Security 27. November 2023

RFID and NFC: How to Use Them and Protect Your Data

Pay in seconds without having to search for the right amount, identification and admission in passing: RFID and NFC technology have made our everyday lives easier and more convenient. The WLAN-like symbol with the four radio waves on the cards and transponders shows that an RDIF signal is being transmitted. We explain how these technologies work, where they are used and how you can effectively protect your data.

Frau bezahlt digital mit Smartphone, RFID, NFC.

What Is RFID? RFID Technology Explained in Brief

RFID stands for Radio-F frequencyI identification and enables data to be recognized and transmitted via radio waves. An RFID system typically consists of an RFID tag (or transponder) and an RFID reader. The transponder, which contains a microchip and an antenna, stores information that can be read by a reader. As soon as the RFID antenna is activated, the chip in the card sends the transaction data, such as the amount to be paid, to the reader.

There are passive and active RFID chips. Passive RFID tags do not have their own power source and are activated by the electromagnetic field emitted by the reader. Active RFID tags, on the other hand, have a built-in power source that enables them to send signals over longer distances. RFID transponders equipped with a microchip and an antenna can be found in ID cards and key cards, among other things.

Examples of RFID Applications

  • Logistics and warehouses: RFID tags are used in the logistics industry to track the location and status of goods in real time. RFID tags installed in warehouses help automate inventory management and the tracking of goods.
  • Animal identification: RFID tags are used on pets and livestock to uniquely identify them. These tags store information that can help to find lost animals or quickly retrieve health information.
  • Libraries: Many libraries use RFID tags to identify books. This makes it easier to borrow and return media and helps with inventory control.
  • Garages and major events: Many garages and wallboxes use RFID access controls to grant access only to authorized persons. At events such as concerts or sporting events, RFID wristbands are used to control access and enable cashless transactions. RFID works over longer distances and is more robust, which is why it is used at larger events.
  • Security checks: RFID is also used at security checks, for example at airports, to facilitate the authentication of documents such as passports.

Which Frequencies Does RFID Use?

RFID uses different frequency ranges, depending on the specific application and requirements.

Low Frequency (LF): 125 kHz to 134 kHz
Areas of application: Animal identification, access control, some vehicle identification systems

High frequency (HF) – High Frequency: 13.56 MHz
Areas of application: Library systems, ID cards

Ultra High Frequency (UHF) – Ultra High Frequency: 860 MHz to 960 MHz
Areas of application: Supply chain management, inventory tracking, logistics, retail

Microwave frequency: 2.45 GHz or 5.8 GHz
Areas of application: Tolling systems, identification of high-speed objects

The Difference Between RFID and NFC

NFC, short for Near Field Ccommunication (near field communication), is a special sub-form of RFID technology that enables two-way communication over short distances of a few centimetres. While RFID chips can transmit data over longer distances but only in one direction, NFC chips can also receive data. NFC is integrated into almost all credit cards, making it possible to authorize payment transactions with a simple touch.

When NFC-based credit cards are brought close to an NFC-enabled reader, the electromagnetic field of the reader transfers energy and activates the NFC module in the card. The card then communicates wirelessly with the reader and transmits the necessary payment data.

Examples of NFC Applications

  • Mobile payment: Smartphones with NFC technology can be used as digital wallets. Apps such as Apple Pay or Google Pay use NFC for contactless payments at terminals.
  • Tickets: Whether Swiss Pass or other tickets, NFC is also used here.
  • Smart Home: NFC tags can be used to control smart home devices. For example, tapping an NFC tag with a smartphone can cause lights to be switched on or the heating to be regulated.
  • Healthcare: NFC chips are used in some medical devices and wristbands to quickly retrieve patient data. Doctors can use this information to quickly access critical health information in an emergency.
  • Gaming: NFC tags can also be used to create interactive gaming experiences. For example, game characters can be equipped with NFC tags that interact with console games.
  • Fitness studios: Many spas, swimming pools and fitness facilities use NFC wristbands, which are used in a similar way to RFID wristbands for access control and payment. They allow for more secure identification, linking with apps and the provision of personalized offers.

Which Frequency Does NFC Use?

NFC uses a single frequency and is limited to applications that require secure communication over an extremely short range.

High Frequency (HF): 13.56 MHz
Areas of application: This frequency is used for applications such as mobile payment, pairing of devices, smart cards and in other situations where secure communication over short distances (a few centimeters) is required.

The History of RFID Technology

The origins of RFID date back to the 1940s. At that time, scientists in various countries independently developed technologies that are now regarded as the forerunners of RFID.

An important milestone in RFID history was the development of the RADAR system during the Second World War. RADAR used antennas and radio waves to detect and track objects. The abbreviation stands for Radio Detection and Ranging and means radio-based localization and distance measurement. To enable the RADAR system to distinguish between friend and foe, corresponding transponders were installed in aircraft and tanks.

After the war, similar technologies were researched for civilian applications such as identification and access control. The first functioning RFID systems were developed in the 1970s. The well-known physicist Mario W. Cardullo is considered the inventor of the modern RFID system. In 1973, he patented a system that used RFID tags to identify products and objects.

Modern RFID Technology Is Almost Everywhere

In the decades that followed, RFID technology was continuously developed and NFC technology took the step from one-way communication to two-way communication. RFID and NFC are used in numerous areas, such as in almost every EC, credit and health insurance card, in identity cards, for animal identification, in membership cards and access authorizations as well as in many areas of logistics and retail.

Data Theft and Misuse Through NFC and RFID

EC and credit cards are repeatedly the target of fraudsters. The contactless transmission of data poses an increased risk, as data thieves can use wireless card readers or special apps to read data or authorize transactions. This happens in a matter of seconds and without you even noticing.

How Close Do Fraudsters Have to Get and What Do They Use?

All it takes to authorize a transaction is for someone with a wireless card reader barely bigger than a cell phone to walk past the wallet in your trouser or jacket pocket a few centimetres away. With the help of modified RFID readers, distances of up to 20 centimetres and, in particularly perfidious cases, even up to 4 meters are no longer a problem. There are also apps that have such a payment function and can be used for fraud. Since such an inconspicuous smartphone is enough to steal data, it is almost impossible to notice the theft.

What Are the Consequences of RFID Data Theft?

Without physical contact, fraudsters can simply read your data. The consequences of such skimming can be devastating and are only noticed late through credit card statements, bank statements or a call from the police. But what can happen if your data is stolen via RFID or NFC?

  • Identity theft: Thieves can use the information stolen from you for fraudulent activities, such as making bookings and concluding contracts in your name.
  • Unauthorized purchases: Your stolen credit card information can be used to make purchases. Thieves can also make copies of cards and use them to make contactless payments.
  • Access to secure areas and your car: Your access information can be used for unauthorized access or to start your car.
  • Financial loss: Depending on the bank, your account can be emptied and even overdrawn with individual withdrawals of 1000 to 5000 francs per day and high purchase amounts.
  • Reputational damage: RFID data theft can cause almost irreparable damage to your personal reputation, your credit rating or the reputation of your company.
  • Data tampering: During an NFC transaction, your data can be manipulated, which can lead to unauthorized changes and forwarding of payments.
  • Data interception with eavesdropping: The communication between you and another person can be intercepted after an RFID pairing. This means that private information, financial details and authentication data can be stolen and misused.
    Unauthorized creation of user profiles: The stolen personal data can be used to create usage, movement or consumption profiles about you.
  • Smartphone malware: Manipulated NFC tags can be used to spread malware, which can lead to the theft of access data and payment information.
  • Industrial espionage: The ease with which RFID data can be read can facilitate industrial espionage. Data from RFID tags can be read from several hundred meters away under certain circumstances.</li

How to Protect Yourself Against RFID Data Theft

The tip to watch out for suspicious situations or people in the vicinity is generally not so easy to implement. You probably won’t notice anything in the hustle and bustle of the Christmas market. Even outside of crowds, the theft is not noticeable due to the possibility of using a simple cell phone as a reader for data theft via RFID. The good news is that there are effective ways to travel with NFC and RFID transponders without worrying.

Set Up Pin or Password Protection

Some RFID cards offer the option of using an additional PIN code or password for authentication. If you activate this function, you lose the convenience that an RFID and NFC transponder offers. But you ensure that only authorized persons can access the stored data.

RFID Blockers and RFID Protection: Best to Always Have With You

RFID blockers interrupt any data transfer not initiated by you by sending a jamming signal when someone tries to establish a connection. This makes your RFID and NFC chips, and therefore your data, inaccessible to thieves. To pay or identify yourself, all you have to do is move the RFID and NFC transponders out of range of the RFID blockers and you can identify and pay contactlessly again. Paying by tapping the wallet is no longer possible if RFID protection is in place, but you are safe.

What RFID Blockers Are Available

RFID protection cards: An RFID protection card is a stand-alone card and not a cover. It blocks the radio waves and thus prevents information from being read from nearby RFID and NFC cards such as credit cards, ID cards and passports.

RFID protective sleeves: The wafer-thin sleeves covered with special film offer maximum protection for RFID credit cards, access cards and other RFID and NFC-enabled cards. The cards must be removed from the sleeve before each use.

RFID protective sleeves for ID cards: These are RFID protective card sleeves that are sized for passports with RFID.

RFID protective wallets and purses: The protective film is integrated into the credit card slots.

RFID protective clothing, RFID-blocking bags and backpacks: The bags and clothing are coated on the inside with protective film and protect all RFID-enabled contents from unauthorized access.

RFID-blocking phone cases: These special phone cases not only protect your phone, but also the credit cards and ID cards you keep in them.

Conclusion: Safe Handling of RFID and NFC

NFC and RFID are innovative technologies that enrich our everyday lives with fast and convenient solutions. RFID is used in a wide range of applications, from logistics to animal identification. NFC, a special form of RFID technology, enables two-way communication over short distances and is integrated into almost all credit cards.

However, despite the many advantages, these technologies also harbour risks such as unauthorized data reading and identity theft. It is therefore crucial to protect against such threats. Effective measures include the use of RFID blockers in the form of protective cards, protective sleeves or special clothing, wallets or bags. By taking such precautions, you can enjoy the convenience and efficiency of RFID and NFC while effectively protecting your data and privacy.

Sources

Wikipedia
https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/RFID#Entwicklungsgeschichte
https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radar

Smart-tec
https://www.smart-tec.com/de/auto-id-welt/rfid-technologie#:~:text=RFID%2DTransponder%20arbeiten%20auf%20der,oder%20gedruckte%20Antenne%20zu%20verwenden

Stern
https://www.stern.de/vergleich/rfid-blocker/

Chip
https://praxistipps.chip.de/nfc-vs-rfid-unterschied-einfach-erklaeren_109428

Netzwelt
https://www.netzwelt.de/bezahlen-internet/169030-kreditkarten-daten-auslesen-nfc-karte-sicher-unsicher.html

Forschung und Wissen
https://www.forschung-und-wissen.de/nachrichten/technik/rfid-chip-technologie-fuer-tiere-13371831#:~:text=Im%20europ%C3%A4ischen%20Tierschutzgesetz%20ist%20das,nach%20dem%20dritten%20Lebensmonat%20erfolgen.

Statista
https://de.statista.com/statistik/daten/studie/1011175/umfrage/verwendung-der-rfid-technologie-an-weltweiten-flughaefen/

Verbraucherzentrale
https://www.verbraucherzentrale.de/mobil-bezahlen

Daniela Siebertz

Marketing and Communication Manager

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