UK Government issues guidance on RFID security

Abstract: A UK government-backed report that explores certain security flaws in RFID / contactless technology.  Well worth a read is this…

Source: http://www.ico.gov.ukThe Information Commissioner’s Office is the UK’s independent authority set up to uphold information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.

“It will be the responsibility of RFID users to prevent any unauthorised access to personal information. One concern is a practice that has become known as “skimming”. Since a transponder’s signal can be picked up by any compatible reader, it is possible for RFID tags to be read by unauthorised readers, which could access personal information stored on them. Users can guard against skimming by using passwords. The EPCglobal Class 1 Generation 2 RFID specification enables the use of a password for accessing a tag’s memory. However, these are not immune to “hacking”.

Most RFID systems require a short distance between tag and reader, making it difficult for “rogue” readers to scan tags but this could nevertheless be done in a situation where people are naturally at close range, for example, on a crowded train. The nominal read range of some tags can also be extended by the use of more powerful readers. It is also possible to read part of a tag’s number by eavesdropping merely on a reader’s communication with a tag. Readers, with a much higher power output than tags, can be read at much greater distances.

While some RFID applications might not need communication between tag and reader to be encrypted, others that process personal and especially sensitive personal data will need an adequate level of encryption to safeguard the data being processed. In most cases “skimmers” would also need a way of accessing the external database containing the personal data, but in some cases inferences might be made about someone from information which in itself does not relate directly to him. If a person leaves a store having purchased items carrying RFID tags that have not been disabled, he carries with him a potential inventory of his possessions. This would enable someone with a suitable reader and knowledge of EPC references to discover what items he was carrying at a given time. Sensitive personal data about a person’s illness, for example, might be unknowingly revealed by him via the EPC referring to the medication in his pocket. An insufficiently secure RFID chip could also be “cloned”. By copying personal data stored on the RFID chip of an identification card, a person could for practical purposes steal the identity of the cardholder. If the information on the database (e.g., a fingerprint) is checked only against the information on the card, rather than directly against the person himself, a criminal would not need to access the information stored on the database.”

http://www.ico.gov.uk/upload/documents/library/data_protection/detailed_specialist_guides/radio_frequency_indentification_tech_guidance.pdf

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Google in major privacy breach.

Whoops!

Google has finally accepted that it harvested personal data from wireless networks as its fleet of vehicles drove down residential roads taking photographs for the Street View project.  And yet only a few months ago it would have screamed ‘blue murder’ if anyone intimated that this had happened.

Now it transpires that millions of internet users have potentially been affected.   Google’s acknowledgment of guilt is an interesting U-turn from its earlier assertion that no sensitive personal information had been taken.

Google has now confessed that its, “…vehicles had also gather(ed) information about the location of wireless networks, the devices which connect computers to the telecommunications network via radio waves.”

The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported that, “…Privacy International lodged a complaint with Scotland Yard earlier this year about Google’s Street View activities and officers are still considering whether a crime has been committed.

Google is facing prosecution in France and a class action in the US, with similar lawsuits pending in other countries.”

The full story can be read at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/google/8083008/Google-spied-on-British-emails-and-computer-passwords.html

Whilst this development does not relate specifically to RFID or contactless technology as such, nonetheless it’s an excellent example of a large multi-national operation initially stating – “guys, what’s the problem – there’s nothing to worry about your wireless internet connection because we’ve ensured that it’s 100% secure” – and then a few months later we arrive at a different place – “…er, you know that technology that we told you was secure, well there’s been a slight issue with it and as a result your email, passwords and other sensitive information are now in the public domain – whoops, sorry about that…”

Therefore it could be reasonably argued that whilst today contactless credit, debit, Oyster, and Olympics 2012 RFID passes are all being sold as 100% safe – tomorrow may bring with it a different view…

Watch this space, and in the meantime can you afford not to protect your biometric details now?