Threat of RFID Viruses


Viruses pose a threat to more than the Windows operating system. They are becoming more common on systems that once seemed impervious to infection, along with other devices such as cell phones and MP3 players. The most alarming presence is found in common products using RFID technology.

What is RFID?

RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) is one of the latest trends in computer miniaturization. An RFID transponder is a tiny, high-powered computer with limited resources. It contains an RFID tag, which is inductively powered by an external reading device. Once activated, the RFID tag decodes incoming queries and generates an accurate response using the energy of incoming radio waves, which powers the chip just long enough to respond. In general, an RFID tag has a limited amount of processing power and capacity at 1024 bits of storage.

RFID is useful in many different applications, including those for automated payments, supply chain management, counterfeit prevention, airline luggage management, and physical access control. RFID tags are also commonly implanted in various consumer goods, such as toll collection devices, public transportation passes, passports and much more. This technology has even been approved by the Food and Drug Administration with a product known as Veriship, a device deployed commercially and in the medical field.

The Viruses Attacking RFID

While RFID has revolutionized the world of computers, several malicious individuals have taken an interest in this technology as well. Members of the hacker community have learned to take advantage of RFID, causing these tags to behave in questionable ways by inserting viral codes. Below we have composed an example of just how scary this exploit can be.

Several airports have been in discussion with plans to expedite luggage handling by attaching RFID-supported labels to bags as they are checked in. This will make labels much easier to read from a greater distance than the bar-coded labels currently in use. Now consider this - a shady airline traveler attaches a virus-inserted RFID tag to the luggage of a random victim just before they check in. When the airline's RFID reader scans the tag to determine where it should be routed, it responds with the virus, which infects the entire baggage database. From there, all subsequent passengers checking in their luggage may also be infected.

Just being infected is a mild example. An RFID virus may contain a payload that could completely wipe out a database, causing luggage to be re-routed and possibly aid the process of drug smuggling. What's even more troubling is the fact that many State Departments have began to distribute RFID-supported passports. Considering where this technology is being deployed, RFID becomes both a computer security and economic concern. So why are these vulnerabilities being so openly publicized? According to researchers, revealing the threat of RFID viruses and worms will eventually teach consumers antivirus efforst that will prevent them from spreading.

RFID infections seem inevitable as many computer systems are vulnerable to viruses. At the same time, we still use them regardless of the lingering threat which will is bound to be the case with RFID-supported items. Let's just hope that this new research will prompt the industry to enhance the security of readers, tags and back-end systems before RFID viruses evolve from theory to a dreadful reality.

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You can protect your computer from viruses without expensive software. Instead, follow these simple tips:

Stay up-to-date on all system updates.

Don't download any email attachments you weren't expecting.

Avoid freeware and peer-to-peer sharing sites.

Use alternative web browsers and email software.