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An RFID Tag Data Security Infrastructure Approach for Items

When used in conjunction with item-level tagging of drugs and other products, TDSI can protect consumer privacy while raising confidence that customers are getting genuine goods.
By Joseph Pearson
Dec 18, 2006There is widespread agreement in the pharmaceutical industry that radio frequency identification will play a critical role in creating consumer confidence in the authenticity of prescription drugs, especially as the number of counterfeit, gray-market and diverted products continues to climb. RFID technology, combined with a secure tag and data infrastructure, offers both package authenticity and pedigree.

RFID tags applied at the case and item levels to products traveling in a secure supply chain raise the confidence that products are genuine on two fronts: by determining the authenticity of the packaging, and by automating traceability to create an itemized electronic pedigree, or record, as products pass from one authorized entity to another.

While manufacturers, distributors and retailers are collaborating on RFID pilots, they're not all on the same page when it comes to the methods of deployment. One core issue is whether RFID data should be centralized, decentralized or both. Should product information be associated with the tag on the network, or off? If product information resides on the tag, how can a company protect consumer privacy? The ultimate success of either or both of these deployment options may depend on a Tag Data Security Infrastructure (TDSI). A TDSI provides a broader and more flexible approach for a secure supply chain, encompassing all stakeholder requirements while providing a range of implementation options.

Tag Data Security Infrastructure—What and Why
Believe it or not, having deployment "options" within a "standard" item-level tagging infrastructure is not an oxymoron. The TDSI is a set of rules, specifications and common protocols allowing item-level tags and readers to work across the industry's information technology ecosystem. It always supports network-based applications, and it bridges the pharmaceutical centralized/decentralized data structure divide by augmenting network-based applications with the capability of "anytime, anywhere" authentication and product information.

The TDSI addresses the contentious points of whether or not to put product data (e.g., the National Drug Code, or NDC) on the tag, how to authenticate products, methods of ensuring consumer privacy and how to secure tagged products at the case, pallet and item levels.

An item-level tagging standard has yet to be defined, so the timing is right for RFID tag, reader and security technology providers to bring a fresh solution to the industry as it debates the specifications, rules and methods of supply chain collaboration in the EPCglobal specification development process.

How the Tag Data Security Infrastructure Works
An EPC number programmed on the tag is the cornerstone for pharmaceutical product identification. The TDSI can be used to incorporate both network and off-network capabilities to support the pharmaceutical supply chain infrastructure.

For example, in regard to where product data should reside—on the tag or off—the TDSI can accommodate both scenarios by providing options as to how the EPC number contains product data: either encrypted on the tag or accessed through a network link. For an EPC numbering scheme using a Serialized Global Trade Identification Number (SGTIN) with encryption, the product-data portion of the tag's EPC number is digitally scrambled and can be decrypted only by a reader with the appropriate corresponding cryptographic software. The product information is then available for local applications, such as smart shelves. And because the EPC number maintains its uniqueness, it can still be used as a unique pointer for network applications, like an item-level electronic pedigree. Any standard interrogator can read the 96-bit EPC number from an encrypted tag, then forward it to the EPCglobal Network as a "pointer." Readers equipped with the verification key can both authenticate the tag and decrypt the product-class portion of the EPC number off-network.

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