RSA polishes RFID shield

The security software maker announces a cloaking technology designed to protect information emitted by radio frequency identification tags.

Matt Hines Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Matt Hines
covers business software, with a particular focus on enterprise applications.
Matt Hines
2 min read
Computer security software maker RSA Security on Tuesday introduced a new technology for protecting information emitted by radio frequency identification tags.

The RFID cloaking system is intended to guard proprietary data located on chips used to carry product information. The RSA Blocker Tag technology uses a jamming system designed to confuse RFID readers and prevent those devices from tracking data on individuals or goods outside certain boundaries.

RFID tags, whose descriptive information is read via radio frequency technology, are expected to allow manufacturers and retailers to greatly improve inventory tracking. Considered a more advanced replacement for existing bar code technology, the systems have created a significant buzz among businesses looking to cut overhead through more intelligent management of products and supply chains. But a major obstacle threatening widespread adoption of RFID is concern that the chips might allow unsolicited collection of product data, creating a privacy risk for consumers.

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At its security conference taking place this week in San Francisco, RSA is offering demonstrations of the RFID-blocking tool in a mock pharmacy setting. In that scenario, the pharmacy would provide customers with special bags armed with the RSA Blocker Tags in order to keep RFID readers from gathering data.

The blocker tags work by emitting radio frequencies designed to trick RFID readers into believing that they are being presented with unwanted data, or spam, causing the information collection devices to shun the incoming transmission. RSA claims that by placing an RFID-loaded product into a parcel bearing one of the blocker tags, the system would cause RFID readers to miss any information carried by the product in the bag, thereby protecting consumers.

When a product is taken out of a bag armed with the blocking system, readers would again be able to scan the RFID tag accurately, the company said. Using the pharmacy example, RSA said a prescription bottle could not be scanned when protected but when unshielded could provide useful prescription information.

The company also promised that its cloaking system would not interfere with the normal operation of RFID systems or allow hackers to use security technology to bypass theft control systems or launch denial-of-service attacks.

"The promise of RFID will require infrastructure and process changes, and it will also present huge security and privacy challenges," Burt Kaliski, chief scientist of RSA Laboratories, said in a statement.