As of now, most credit cards and debit cards issued within the past decade have RFID (Radio Frequency IDentification) technology embedded in them. All US passports issued since August, 2007 and later have RFID chips that track your data and photo. RFID chips are a convenient way to store and read data – instead of having to swipe your card through a reader, you can simply wave your card in front of an RFID scanner without even taking it out of your wallet. Such comfort!
Unfortunately, RFID technology used to track sensitive data in many of today’s portable identifiers (e.g. cards) can be easily scanned without you ever knowing.
How can RFID-hacking occur and how to protect your RFID-chipped documents when traveling:
What is RFID technology?
RFID stands for Radio-Frequency IDentification. The acronym refers to small electronic devices that consist of a small chip and an antenna.
The RFID device serves the same purpose as a bar code or a magnetic strip on the back of a credit card or ATM card; it provides a unique identifier for that object. And, just as a bar code or magnetic strip must be scanned to get the information, the RFID device must be scanned to retrieve the identifying information.
RFID Works Better Than Barcodes
A significant advantage of RFID over barcodes is that the RFID device does not need to be positioned precisely relative to the scanner. We’re all familiar with the difficulty that store checkout clerks sometimes have in ensuring that a barcode can be read. And obviously, credit cards and ATM cards must be swiped through a special reader.
In contrast, RFID devices will work within a few feet (up to 20 feet for high-frequency devices) of the scanner. For example, you could just put all of your groceries or purchases in a bag, and set the bag on the scanner. It would be able to query all of the RFID devices and total your purchase immediately.
It’s a scary thought to entertain and if it bothers you, keep reading to find out what you can do about it.
How can you stay safe against hacked RFID chips?
Unfortunately, the danger is that someone could build a counterfeit reader – which wouldn’t be too difficult for anyone who is experienced in that field – and pick up your RFID information without your consent or even knowledge. Counterfeit card readers existed before RFID, but you were required to physically swipe your card through a slot; counterfeit RFID readers can pull or delete data without so much as you walking by.
On the market now are RFID-blocking sleeves, pouches, wallets and other such personal item carriers. A proper RFID blocker will utilize something called a “Faraday cage” (a grounded metal screen surrounding a piece of equipment to exclude electrostatic and electromagnetic influences) and the specification you want to look for is “electromagnetically opaque”. These RFID blockers will prevent illegitimate reading of your RFID-embedded objects.
Not all RFID-blocking wallets are made equal; some are more effective than others. In addition, even the most effective RFID-blocking wallets can fail, whether due to wear and tear or user error. These products will help keep you safe, nonetheless, exercise caution and common sense when traveling.
At Corporate Travel Safety, you can purchase RFID-reader blocking items such as wallets, full-sized/mini document holders, ladies’ clutches and handbags, neck holders, inside front pocket sleeves, etc. We’ve bought and used several of their products and have for years with no negative incidents to date.
BNI Operatives: Situationally Aware.
As always, stay safe.