “It’s not in credit cards or door-access cards now… We’re talking to RFID card vendor,” the company spokesman says. “We want to create an awareness that protection for this problem is here.”

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 the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. 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

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Sodinokibi Ransomware: Where Attackers' Money Goes
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  10/15/2019
Data Privacy Protections for the Most Vulnerable -- Children
Dimitri Sirota, Founder & CEO of BigID,  10/17/2019
State of SMB Insecurity by the Numbers
Ericka Chickowski, Contributing Writer,  10/17/2019
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
7 Threats & Disruptive Forces Changing the Face of Cybersecurity
This Dark Reading Tech Digest gives an in-depth look at the biggest emerging threats and disruptive forces that are changing the face of cybersecurity today.
Flash Poll
2019 Online Malware and Threats
2019 Online Malware and Threats
As cyberattacks become more frequent and more sophisticated, enterprise security teams are under unprecedented pressure to respond. Is your organization ready?
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2019-16404
PUBLISHED: 2019-10-21
Authenticated SQL Injection in interface/forms/eye_mag/js/eye_base.php in OpenEMR through 5.0.2 allows a user to extract arbitrary data from the openemr database via a non-parameterized INSERT INTO statement, as demonstrated by the providerID parameter.
CVE-2019-17400
PUBLISHED: 2019-10-21
The unoconv package before 0.9 mishandles untrusted pathnames, leading to SSRF and local file inclusion.
CVE-2019-17498
PUBLISHED: 2019-10-21
In libssh2 v1.9.0 and earlier versions, the SSH_MSG_DISCONNECT logic in packet.c has an integer overflow in a bounds check, enabling an attacker to specify an arbitrary (out-of-bounds) offset for a subsequent memory read. A crafted SSH server may be able to disclose sensitive information or cause a ...
CVE-2019-16969
PUBLISHED: 2019-10-21
In FusionPBX up to 4.5.7, the file app\fifo_list\fifo_interactive.php uses an unsanitized "c" variable coming from the URL, which is reflected in HTML, leading to XSS.
CVE-2019-16974
PUBLISHED: 2019-10-21
In FusionPBX up to 4.5.7, the file app\contacts\contact_times.php uses an unsanitized "id" variable coming from the URL, which is reflected in HTML, leading to XSS.