RFID: Combining Low Read Rates With Cyberthief-Friendly Long-Distance Accessibility

Written by Evan Schuman
August 5th, 2010

Among the more fascinating tidbits to come out of the Black Hat/Defcon show in Las Vegas last week was a demonstration that an RFID tag could be read from 217 feet away. The tester used two large antennas and ham radio equipment, reported Dark Reading

But retailers have been discovering the ability to monitor RFID at very long distances for years. That’s the irony of RFID. How can something with such low read-rates at a distance of two inches—when you absolutely need it to be read—also be readable by a corporate spy across the parking lot? Admit it: Technology (and cats, by the way) not so secretly wants us all to fail.


4 Comments | Read RFID: Combining Low Read Rates With Cyberthief-Friendly Long-Distance Accessibility

  1. Patrick Sweeney Says:

    Using ham radio equipment and the high gain antennas they used at DEFCON is of course illegal. It violated FCC Part 15 for what you can use in the ISM band. The good news is most retailers, like M&S, American Apparell, and yes, even WalMart are getting above 99.5% read rates. This is great news for retailers, and consumers who actually want to find their size and color in stock. And contrary to popular belief you cannot milk a cat…

  2. A reader Says:

    The demo was performed by a licensed amateur radio operator, who meticulously complied with all FCC rules during the demo. The Part 15 rules you are referring to apply only to unlicensed broadcasters, who are limited to 500mV/m.

    Licensed amateurs, except novice classes, can transmit on the 902-928 band, using up to a maximum of 1500 watts of power. He limited his demo to less than 250 mW to avoid excessive exposure to the audience. FCC rules state that the transmitting station must ID itself every 30 minutes, so he transmitted his station identification via Morse on a pure CW every 10 minutes; data transmissions are permitted in the 33cm band although data must follow a published standard (EPC Gen2 qualifies) and it must not obscure the signal with encryption; it must not interfere with federal systems or Location and Monitoring Systems; and the amateur radio station must tolerate interference from ISM devices. Licensed amateurs are not restricted with respect to high gain antennas.

    There was nothing illegal about the operator or the equipment used during this demo.

  3. Patrick Sweeney Says:

    If he was a licensed operator and he was using the equipment for personal communication it would be legal…unless it causes interference with any unlicensed devcies operating in the ISM band or he did it to make money or for personal recognition (which clearly this was a paid conference and as part of that a governemnt lawyer would say they were going beyond personal use).

    Clearly the demo violated FCC rules, and if someone was to do this in proximity to say a WalMart store, 1500w of power would dramatically interfere with the 4 watts allowed for passive RFID. That would also be in violation of their licensing requirement which the FCC states must be “solely with a personal aim and without pecuniary interest’ FOR MORE DETAILS GO TO WIRELESS.FCC.GOV.

    Either way it was a good demo for the indsutry to show what is possible with the technology, but was more sensationalism for the privacy zealots who should be more worried that someome is baking them with 1500watts of power, which about equivalent to making the entire room a working microwave.

  4. Evan Schuman Says:

    Please forgive me for stating the obvious, but the demo was intended to show ways that a cyberthief could game the system. Anyone who would do such a thing is unlikely to lose any sleep over violating FCC rules. They’ve got much more frightening feds to worry about.


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