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Forrester Says RFID Security Falls Short for Some Apps

Companies deploying RFID for payments or other applications requiring strong security are taking risks today, the research firm reports, while users of RFID in small-scale, standalone tagging systems for supply-chain apps are less vulnerable.
By Mary Catherine O’Connor
Sep 23, 2006End users of RFID technology are getting mixed messages regarding data security. RFID vendors claim their products are secure, while media reports and researchers sing a different tune: that currently deployed passive RFID systems are prone to eavesdropping and other attacks, and that vendors have to do some important work to bolster data security. In a newly published report by market-research firm Forrester, lead author and senior analyst Paul Stamp concludes that with respect to data security, passive RFID tags and readers as they are currently designed are only appropriate for a limited number of scenarios. “Like any new technology,” the report states, “companies need to balance efficiencies gained from the system against the security and operational risks that RFID introduces.”

Forrester researcher Jen Albornoz Mulligan says that in gathering information and insights into RFID system security, she talked to a number of RFID vendors and data-security firms, a couple of end users of passive RFID technology who are using it for supply-chain optimization and a few academic researchers. “The end users I spoke with didn’t know much about the security issues related to RFID systems,” she says, noting that none of them are encoding sensitive data to the tags they issue.

The current levels of data protection for RFID tags are sufficient with regard to basic slap-and-ship applications of RFID for improved supply-chain visibility, the report says. However, users who want to encode sensitive data to tags, or to store that data in RFID middleware integrated into a company’s back-end IT systems or shared with trading partners, could be taking serious risks. “RFID technology is not mature enough yet to protect your company secrets,” it says.

The report, entitled “Anyone Who Says RFID Is ‘Completely Secure’ Is Selling Something,” describes the main areas of vulnerability within an RFID deployment and provides recommendations in the form of steps companies should take to protect data. The same types of attacks to which any type of database is vulnerable could be levied against RFID middleware, it warns. To secure middleware, the authors urge developers to use secure coding practices and filters that ensure that tag data sent to the middleware is not corrupt. According to the report, as companies begin to integrate RFID software and databases into their enterprise software, and to trade tag data with supply-chain partners, a “corrupt back-end database could wreak havoc on an entire supply chain, negating any efficiency that the RFID system originally provided.”

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