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RFID-Zapper Shoots to Kill

Two students turned a disposable camera into a gadget that shocks the life out of RFID tags; now, a privacy advocacy group hopes to sell devices based on their design.
By Jonathan Collins
The students first posted their own article about the project on Dec. 27 on the Public Wiki Web site. The site was developed for the 22nd annual Chaos Communication Congress (22C3), a four-day conference organized by the Chaos Computer Club (CCC), which bills itself as Europe's largest hacker group. Since then, the two developers say, their posted article has had 35,000 hits.

On the Web site, RFID-Zapper's inventors note that users of their creation should exercise some caution: "Modifying a single-use-camera into an RFID-Zapper isn't completely free of risks," they warn. "If the capacitor is still charged fully or partly, you might catch yourself an electric shock. We also recommend against using the RFID-Zapper on RFID-Tags found within electrical devices, for these are likely to suffer damage, as well. You also shouldn't use RFID-Zappers too near to electric devices, especially if they are expensive. You also shouldn't use it near any magnetic data storage, like floppy disc, MCs, hard discs, credit cards, streamer-cartridges and so on. And don't try it near your grandpa's pacemaker or other sensitive medical equipment either!"

In the future, the developers say they have ideas about adding other functions to the RFID-Zapper. "For quite some time, I've been thinking about some further use of the concept. A combination of a tag-finder and a tag zapper would be cool, as it would be a design that would allow small mass production," says Mahajivana. Given the close proximity to the tag required for the RFID-Zapper to work, a tag finder would help determine the location of an RFID tag to zap.

Although the RFID-Zapper's design is complete, the duo says they have thus far been able to test their zapper only on 13.56 MHz tags, as those have been the only kind they have had access to. They say they would welcome the chance to test their device on tags operating at other frequencies, however, and have asked visitors to the RFID-Zapper Web site to provide the team with such tags.

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