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Adasa Plans Launch of Encryption System for EPC Tags

The company hopes its proprietary solution will gain acceptance as a way to secure tag data, as well as authenticate tags and the products to which they are attached.
By Claire Swedberg
There are already security options in place for some EPC tags. In February of this year, Impinj announced its Monza 4QT chip, which has a public and private data mode controlling the amount of data that can be read (see Impinj Launches New High-Performance RFID Chips). And in April, NXP Semiconductors unveiled its G2iL series of RFID chips, featuring an on/off mode (see New NXP RFID Chips Bring Multiple Functions to Item-Level Tagging), which have been selling well, the company reports. "We see good traction from brand owners to use security features in RFID tags to protect their products from being counterfeited," says Heinze Elzinga, NXP's director of product management.

Adasa's solution aims to add an additional layer of security to either of these companies' chips, or to any other make and model of EPC chip with its own offline, changing encryption key. The firm has spent several years developing this system in anticipation of security problems, as RFID tags become more ubiquitous. To date, McAllister says, there have been few cases of EPC tag cloning or clandestine access of tag data. However, he notes, the need for security solutions will grow with the expected rise in tag volume.

In 2006, the company introduced its PAD3500 line of mobile EPC Gen 2 RFID tag encoders, for use in such remote locations as manufacturing plants and distribution centers, and for exception handling within retail stores (see Adasa Developing Wearable Tag Encoder). Those encoders do not support encryption of tag data, however, so the company began developing its encryption technology to solve a challenge that it predicts will grow: namely, protecting information on RFID tags in all parts of the supply chain, in order to thwart the potential proliferation of EPC tags for false IDs or counterfeit products.

The company then developed a device capable of encoding the tag in such a way that the encryption key would periodically change the password. In addition, it developed the module to store those keys for offline users, thereby reducing the need for Internet data traffic for such applications as transmitting unique ID numbers to a back-end server to verify passwords at a store's point of sale for each RFID tag read. Only when cryptographic keys are periodically changed, McAllister says, does the module go online, download replacement keys and provide them to the interrogator. This, he indicates, vastly reduces the amount of time vulnerable data is being transmitted on the Internet, and that users await responses from globally remote servers. Encryption of the Internet communication between the module and the remote server reduces vulnerability, he says, though he notes that the need for Internet transactions can still slow the process of reading tags. "Variable network delays are unavoidable," he states.

To create the keys, the encoder employs the industry-standard AES-128 encryption algorithm. The amount of memory necessary on the inlay to support the encryption key varies, depending on the desired security strength. Adasa's solution supports keys up to 512 bits in length, with the key stored in the tag's user memory. (In comparison, NXP's SmartMX HF RFID chip supports a key up to 256 bits in length.) The transmission of data from reader to tag, and vice versa, is made more secure by the cover-coding technology to obscure the data during transmission.

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