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Airgate Offering Product Authentication Platform

The system is based on tags and interrogators using Hitachi's tiny µ-chip.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
According to Sheriff, as products are manufactured or packaged, an inlay containing the µ-chip will be embedded in each product and encoded with a unique ID. As this happens, the reader will send the unique ID to the Airgate software, where it will be registered as a deployed number linked to a genuine product. The software will then update the database of deployed numbers to include the new entries. This database is stored on readers deployed further down the supply chain—at distribution centers, retail stores, pharmacies and so forth—and updated through an Internet connection to the main database periodically.

When the products are presented to these readers, the tags are authenticated in three ways. First, if the interrogator cannot read the tag, that signifies it is either broken or does not comply with Hitachi's protocol. (The tag can also be manufactured with a tamper-proof design making it unreadable if it has been removed from an original product and placed on another.) If the interrogator is able to read the tag, it checks to see if it contains an Airgate header, then checks for a unique ID against the most current database of deployed numbers. If it cannot read the tag, or if the tag does not contain a valid ID or header, the reader can either send an audio alert or display a message on its integrated LED screen.

Tags that pass all three tests are approved, and the readers pass a message of authentication along to whatever system the end user has deployed for product tracking. Those that fail any of the tests are diverted out of the supply chain and sent for inspection.

In addition, Airgate has devised a means of authenticating the readers, preventing them from being reverse-engineered by a third party intent on sending false authentication reports to the end user. To accomplish this, the company installs a set of encryption keys each reader must use to establish a connection to the network.

Sheriff says the µ-chip tags have performed reasonably well on products containing metal and liquids. In a demonstration of the tags attached to wine bottles, for instance, the tags could be read from a distance of 1 to 2 inches, despite the liquid contents.

The lack of an anticollision protocol means the tags used in a GenuDOT system would not be easily read in large groups, so end users would need to establish business processes designed around reading the tags one at a time. Sheriff does note, however, that Hitachi is developing a new version of the µ-chip with anticollision properties.

According to Sheriff, the price of the tags will depend on a number of variables, including the form factor and size, though he believes companies whose products are being counterfeited would be willing to invest in a system that could protect their brands. A recent white paper published by Texas Instruments says counterfeiting and product diversion costs companies $450 billion a year, globally.


Jonathan Mayes 2007-04-16 01:15:26 AM
Open standards are not secure? Mr Sheriff's comment that "People always say you need open standards, but for a locked-down authentication, you need a proprietary system." is very worrying as it indicates a lack of understanding of how to construct a secure system. Obfuscating the protocol by using proprietary readers does not make a system secure, it just makes it non-compliant.

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