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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
The encoder has another feature as well, one intended to reduce the cost of its technology: the ability to support unconverted inlays, rather than RFID labels. By enabling users to encode an unconverted inlay—simply an RFID chip and antenna embedded on a plastic substrate with an adhesive backing—the company was able to eliminate the need for label manufacturers to get involved in the tag manufacturing and encoding processes, McAllister says, thereby potentially saving up to 5 cents per inlay. Here's how the system works: The cartridge in the encoder holds unconverted EPC inlays from any inlay manufacturer, encoding each inlay with an encrypted unique ID number, as well as encrypted passwords and data. During the encoding process, Clarke explains, near-field magnetic induction is used to reduce the transmission distance by forming inductive loops around the inlay's immediate vicinity. A worker in a product manufacturer's factory or warehouse then removes each inlay and attaches it directly to a product, or to its packaging or hangtag.

When the item arrives at a store, the interrogators operated by the store's staff utilize Adasa software to link the ID numbers and encryption keys they read (for example, at the point of sale) with those on the module plugged into a computer or network device via an Ethernet cable. The module either approves or rejects the password sent by the inlay, and the point-of-sale transaction is then complete. This is faster and more secure, McAllister says, than sending the ID and password back to a server with each read of an inlay. The module connects to the Internet only to download new encryption keys at the times at which they change, greatly reducing the time and risk of sending sensitive data over the Internet.

All encryption keys will be stored on a hosted server, to be managed by an IT partner not yet selected by Adasa. Once the IT company is chosen, the technology will be ready to be offered commercially—as early as January 2011, McAllister hopes. The full system consists of server access, an encoder for commissioning the tags, an encryption module and associated software, and the inlays themselves. The encoder can also support converted RFID labels; however, those labels must meet the size requirements of the cartridge form factor. Because unconverted RFID inlays are cheaper than RFID labels, McAllister says, the solution will be less expensive than existing EPC labeling systems. Any make or model of ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) Gen 2 RFID reader, with the encryption module and required software, could operate with the Adasa system.

Another company that offers technology designed to address either counterfeiting or data security is Verayo, which sells its Physical Unclonable Functions (PUF) technology. PUF technology is designed to provide security functionality on existing RFID chips, most commonly for high-frequency (HF) 13.56 MHz RFID inlays used for NFC systems, by establishing an expected response from each RFID chip to a transmitted "challenge," based on its own unique physical characteristics during manufacture. "NFC is becoming a very interesting space for Verayo," says Vivek Khandelwal, the firm's VP of marketing and business development. "Most of the attention we are getting is from NFC applications." In that case, he explains, the rollout of NFC-enabled mobile phones will increase the demand for the PUF product. In September 2010, Verayo announced that Nigeria's National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) had approved the use of an RFID system employing its PUF technology to authenticate pharmaceutical products sold in that country (see Nigerian Drug Agency Opts for RFID Anticounterfeiting Technology)

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