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SecureRF to Develop Secure RFID for US Air Force

The US Air Force wants active RFID tags it can use with sensors to monitor the location and status of assets but which can't be read by enemies. SecureRF received a grant to help develop the RFID system, which will also securely encode all data transmission.
Dec 10, 2008This article was originally published by RFID Update.

December 10, 2008—Secure RF has received a grant from the US Air Force (USAF) to develop secure RFID tags that can report asset locations to the Air Force but can't be read or electronically detected by enemies. SecureRF is developing active tags that can authenticate readers that attempt to communicate with them and encrypt all data communication under terms of the Small Business Information Research grant.

"The original scope is to develop active tags that can be put in places where you don't want to reveal your position," SecureRF CEO Louis Parks told RFID Update "That means the tags can't be located by an enemy beacon or reader."

Designs could be completed by May and prototype development could begin this summer. The grant allows the development phase for up to two years, which if successful would be followed by commercialization.

The USAF wants to use active RFID tags in combination with GPS tracking and sensors so it can monitor the location and conditions of assets. The combination of technologies could be used to create location histories for tagged items and to report asset locations when sensor conditions change, for example, if motion is detected.

SecureRF has embedded similar security capabilities into microcontrollers and battery-assisted passive RFID tags, according to Parks. Much of its development efforts will focus on integrating with USAF's legacy satellite-based tracking system, and in optimizing authentication and encryption functionality so it does not degrade the tag read speed or battery life.

"You can put strong security protocols on active tags today, but it eats up the battery. You see the life for multiple-year batteries going down to three to four months," Parks said.

"One of the innovative parts of this project is that security will actually run on the tag," Parks said. "The tag itself is an active participant in the security process. It's something like a cell phone, which makes active decisions on who to accept signals from."

The US Air Force will not have exclusive rights to any commercial technology that results from the project. Parks said there are potential commercial uses for the technology, including cargo tracking and high-value asset monitoring. There is clear commercial interest in such systems. EPCglobal is currently managing an international shipping trial that uses RFID to secure cargo containers and report locations (see EPCglobal Plans Multi-technology RFID Pilot).

SecureRF is not participating in the EPCglobal trial. However the company is a founding member of the RFID Security Alliance (RFIDSA), an industry group that formed earlier this year to promote understanding of RFID security needs and the development of appropriate technologies and practices (see New Association Highlights RFID Security Issues).
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