RFID Study Guide


What is RFID?

Radio frequency identification (RFID) technology uses electromagnetic waves to uniquely identify items. Components of an RFID system include: transponders (tags), interrogators (readers), antennas, and software. The tag is made up of a microchip with a coiled antenna that can communicate with a nearby reader wirelessly. The reader sends out electromagnetic waves that can be sensed by the tag once it is within a certain distance. A passive RFID tag draws power from the magnetic field created by the reader's antenna and uses it to power the microchip’s circuits. The chip then modulates the waves to send information back for the reader to handle in a software database. More complex systems incorporate active RFID tags which may contain up to 1MB of read/write memory and an individual power supply for increased broadcast strength.

Where and why is RFID being used?

RFID is rapidly gaining market share because it enables businesses to track inventory throughout the supply chain, reducing management costs. The growth in this sector is limited by the per unit cost of an individual transponder. High volume sales markets implement RFID "passes" to reduce consumer transaction time (e.g. gas pumps, toll booths, and mass transit). RFID technology has also been employed in product authentication for designer goods and prescription medicine. Secure keyless entry and automotive security, such as automotive immobilization in response to theft, are also strong markets. Other inventory tracking implementations can be observed in scientific research, livestock management, and consumer behavior monitoring.

What risks come with using RFID?

The rush to market for RFID may come at the expense of properly secured systems. It is important to note that active RFID tags are memory devices and as such can contain viruses that could damage a database. Most troublesome is the mere fact that RFID tags are an always-on technology that can operate whenever activated by a reader. Proximity is all someone needs to record the signals coming from any RFID system. Without user authentication or encryption, user data can be hacked directly from the device. In the case of convenience devices, the hack would be to simply replicate the signal, hence stealing the user's identity.

Businesses are increasingly interested in monitoring consumer behavior. Data that might be recorded include shopping habits, credit card numbers, and other personal information. Because the technology is wireless and can be used at greater distances with the use of high-gain antennas, consumers will have difficulty knowing when and where they are being tracked. As RFID tags begin to replace traditional bar codes for products, it will become possible to track any individual product, and hence its owner, as it passes by a reader. For some products, this may be of little concern, but the deactivation of RFID tags remains a major concern for consumers, especially as clothing retailers begin to adopt RFID for inventory management.


Index of Topics
Old Study Guide | Topics Page