Security concerns could slow RFID

RFID will someday revolutionize business, but that won't occur until serious security issues are resolved.

That was the message delivered Monday at InfoSec World by Kevin Ashton, founder and director of MIT's Auto-ID Center, which developed RFID technology.

Ashton, currently vice president of marketing and business development for ThingMagic, a company that provides RFID readers and other sensing technology, said the basic idea behind RFID was to enable machines to "sense things on their own."

He said MIT and other places spent quite a bit of effort over the years trying to come up with machines that could "see" the world, but trying to replicate human vision proved incredibly difficult. As an alternative approach, RFID and other sensor technology use relatively simple and low cost chips to help machines perceive on their own.

The potential applications include RFID-based access control, human identification systems, cargo integrity, theft prevention and a number of military uses. Currently RFID is gaining a foothold at the back end of supply chains, but we won't be seeing RFID chips in retail applications until security concerns are addressed.

The problem, Ashton said, is that RFID chips and readers "talk to everybody" so it's possible for a hacker to use a "rogue reader" to gather information. And current standards do not provide for encryption of RFID transmissions.

"There's a lot of work to be done," said Ashton. He adds that it might take decades for the full RFID revolution to unfold, but it will happen eventually.

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