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New Philips Chip Adds Security Option

The new ICODE SLI-S chip supports security codes to lock and unlock user memory.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Jun 27, 2006Philips Semiconductors says it has completed work on its next-generation ICODE chip, the ICODE SLI-S, for passive high-frequency (13.56 MHz) tags. Radio frequency identification tags made with the new ICODE chips will be used for many of the same applications current ICODE-based tags are used for—such as tracking library books, pharmaceuticals and other goods that require item-level identification—but will give end users the ability to secure data on the tag.

Philips has added password protection to the new chip. With this feature, some or all of the data encoded to the chip can be protected by a password (a unique serial number) that an interrogator must present to the chip to read it. The chips can also be configured so that an interrogator must use a password before writing data to the tag. The data encoded to Philips' predecessor ICODE SLI chip can be locked, but once locked, it cannot be altered again. Also, all of the data on the old chip must be locked, whereas the users can select which data to lock on the new chip.

Markus Luidolt
The new password-based security feature will be particularly useful as a means of protecting drug product information encoded to tags attached to pharmaceutical bottles, says Markus Luidolt, marketing manager of Philips Semiconductors' Market Sector Team RFID. Rather than permanently locking access to drug information encoded to a pharmaceutical product at the point of dispensation to a customer, the data could be password-protected so that it could be readable later, in the event of a drug recall.

The new chip will enable librarians to change data encoded to the tag attached to a book or other media, such as a DVD. Some libraries add a code to a tag's data that represents the library branch to which a book is assigned. If a particular book is permanently moved from one branch's collection to another, a librarian could change that code in the tag's memory. With the predecessor ICODE SLI chip, however, a librarian would need to kill the tag and add a new one that reflects the new branch assignment.

The ICODE SLI-S chip is compliant with the ISO 15693 and ISO 18000-3 air interface standards, as well as EPCglobal's draft specification for a high-frequency Gen 1 Class 1 air interface protocol. (Though EPCglobal never completed certification on this protocol, it is using it as a foundation in developing a HF Gen 2 Class 1 standard. See EPCglobal Developing HF Tag Standard.) The ICODE SLI-S has 2 Kbits of on-board memory that accommodates a 64-bit password and a 96-bit electronic product code.

According to Philips, up to 200 tags with the ICODE chip can be read per second, and the chip also supports a bit that can be used to activate an electronic article surveillance (EAS) reader. This is also available in the current ICODE chip, and is used by libraries as an anti-theft measure. When books carrying ICODE tags are checked out, an interrogator at the check-out desk sets the EAS bit so that the EAS reader at the library door will not alarm. If a patron attempts to leave the library with a tagged book that has not been checked out, however, the EAS alarm system will sound.

Philips says samples of the ICODE SLI-S are available now, with production quantities due by the fourth quarter of this year. Pricing information is being released only to tag manufacturers. According to Luidolt, Philips is currently working with a number of major interrogator manufacturers to test a firmware upgrade that must be installed on interrogators to execute the password commands onto tags made with the new chip.
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