RFID Theft and How to Prevent it


As electronics become more prevalent and integrated into our everyday lives so does the vulnerability of theft via RFID chips.  RFID or Radio Frequency Identification, pertains to small chips that use non-contact, wireless radio frequency electro magnetic fields to transfer data.  While you may have never heard of RFID before, chances are you are using them right now.  RFID chips are found in passports, credit cards, pet finders, transportation payments or easy-passes, hospitals, retail stores and a number of other areas where information is needed to be scanned quickly easily for identification.  The important part here is that these RFID chips often carry sensitive, personal information that if exploited could lead to identity or monetary theft.  Because of this criminals are now using machines that can quickly scan, decode and capture your private information for malicious use.

What can a criminal steal from an RFID chip?  Let’s look at your passport for example.  In the RFID chip embedded in your passport you have your name, date of birth, place of birth, address, social security number, height, weight and eye color (this can vary based on your country’s specific data).  The data obtained from this RFID chip can be more than enough for someone to open a credit card, book a flight or even create a fake identity.  While governments take excessive measures to prevent theft via RFID scanning or “eavesdropping”, criminals and foreign governments are constantly seeking new ways to bypass them and are often successful.

RFID Scanner for iPhone available for purchase to anyone

An even more common form of theft comes from the RFID reading of credit cards.  If your credit card reads “Paypass”, “Zip”, “Paywave” or “Express Pay” then your credit card is embedded with an RFID chip that is designed to speed up your checkout process.  This information can be easily read via a $50 credit card reader picked up on eBay by just about anyone.  This reader stores your credit card number, expiration date and CCV number with a quick pass of your pocket or wallet.  That information is then stored and can be used to make future charges to your card. With an estimated 100 million RFID enabled cards in the system these readers will only become more prevalent and sophisticated.  To make matters worse, criminals are now using technology to up the strength to increase the distance in which they can scan your card to ensure they have good standoff from the scene of the crime.  Some reports are showing your cards can be scanned from 20-30′ away.

So how do you protect yourself from RFID theft?  That’s the tricky part.  Simply placing a credit card in the middle of your wallet or a passport inside your bag will not keep the item from being scanned.  Instead you need an RFID blocking material that can keep the signal from passing through to your personal items.  A quick and fast method to block some of the RFID signals is to purchase sheets of mylar from your local Home Depot and wrapping your RFID items inside.  While this may not be the most stylish method it is cheaper than some of the more robust products on the market.  However, while mylar may prevent some of the frequencies it may fall short in blocking some of the more robust scanners used by advanced criminals.

To ensure you are fully protecting your belongings you should look at purchasing an enhanced RFID blocking material such as the one found in our ASO Bags.  This material is often a composite material with a mylar base specifically designed to disrupt signals.  Many companies will sew this material into their product to give a everyday looking product capable of blocking RFID materials.

RFID Blocking Material

RFID Material being sewn into our ASO Bag

It is important to note that not all RFID materials are created equal and some RFID materials are designed to only block certain ranges of frequencies.  Many people will settle for mylar wraps however as previously mentioned thin pieces of mylar may not fully block stronger scan machines and will only reduce cell phone signals, still allowing thieves or governments to track your movement.  In order to ensure you are fully protected choose an RFID blocking material that has a minimum of -80dB isolation from 50MHz to 18GHz.  This quality of RFID blocking material will block just about every scanner on the market as well as block cell phone signals (although this may only be important if you are not wanting your phone tracked or remotely turned on for exploitation purposes).

Another method of protecting your passport is to leave it securely closed until it’s time to present it to a gate or border agent.  Many of the passports now made have chips that are scanned only when the passport is opened.  While this does not prevent theft from the larger, more sophisticated scanners it can help thwart some of the lower end criminals out there.  If you are looking to completely wipe your chip you can place your item in the microwave for 5+ seconds, although this may also render your card or passport useless…

The bottom line is know your surroundings, protect yourself and make yourself aware of potential attacks.