Radio Frequency- enabled Identity Theft

Radio Frequency-enabled Identity Theft

A discussion on how radio frequency-enabled technology could leave people vulnerable to identity theft and then potential identity fraud.
Hakin9 7/2010

Identity theft and identity fraud is a growing business. The crime itself is very much still in its infancy in most countries in the world with the exception of the US, where it continues to be a major problem for both the general population and the authorities. So you will not be surprised to hear that from the US comes yet another type of identity theft called non-contact identity theft or what is sometimes referred to as Wireless identity theft. Wireless identity theft is a relatively new type of identity theft that uses radio frequency to gather important personal information from someone’s store, access control, credit, debit, passports or identity cards. One particular type of wireless identity theft involves Radio-frequency identification or RFID.

Radio-frequency Identification

RFID is an object (or TAG) that is incorporated into say a passport or debit/credit card that sends out radio waves for identification and tracking. Most RFID tags can only been read from several meters away – most can also be read from beyond the line of sight of the reader as well. The RFID tag contains two elements. The first element (circuit) is used for storing and processing information and the other is an antenna for receiving and transmitting the signal.


RFID tags come in three distinct types. The first type contains a small battery that can transmit signals autonomously; the second type is called passive RFID tags – these have no batter and need an external device to activate a signal handshake. The third type is a battery assisted passive RFID which requires an external device to activate (wake up). The last type has a greater range.


RFID active tags have been used on more than a million shipping containers that travel outside of the United States. (US Department of Defense) – 2007 RFID technology is developing rapidly, however there are some obvious engineering limitations. RFID technology is miniaturizing as the technology advances, but the advances appear to be currently limited to the radio frequencies available. The antennas themselves are difficult to attach, which in turn limits the reading range. There are new developments in this area which look to overcome these technical difficulties most notably photovoltaic components, but this is some way off.

RFID Technology Use

RFID technology use is without doubt on the increase within industry, in particular the financial industry – where it is used in debit and credit cards. There are several good reasons why business is looking at this technology. One of which is decreased cost of the RFID devices and tags, increased performance and a stable international standard. A number of industries are looking to RFID technology for asset tracking. It is this last point of tracking that provokes widespread alarm bells in privacy circles. With RFID becoming more and more prevalent in everyday life, most people will be unaware of the impact that this technology has on their lives. One particular RFID technology use is with Biometric Passports. Most citizens of a country will have one, especially if they want to travel. The Passport is one of the most important identities an individual can ever have.

Biometric Passports

The biometric passport is simply a paper document that contains biometric electronic information that can be used to identify travellers. All biometric passports use contactless smart card technology (which uses a computer chip – see Figure 1) and antenna for both computer chip power and hand shaking with a device.

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