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Apple Applies for Patent on RFID-based Network, Security Tool

The computer and electronics company describes a system using RFID tags and readers to simplify the configuration of wireless network devices and access points.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Mar 09, 2007The United States Patent and Trademark Office published a patent application this week, filed by Apple for what is described as an "RFID network arrangement." The application lists Michael Culbert as the inventor and describes a system in which an RFID transceiver (interrogator) built into a Wi-Fi-enabled access point or base station, such as a wireless router, would read an RFID tag inside a network device, such as a computer or mobile device, to exchange data that would initiate a process for linking the wireless network device into a wireless computer network.

According to the patent application, such a system would be deployed as "a way to simplify the configuration of wireless network devices and access points." While wireless networks are valuable tools, the application indicates, "many users, particularly home and small office users, lack the level of knowledge necessary to install and configure wireless network devices." A second concern described in the application involves the low usage of data security protocol applications among wireless network users—especially among home and small-office users. The protocols exist but are often not utilized, it says, and networking equipment is generally shipped with the security features disabled. Not using security protocols makes wireless network users vulnerable to computer attacks.

To address these issues, the RFID technology application purports to offer "a system for simplifying the configuration of wireless network devices and minimizing the amount of traditional user interface required to do so, while still permitting users to employ robust authentication and encryption algorithms."

To establish a network connection under the system described in the patent application, an RFID-tagged wireless network device would be brought within close proximity—roughly 1 foot—of the wireless base station. The base station's RFID transceiver would then read the tag in the network device. Once communication was established, the transceiver would write to the tag various communication and security parameters (including authentication and encryption passwords) necessary for the network device to establish communication with the base station housing the RFID transceiver.

The network device would save these parameters in its internal memory, then use them to establish a link to the base station, employing what the application calls "the conventional radios and protocols (e.g., a Wi-Fi connection)." Thus, the user could establish a secure connection without having to configure a network device, or input any passwords or security codes.

The application also describes an alternate system in which the RFID tag would be read-only and the RFID transceiver in the base station would record the identifier encoded to the RFID tag. This tag could contain "sufficient information concerning the default communication parameters of the network device" to establish a connection with the wireless network device.

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