RFID Talk Blog

New technology aims to make RFID more secure

New technology that will be unveiled this week could make RFID tags much less vulnerable to attack, according to a team of researchers behind the technology. Researchers will unveil the technology at the 21st USENIX Security Symposium in Bellevue, Wash.

According to an article in the IEEE Spectrum, the new technology development creates a short-duration “clock” on batteryless RFID tags, rendering their cryptographic systems less susceptible to attacks.

One of the major perceived flaws of RFID-enabled passports and credit cards is the potential to hack them. This new development is expected to enhance the security of such cards.

Experts say that the development could serve to greatly increase the adoption of RFID.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

The clock operates over spans of seconds to minutes after an RFID chip is charged up from an RFID reader or other ambient radio-wave energy. As a result, even after the radio signal is removed, the clock endows the RFID chip with the ability to know when its security keys may be in danger.

Kevin Fu, professor of computer science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, is one of the researchers behind Time and Remanence Decay in SRAM (TARDIS). “We’re using this circuit in a way that was designed to be memory, but we’re turning it into what’s effectively an hourglass,” says Fu, who developed the technology with five graduate students and faculty from UMass, Dartmouth College, and the University of California, Berkeley.

Fu says the inspiration for the discovery came from studies by Berkeley team member Dan Holcomb, who is a graduate student in Berkeley’s department of electrical engineering and computer sciences. Holcomb was exploring the properties of static RAM (SRAM), the main memory in microprocessors and a kind that loses its data when the power is off. He discovered that powered-down SRAM decays from its powered-up state in predictable patterns. If you gather enough SRAM bits, the group discovered, the statistics of the memory’s decay to its zero-power state enables it to be used as an ersatz hourglass.

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