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Countering RFID Counterfeiters

Some RFID vendors are taking steps to outsmart counterfeiters.
By Andrew Price
Jun 05, 2007—By Mary Catherine O'Connor

Radio frequency identification has been hailed not only as a great tracking technology but also as a way to stop counterfeiters from sneaking fake products into the supply chain. Drug companies and manufacturers of high-priced goods are attaching RFID tags at the item level and using the unique Electronic Product Code on each tag to authenticate the product. But some security experts say it's only a matter of time before counterfeiters outsmart the system. Now, some RFID vendors are taking steps to outsmart counterfeiters.

While each EPC is unique, someone could read it from one tag and encode it on another, a practice called cloning. Some HF tags have a built-in feature that can easily thwart attempts at cloning. The International Standards Organization (ISO) requires manufacturers to encode a unique, unalterable number to the memory of each chip used to create HF ISO 15693 RFID inlays. End users, such as pharmaceutical company Pfizer, use this unique chip ID to authenticate products by associating it with the EPC encoded to the tag. Even if a counterfeiter were able to lift the EPC from a tag attached to a vial of Viagra and encode it to another HF tag attached to a counterfeit vial, the tag's chip ID wouldn't match Pfizer's records.

Tags made with Impinj's Monza/ID chip could help pharmaceutical companies authenticate their products.
The EPC Gen 2 standard lacks this built-in protection, because it doesn't require chipmakers to encode a unique identifier to each Gen 2 chip. Impinj encoded its first Gen 2 chip, the Monza, with the same product and manufacturer ID. But last summer Impinj began producing the Monza/ID chip, which uses a unique chip identifier that lets end users take advantage of this second identifier to authenticate their products.

But Mike Sheriff, CEO of Airgate Technologies, says using ISO or EPC tags with factory-programmable identifiers is not a foolproof anticounterfeiting measure. While RFID tags based on published standards allow easy data exchange between partners and encourage competition among vendors to create low-cost, interoperable RFID goods, the tag technology is public knowledge, making it susceptible to reverse engineering by counterfeiters.
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