Technology Review: RFID’s Security Problem

9 February 2009

Technology Review has an article surveying the state of RFID security: RFID’s Security Problem, Technology Review, January/February 2009. It focuses on security and privacy issues related to RFID-enabled passports and driver’s licenses.

Excerpt: (bolding is mine)

Meanwhile, although experts say that some RFID technologies are quite secure, a University of Virginia security researcher’s analysis of the NXP Mifare Classic (see Hack, November/December 2008), an RFID chip used in fare cards for the public-¬≠transit systems of ¬≠Boston, London, and other cities, has shown that the security of smart cards can’t be taken for granted. “I think we are in the growing-pains phase,” says Johns Hopkins University computer science professor Avi Rubin, a security and privacy researcher. “This happens with a lot of technologies when they are first developed.”

As long as the remaining problems are ignored, though, it’s unlikely that the technology will become good enough to protect international borders without compromising the privacy of thousands or millions of people. Tadayoshi Kohno, for one, says that at this point, he is not convinced that RFID even offers security advantages over the old IDs. Technology used on this scale, and for purposes this important, should be clearly better than what it’s replacing: the U.S. experience with electronic voting systems shows what can happen when it’s not. If officials continue to advocate band-aids such as privacy sleeves rather than working to address the full extent of critics’ concerns, they will ultimately undermine the very technology that they hope to promote. While new ID technology seems likely to stay, it could become a fiasco if officials don’t pay attention to the work of hackers and security researchers. These people try to expose weaknesses before they can be exploited maliciously. It’s much less painful to swallow the news from them than to wait until a problem becomes embarrassing–or devastating.