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Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) Tags

Context:

After a high-level security review for the forthcoming Amarnath Yatra, the government has decided to track all pilgrims using Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags.

Relevance:

GS III- Science and Technology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is RFID tags?
  2. How do RFIDs work?
  3. Where are RFIDs commonly used?
  4. Is it possible to hack RFID tags?

What is RFID tags?

  • It’s a wireless tracking system that consists of tags and readers.
  • Radio waves are used to communicate information/identity of objects or people to nearby readers – devices that can be hand-held or built into fixed positions like poles or buildings.
  • The tags can carry encrypted information, serial numbers and short descriptions.
  • There are also high-memory tags like the ones designed for use in the aviation industry.
Types of RFID tags:
  • Active RFID tags
  • Passive RFID tags

Active RFID tags

  • Active RFIDs use their own power source, mostly batteries.
  • Active tags can ping information every few seconds like beacons, or they can get activated when a reader is in the proximity.
  • Active tags have a longer read range, around 300 ft, compared to passive tags.

Passive RFID tags

  • Passive RFIDs, on the other hand, are activated through the reader using the electromagnetic energy it transmits.
  • This is enough power for the tag to transmit information back to the reader.

How do RFIDs work?

  • RFID tags use an integrated circuit and an antenna to communicate with a reader using radio waves at several different frequencies – low frequency (LF), high frequency (HF), and ultra-high frequency (UHF).
  • The message sent back by the tag in form or radio waves is translated into data and analysed by the host computer system.
  • Unlike Barcodes, RFIDs do not require direct line of sight to identify objects. They also have a bigger range.

Where are RFIDs commonly used?

  • They are practically everywhere.
  • Retail giants use them for inventory tracking.
  • RFID chips are used as access keys in labs.
  • They are also built into credit cards and library books.
  • FastTags being used for toll payments across the country are also RFID tags.

Is it possible to hack RFID tags?

  • Depending on data to be shared, grades of encryption can be introduced between the tag and the reader to verify credentials.
  • Memory segments of the card can hold data encrypted with cryptographic keys.
  • While a casual data theft is not possible, hackers can use ‘side-channel attacks’ to extract the cryptographic information.
  • But that hack is not easy to pull off given that tag manufacturers continue to improve security features.

-Source: Indian Express

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September 2022
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