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A Conversation With NXP's Tony Sabetti and Steve Owen

Two of the RFID chipmaker's top executives talk about the RFID market, chip security and NFC phone applications.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
RFID Journal: Last year, two separate research teams reverse-engineered NXP's Mifare Classic chip, used in many transit fare applications, and were able to uncover the security algorithm it uses. NXP subsequently introduced the Mifare Plus, a chip that supports more robust data security protocols than the Classic. How is it being received?

Sabetti: First, I want to respond to something you just said. NXP already had several [chips] on the market with more robust security than the Classic, and that are used by some transit agencies—the Mifare DESFire is a good example of this. And the Mifare Plus was already on the drawing board [when the Classic chip security was reverse-engineered], so we were able to bring that out—albeit on a slightly accelerated schedule.

Our whole strategy in providing security is [to give] a roadmap that continues to increase the complex cryptography that is used in the devices.

Owen: What we found in the course of last year is that there was lots of discussion with transport authorities and the universities that were involved in [breaking the Classis security]. We found that you really have to look at an end-to-end system and its multiple layers of security. Every transport authority [using Mifare Classic] has come out and said they were satisfied with the security they've got. Which is confirmation that their own security is a big part of the solution.

But in response to your question, in the course of the last year, we actually released four new products: the Mifare Plus, the Ultralight, the DESFire and the SmartMX P5CD081, with more focus on high security. We continue to see [transit system] project-wins at the same rate as previously. Customers are looking at higher levels of security. There is more engagement over the last 12 months, and the industry is a lot more informed. What it comes back to, however, is the continual challenge of chip cost versus what increase in security you get in exchange.

But in the end, we got a lot of learning from [the Classic security break]—the industry itself did—and we've seen growth across that portfolio, and in some ways we're really positive about the future now.

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