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Incubator Program Yields BLE and NFC Credentialing

The Kantara Initiative has completed a project with Exponent in which the credentials of an emergency responder or other individual can be loaded onto a smartphone and then be accessed securely via BLE or NFC using another phone.
By Claire Swedberg

As part of the KIPI project, Exponent built a system by which an app on a user's phone would leverage NFC technology to send data directly to another, according to Christopher Williams, Exponent's security and privacy consultant. That means a temporary controlled access point could be set up for emergency responders with nothing more than a cell phone running an app, to capture NFC data from responders' Android-based phones.

Phase one of the project began in October 2016. To load the credential on the phone, responders could utilize an NFC ID badge, which would be interrogated by the phone's reader, or they could read a bar code off a physical ID, such as a driver's license. "Once we had that credential on the phone," Fessler states, "Christopher enabled the phone to operate like a card."

If the phone is powered off, it will not respond when interrogated by another NFC device. If it is activated but locked, it will be shielded and not respond. However, if a user unlocks the phone and holds it up to a reader, the phone will sense an NFC transmission from the door reader. The reader, Williams says, will then send a request for response. The user's phone will ensure that the reader is authorized to communicate with it, then forward its credentials. "That sets up OPACITY in a third of a second," he adds.

That system still has limitations, though, since the full capabilities of NFC are only available on Android-based devices. Additionally, NFC requires a short transmission range, so credentialing and authentication still require that an individual be positioned directly in front of the reader. That could slow down credentialing in an environment such as an emergency response area. Therefore, Exponent moved forward with phase two, involving a BLE-based system using the same OPACITY data, but now transmitting it via Bluetooth Low Energy.

The recent fires in California have served as an example for a use case for this kind of solution, Exponent reports. FEMA (or another agency) could set up a perimeter area in which emergency responders could be provisioned with an ID number that would allow them entrance to a secured area. That ID could then be stored on a person's phone via an NFC or BLE transmission.

If responders are using BLE technology, they could walk or drive up to an official at the gate. The official, who would have an app on his or her phone, could thus "talk" to the devices of those lined up to enter. He or she could view data such as who was in line, along with that individual's credentials, and store the data on his or her own phone, as well as identify anyone lacking the proper credentials and prevent that person from entering.

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