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SecureRF Creates New Encryption Method

The data security startup says its Algebraic Eraser is faster, requires less processing power and could be used on EPC Gen 2 Class 1 tags for protecting data transmissions.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Nov 09, 2005SecureRF, a data security startup in Westport, Conn., has announced what it calls a breakthrough data security application, which can be used to protect data transmitted by passive or active RFID tags. The company plans to sell its product to RFID users in the pharmaceutical and defense industries, as well as any other users that would benefit from securing the data exchanged between RFID tags and readers, or other wireless devices. SecureRF claims its methodology, dubbed the Algebraic Eraser, is faster, requires less computing power and consumes less energy than existing methods of encrypting data transmitted by an RFID tag or reader (interrogator).

According to Louis Parks, president and CEO of SecureRF, these factors make the Algebraic Eraser encryption method well-suited for transactions requiring fast data exchange with low energy consumption and low processing power, such as RFID reads—especially for passive tags, which are powered by the interrogator. Parks says the encryption protocol can be built into chips used in EPC Class 1 Gen 2 tags, and that SecureRF is working with a major RFID tag manufacturer to launch a field trial of the Algebraic Eraser in the coming weeks. The protocol must be built into a tag's integrated circuitry and also run on the interrogator that reads it.

Louis Parks, SecureRF
End users of RFID have not shown a specific, widespread demand for the ability to encrypt data used on EPC Gen 2 Class 1 tags. Parks believes this to be due, in part, to the fact that the tags, not yet widely used, are just now entering the market. SecureRF predicts demand will grow once Gen 2 tags become ubiquitous, and as specific users needing highly secure identification mechanisms for their products—such as in the pharmaceutical industry—see the benefits of the SecureRF encryption methods.

Parks says a Gen 2 chip could run the Algebraic Eraser encryption protocol because it requires less processing power—i.e., fewer logic gates on the chip—than conventional encryption methods, such as those developed by RSA Laboratories and Certicom.

Ari Juels, manager of applied research at RSA Laboratories in Bedford, Mass., notes, however, that the EPC Class 1 Gen 2 standard does not include a specification for encrypting the data transmitted between tag and reader. Moreover, he says, the Gen 2 chip is designed to be so small that it seems unlikely it could handle any secure cryptography. Encryption is, in fact, envisaged for the data transmission between Class 2 EPC tags and readers. Rather than encrypting the data being transferred between EPC Class 2 tags and readers, the tags could store encrypted data, as Gen 1 and Gen 2 Class 1 tags can.

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