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How Can RFID Improve Security?

Posted By RFID Journal, 08.03.2012
In what ways does the technology make things more secure?

—Name withheld

That's a good question. Security is a very broad topic, covering everything from national security to shoplifting. I'll try to touch on the major ways in which RFID can improve security.

First, you don't want people sneaking into your country to do bad things. RFID transponders are being put into passports in order to improve border control. The idea here is not that governments can use the transponder to track you, but rather that the RFID chip can store a biometric image of the passport holder. That way, you can't simply change the picture to one of your own face and sneak into a country.

RFID has been used for decades to control access to buildings. Companies issue badges or cards with transponders that have serial numbers stored in a database. If your serial number is approved, you can enter a building or its sensitive areas. This has helped to reduce theft of corporate assets. The technology has also been used to decrease ticket counterfeiting, and to control access to large events, such as the Olympics.

In addition, RFID can help to reduce the theft of national or company secrets. One way to accomplish this is to place tamper-resistant RFID transponders on sensitive documents (national defense plans, for instance, or corporate research and development plans). A reader is installed in each photocopy machine, and every time someone attempts to photocopy sensitive documents, that person must first scan his or her ID. The reader also interrogates the tag in the document. If the person lacks permission to scan that document, the photocopier will not work.

RFID has also been linked to closed-circuit television (CCTV) systems, to reduce the theft of valuable goods within the supply chain. In 2006, Sony Europe installed a tracking system at its largest European distribution warehouse, located in Tilburg, the Netherlands, that linked RFID-tagged items with closed-circuit video, in an effort to help the company reduce shrinkage, increase the efficiency of its shipping processes and resolve shipping disputes with its retailer customers in Germany (see Sony Europe Implements Video-RFID Tracking System). The system allowed managers to locate specific video segments during which specific RFID tags were read, so that they could see what happened to the products containing those tags.

What's more, RFID can be used to reduce store theft. For the past two years, Gerry Weber, a German manufacturer and seller of women's clothing, has sewn RFID tags into garments and used the technology as a form of electronic article surveillance (see Gerry Weber Sews In RFID's Benefits). I am aware of jewelry retailers using RFID to reduce theft of rings and other small items, and I know of one retailer selling handbags in the $10,000 range that utilizes the technology to alert security every time that a bag is removed from a shelf.

There are many other applications as well, such as protecting newborn infants from being removed from hospitals by strangers, ensuring that school children are accounted for, protecting the food supply from tampering, reducing drug counterfeiting, ensuring that shipping containers have not been opened and much more. To view all of our articles related to RFID in security applications, visit the Security and Access Control Topics section of this Web site.

—Mark Roberti, Founder and Editor,
RFID Journal

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