copyright notice
link to the published version in Jour. Info. Proc. Syst.

December 12, 2011

A Survey of RFID Deployment and Security Issues

Amit Grover, Hal Berghel

Identity Theft and Financial Fraud Research and Operations Center (


Abstract – This paper describes different aspects of a typical RFID implementation. Section 1 provides a brief overview of the concept of Automatic Identification and compares the use of different technologies while section 2 describes the basic components of a typical RFID system. Section 3 and section 4 deal with detailed specifications of RFID transponders and RFID interrogators respectively. While section 5 highlights different RFID standards and protocols, section 6 enumerates the wide variety of applications where RFID systems are known to have made a positive improvement. Section 7 deals with privacy issues concerning the use of RFIDs and section 8 describes common RFID system vulnerabilities. Section 9 covers RFID security issues in detail followed by a detailed listing of countermeasures and precaution in section 10.

Keywords – RFID, RFID Standards, RFID Protocols, RFID Security, EPC structure, RFID Applications, RFID Classification



A wide range of Automatic Identification (Auto-ID) systems including Magnetic stripes, Optical Character Recognition (OCR), barcodes, biometrics, contact memory buttons, and smart cards have been around for many years and have helped in increasing the efficiency as well as efficacy of different business processes. Each of these technologies has their pros and cons and has specific target-applications for which they have their niche markets. Although OCR systems allow simultaneous manual as well as auto-identification, the prohibitive cost of the readers prevented wide-spread use of the technology in applications other than banking and production [1].While barcodes have proved to be a cost-effective way of managing inventory, they have certain inherent disadvantages such as limited information-storing capacity, a strict line of sight requirement between the scanner and the barcode that effectively prevents multiple barcodes to be processed simultaneously, limited data redundancy and error correction, and lack of in-built data-security standards in various symbologies.Biometrics such as fingerprints, retina scan, iris scan and voice recognition are considered strong identification solutions in automatic access control but some people find these technologies obtrusive thereby limiting their exposure.  Contact memory buttons are robust Auto-IDs capable of withstanding adverse environments that overcome a number of barcode system limitations and support features such as high data storage capacity(up to  8 MB), the ability to write data multiple times, and data security using encryption. However, despite these advantages, the requirement for contact to take place between the reader and the button thus making them suitable for only limited applications; coupled with the fact that these are proprietary systems has severely restricted their market share [2].Smart card (and derivatives such as memory card or microprocessor card) solutions use  standard credit-card sized plastic cards with an integral data storage system designed to make financial transactions secure as well as faster but have to deal with the high cost of maintenance of the readers[3].


Globalization of businesses, the rise of e-commerce, and the need for more efficient supply chain management propelled the industry to invent a new generation contactless Auto-ID systemcalled Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) that sought to overcome these limitations and reduce human intervention in inventory-management and other industrial processes by drastically improving both the speed as well as accuracy of data collection and dissemination. RFID systems rely on Radio Frequency to transmit a tag–specific unique serial number to a reader or interrogator. The earliest predecessor of the RFID concept is believed to be a Soviet spy gadget that retransmitted incident radio waves with audio information. One of the earliest applications of RF transponders  was the Friend-or-Foe (IFF : Identification, Friend or Foe) aircraft identification system used by the Royal Air Force during World War II to distinguish between enemy and Allied aircraft [4]. In the US, RFIDs have been used since the 1960s to manage nuclear and hazardous material.The modulated backscatter RFID tags as demonstrated at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1973is widely used today particularly in the UHF and microwave spectrum. Popular applications of RFID apart from inventory management throughout the entire supply chain includepatient tracking, toll–gate payment systems, high value asset tracking for defense applications, animal tracking, casino management, automobile security, financial transaction systems,tracking of pharmaceuticals etc. Different tag variables such as the power source, the class and generation as well as different system frequencies, standards and protocols affect various performance parameters such as data transmission range, reading distance, life span, amount of data and security issues. These different variables are described in greater detail in the following sections.



Depending on the application used the actual characteristics of the different components will vary greatly. However, the primary components of a typical RFID infrastructure include:

(a)    A transponder or tag with a unique identifier that facilitates auto-identification of any object to which the tag is attached

(b)   A reader or interrogator that manages the radio frequency communication with the tags

(c)    A middleware or reader interface layer which is essentially a software that acts as an interface between the basic RFID hardware components and the software application tasked with data collection related to tag events

Denotes 2-way communication

Figure 1:RFID Infrastructure Components

Since RF communication requires transmission and / or reception of data, the reader as well as the tag are in essence RF transceivers equipped with suitable antennas. The reader acts as a transmitter in the reader-to-tag communication referred to as the forward link; and as a receiver in the tag-to-reader communication referred to as the back link [5]. The tag communicates by acting in the opposite mode than that of the reader in each of the link directions. Apart from these fundamental components, certain RFID systems are also equipped with an optional infrared-capable transmitter known as a signpost that solves the problem of RF signal bleeding and providesmore precise location identification [6]. Real world RFID implementations indicate substantial variations in the type or form of the fundamental components used based on application-specific requirements. These variations are described in the following sections in greater detail.


A typical RFID transponder consists of an integrated circuit and an antenna embedded in a plastic or Mylar substrate. The IC is responsible for responding to the signals transmitted by the reader and replying with the tag’s unique identifier, and modulating and demodulating the radio-frequency signal. The actual communication is facilitated by the antenna that absorbs the incoming RF waves and utilizes the absorbed energy to activate the IC. Different applications focus on different chip characteristics such as the memory capacity, the ability to alter the antenna’s impedance, the power conversion efficiency, and the ability to handle data collision. The antennas reflect back the power by using a process known as backscatter. Unlike specular reflection, backscattering is adiffuse reflection (wherein an incident ray is reflected at multiple angles) of waves, particles, or signals due to scattering (deviation from a straight trajectory by one or more localized non-uniformities in the transmission medium) back to the direction they came from. The size and design characteristics of the antenna greatly affect the efficacy of the coupling between the transponder and the reader’s electromagnetic field. The bigger the size of the antenna, the greater is the range that the tag can support. Coil shaped antennas are best suited for handing Low Frequency(LF) and High Frequency (HF) radio communication while traditional radio antennas are better suited for Ultra High Frequency (UHF) communication [7].Since radio waves behave differently at different frequencies, their main characteristics are summarized in table 1[8].



Tag Type

Antenna Type













Table 1: RFID Frequency – Antenna relationship

Near Field communications rely completely on the magnetic waves and the range is typically just a few inches and has an inverse sixth power (1/r6) relationship with the range [9].

            As per Gauss’s Law or flux theorem,the electric flux through any closed surface is proportional to the enclosed electric charge.

The integral form of Gauss's law is represented as:

\oint_S \mathbf{E} \cdot \mathrm{d}\mathbf{A}  = \frac{Q}{\varepsilon_0},

WhereE is the electric field,

dA is a vector representing an infinitesimal element of area,

Q is total charge,

ε0 is the electric constant,

and· represents the dot product

The surface integral of this dot product denotes the electric flux through a closed surface S,

The differential form of Gauss's law is represented as:

\nabla \cdot \mathbf{E} = \frac{\rho}{\varepsilon_0}

Where·E is the divergence of the electric field, and ρ is the charge density.

Application of the Gauss’s law in the context of an RFID implementation implies that the amount of power absorbed by the transponder is optimal when the electric field created by the interrogator meets the tags at a perpendicular plane.

            Since the strength of the coupling is affected by the antenna’s capacitance, inductance and thereby the impedance characteristics, this implies that the design of the antenna plays a critical role in the overall performance of the RFID system. Applications that require RF coupling at different angles are best served by orientation insensitive antennas that are characterized by multiple turns and branches, whereas those that require direction-specific coupling on flat surfaces are better served by straight and long tags that provide an enhanced conductive area [10].Passive transponder formats that enjoy industry-wide acceptance include the Alien “12” tag, the Alien “Squiggle” tag, the Avery Dennison Strip tag, and the Rafsec Folded Dipole CCT tag. Based on the application, the antennas come in many different shapes and sizes, some of which are shown in figure2[11].


Figure 2: Different types of RFID Transponder antennas

3.1       RFID Tag Construction Formats

Different applications require transponders with different physical characteristics. Some common tag construction formats include disks or coins, glass or plastic housing, keys and key fobs, smart labels, coil-on-chip, and embedded in smart cards [12]. The various construction formats are summarized in table 2.

Construction Format



Disks or coins

Most common construction format. To withstand higher temperatures, an epoxy resin molding may be used.

Glass or plastic housing

Animal tracking and identification can be done by injecting these transponders under the animal’s skin.

Keys and key fobs

Immobilizers or door locking applications for high security areas.

Smart labels

Paper thin format where the tag is produced by careen printing or etching.

Smart cards

Contactless smart cards facilitate transactions without swiping the magnetic stripe.


To facilitate contactless access control.

Table 2: RFID Tag Construction Formats


3.2       Tag Classifications

Based on the power source that drives the communication between the tags and the reader, RFID tags can be classified as active, passive or semi-passive tags. The differences are indicated in table 3.

Tag Type



Has its own battery that is used to broadcast signals over great distances. Usually bigger in size and capable of carrying more information.


No inbuilt power source. The signal from the RFID reader creates an electromagnetic field that powers the tag. Much cheaper.

Semi-Passive or Battery Assisted Passive (BAP)

Equipped with an onboard battery that drives the chip’s circuitry but power for communication of the signal is derived from the reader’s electromagnetic field as in the case of passive tags.

Table 3: RFID Tag Types

The Auto-ID Center further classified different RFID tags on the basis of their functionality into seven different classes. These classes as recognized by EPCglobal are summarized in table 4 [13, 14]:





Class 0

Passive, read-only uses Symbol’s proprietary protocol


Class 0+

Passive, write –once using Class 0 protocols


Class I

Passive, read-only backscatter tag with one-time, field-programmable non-volatile memory


Class II

Passive, write-once,  backscatter tag with up to 65 KB of memory and encryption support


Class III

Rewriteable, Semi-passive backscatter tag, with up to 65 KB memory


Class IV

Rewriteable, active tag that uses a built-in battery to power its own communication with the reader


Class V

Similar to Class IV tags but with enhanced capability to power and read Class I, II, and II tags and read other Class IV and V tags

Table 4: RFID Tag Classes


RFID readers interrogate the tags as they move in to the range of the electromagnetic field generated by the radio frequency and supply the tag’s unique identification data to the middleware for the specific application. These EPC class 5 devices are responsible for managing the communication between the different components of a typical RFID infrastructure and include components such as an antenna that transmits the RF wave, a Digital Signal Processor (DSP) chip that controls data transmitted using frequency or amplitude modulation, and a reader Application Programming Interface (API) that facilitates the end-user application to correctly record and interpret tag read events. The DSP chip is also responsible for the real-time data communication between the transponders and the interrogators. Characteristics such as directivity, signal gain, polarization, radiation efficiency, form factor, and tag density play a crucial role in selecting readers for different applications. Signal directivity is an important issue when phantom reads introduce errors as RF signals are read from adjoining interrogation zones.An antenna’s gaincombines its directivity and electrical efficiency and describes how well the antenna transforms input power into radio waves.

G = Eantenna . D

Where G = gain

Eantenna =Antenna efficiency, and

D = directivity

The power gain for a particular direction given by an elevation θ and azimuth φ,is represented as:

G(\theta,\phi) = E_{antenna} \cdot D(\theta,\phi),

Where D(θ,Φ) = directive gain.

Antenna efficiency is either expressed as the ratio between its radiation resistance and its total resistance or as the ratio between its input power and its radiated power:

{E_{radiation}} = \frac{R_{radiation}}{R_{total}}{E_{radiation}} = \frac{P_{radiated}}{P_{input}}


Where Rtotal = Rradiation + Rcoil + Rground + Rother ,i.e. the sum of coil losses (Rc), ground losses (Rg), and other losses (Ro) including ohmic and capacitive losses.


            Polarization refers to the orientation of the antenna with respect to the electromagnetic field and can be linear or circular. Radiation efficiency depends on the antenna design and reflects the strength of the transmitted signal. The form factor classification for mobile interrogators indicates either a dedicated reader or as an add-on interface to conventional computers using technologies such as PCMCIA (Personal Computer Memory Card International Association), SDIO (Secure Digital Input Output), or CompactFlash cards [15].Tag density refers to the maximum number of transponders that a reader can register per second.

The maximum transmission rangermax for RFID tags is given by the Friisfree space formula: [16]

rmax =

= wavelength

 = transmitted power from the reader

 = gain of transmitter antenna

 = gain of receiver tag

 = power transmission coefficient

 = minimum threshold power of the reader



4.1       FFCA, AEN and PLCM: RFID ImplementationConsiderations

An RFID implementation requires proper planning to ensure that the new deployment does not interfere with any existing equipment that uses electromagnetic radiation and also to ensure that appropriate RFID components are chosen to deliver optimum performance, given the environmental constraints. This is achieved by using a technique known as Full Faraday Cycle Analysis (FFCA). The FFCA has two primary components - AEN and PLCM. AEN is the Ambient Electromagnetic Noise in the environment created by other gadgets that can interfere with the radio frequency communication of an RFID implementation.  A detailed AEN analysis includes identifying all the spots susceptible to AEN along with their measurements. Based on the cause of the AEN, steps can be taken to either eliminate the AEN or to find a way to accommodate it by selecting the appropriate technologies / components for the RFID solution.  The next stage is the process of mapping out the RF path in the different interrogation zones based on the AEN measurements. This process is known as RF Path Loss Contour Mapping (PLCM) [17].



5.1       Electronic Product Code

The Universal Product Code (UPC) is a barcode symbology used for tracking retail inventory in stores. UPC is based on GS1’s GTIN-12 and consists of twelve numeric characters that uniquely identify a company's individual product. The structural detail of a UPC symbol is shown in figure 3.

The limited amount of data that a UPC barcode can accommodate implies that one of its limitations is that it gives information only about the manufacturer and product code but not about each individual piece of item.



Typical Universal Product Code Symbol

Out of the total 12 digits encoded, the company prefix can be 6 to 10 digits long

Figure 3: UPC Symbol Structure (Source:

This limitation can beovercome by using EPC or the Electronic Product Code which can store much more information and is designed to serve as a unique global identifier for all physical objects.The EPC was developed by the Auto-ID Center as a global and open standard. Apart from a unique identification number for each item of the inventory, the EPC information can include additional information such as date of manufacture, origin and destination of shipment etc. The EPC structure is defined in the EPCglobal Tag Data Standard. It is a 96-bit number consisting of a header and three sets of data. The 96-bit EPC can support sufficient capacity for 268 million companies allowing each manufacturer to support up to 16 million object classes with 68 billion serial numbers in each class [18]. An example of a typical EPC code is shown in figure 4.

Figure 4: EPC structure

Header: The header identifies the EPC version number, which identifies the type of EPC data to follow.

EPC manager Number: The second part of the number identifies company or manufacturer of the item.

Object Class:The third part refers to the exact type of product and is functionally similar to a stock-keeping unit (SKU).

Serial Number:The fourth part is the item’s unique identifier.

Apart from the data structure the EPC also covers the air interface protocol and the network for getting tag information. It defines contents and encodings for all the different classes of transponders along with coupling, frequency and communication protocols for Class 0 and Class I transponders [19].


5.2       RFID Air Interface Protocol

The Air Interface protocol is responsible for communication between the reader and the tags and manages modulation/ de-modulation as well as collision avoidance for the transmitted data. The standard used with EPC Generation 2.0 protocols is the modified slotted ALOHA protocol which is a random access protocol for sharing broadcast channel access among a number of users with relatively low throughput demand. Anti-collision methods may be designed for space domain, frequency domain or time domain. Most RFID implementations employ time-domain anti- collision wherein fractional communications from the transponders are varied in time. Time domain anti-collision methods support both synchronous as well as asynchronous schemes [20].


Popular RFID standards used for different applications are listed in table 5:





Purpose or Application area


ISO/IEC 18000

RFID for item management:

Part 1

Generic parameters for air interfaces for globally accepted frequencies

Part 2

Parameters for air interface communications below 135 kHz


Part 3

Parameters for air interface communications at 13.56 MHz

Part 4


Parameters for air interface communications at 2.45 GHz

Part 5

Parameters for air interface communications at 5.8 GHz

Part 6

Parameters for air interface communications at 860–960 MHz


Part 7

Parameters for active air interface communications at 433 MHz


ISO 14223


RFID of animals – Advanced transponders


ISO/IEC 14443

HF (13.56 MHz) standard for HighFIDs for RFID-enabled passports under ICAO 9303.


ISO/IEC 15693

HF (13.56 MHz) standard for HighFIDs widely used for non-contact smart payment and credit cards.


ISO 18185

Standard for electronic seals or "e-seals" for tracking cargo containers using the 433 MHz and 2.4 GHz frequencies.

Table 5: Popular RFID Standards



The phenomenal proliferation of RFID chips in such a short time is testimony of the fact that they can be used in a wide variety of applications to streamline different processes thereby producing a tangible and cost-effective increase in efficiency. Common applications which are well suited for RFID system implementations include [21]:

(a)    Automotive Industry

                                i.            Vehicle Immobilizers

                              ii.            Inventory Management

                            iii.            Agile and Flexible manufacturing

                            iv.            Product life cycle management

(b)   Cattle ranching and animal tracking

(c)    Health Care

                                i.            Patient tracking

                              ii.            Tracking of high value pharmaceuticals

                            iii.            Resources management

(d)   Manufacturing Industry

                                i.            Supply change management

                              ii.            Warehousing

                            iii.            Asset management

                            iv.            Inventory control

(e)    Marine Terminal Operation

                                i.            Container tracking and handling

(f)    Defense

                                i.            Logistics and Inventory control

                              ii.            Field Combat

                            iii.            Marking of high value assets as well as targets

                            iv.            IFF aircraft detection

                              v.            Reconnaissance

(g)   Payment Transactions

(h)   Retailing

                                i.            Inventory and shelf management

                              ii.            Point of Sale management

                            iii.            Information kiosk and customer service

                            iv.            Loss prevention

                              v.            Customer loyalty programs

(i)     Transportation

                                i.            Electronic toll collection

                              ii.            Automatic vehicle identification

                            iii.            Fleet management

                            iv.            Car parking and access control

                              v.            Electronic vehicle registration

(j)     Casino chip tracking

(k)   Library Management

(l)     IDs such as EDL, Passports

(m)Human Implants using VeriChip




As RFIDs proliferation spreads to different application areas coupled with regular exposes documenting various security vulnerabilities in RFID systems, a concern about the privacy issues is bound to be there. With RFIDs being introduced in employee access cards, Federal Personal IdentityVerification cards, new passports as well as passport cards, national driver’s licenses, credit cards, human implants (such as those implemented by the  Baja Beach nightclub in Barcelona for ease of payment for preferred customers), patient tracking systems, personal clothing items and handbags, pet-tracking implants with the owner’s information, and other merchandise; the concern about surreptitious and unauthorized tracking of individuals seems well founded [22].  Since RFID tags embedded in merchandize remain functional even after the products leave the point of sale and are no longer required for supply chain management activities, the unrestricted universal read capability of the tags can be used to monitor the movements of the customer especially if the data is used in conjunction with his / her credit card or merchant loyalty card used for the financial transaction [23]. Privacy advocates from Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering (CASPIAN) has exposed instance when these “spychips” or RFIDs containing customer IDs were embedded in customer loyalty cards without disclosing the fact to the customers. CASPIAN also highlighted an incident where a manufacturer was using hidden cameras activated by RFID chips to track merchandise supposedly to deter shoplifting but the tags remained readable even after a customer bought the product and took it home [24]. Also news articles such as the one titled “Wal-Mart Uses RFID to Track Underwear” do nothing to increase the common man’s confidence in the extent to which RFID chips can be used for invasion of privacy [25].



Common RFID vulnerabilities include RFID data skimming, tag killing and susceptibility to a DoS attack. These vulnerabilities are described below:

8.1 RFID Card Skimming

One of the biggest vulnerabilities of RFID systems is the fact that anyone with access to a suitable reader can capture the information stored on the ID. This act of surreptitiously grabbing personal information from a victim’s financial transaction card or any RFID enabled ID is known as “electronic pick pocketing”.

8.2 Tag Killing

RFID systems that support read/write memory are susceptible to unauthorized tag killings from large distances using specially configured readers. This allows the attacker to alter the tag memory content without the owner’s knowledge.

8.3 Susceptibility of the EPCglobal Network to DoSAttacks

The EPCglobal Network is used to share product information between different stakeholders in the RFID implementation and relies on the Electronic Product Code (EPC) of different items. The EPCglobal Network manages dynamic information such as data regarding the movement of each individual object throughout the product life cycle.  This management of all the phases of the supply chain management is achieved by using the following components:

                                             i.            Object Naming Service (ONS)

                                            ii.            EPC Discovery Services

                                          iii.            EPC Information Services (EPCIS)

                                          iv.            EPC Security Services

The ONS service is used for the discovery of object information on the basis of an EPC and uses a mechanism similar to the Domain Name System for resolving IP addresses. The response sent to the requester is a URL or IP-address obtained from the database when the corresponding Electronic Product Code indicates a match. Similarity in mechanism with the DNS implies similar vulnerabilities and susceptibility to similar threats such as Denial of Service attacks.

8.4  Documented Hacks

Documented hacks for spoofing / cloning have highlighted vulnerabilities in almost all popular RFID implementations including Chris Paget’s cloning of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) compliant documents such as the passport card and Electronic Driver’s License (EDL), compromising VeriChip, MIFARE Classic card, Oyster card, the cracking of the RFID encryption on an American Express credit card using an $8 dollar reader easily available on eBay, and hacking of the Texas Instruments RFID Digital Signature Transponder (DST) used in ExxonMobil SpeedPass systems, etc [26, 27, 28, 29]. In December 2007, a demonstration at the24th Chaos Communications Congress (24C3)in Germany highlighted vulnerabilities of the ubiquitous MiFare Classic RFID chip using reverse –engineering of the Crypto-1 cipher used. To make matters worse, it has been shown that it is possible to recover secret keys in mere minutes on an average desktop PC [30].


There are a number of serious security concerns which should be examined thoroughly before executing any widespread RFID deployment. Some common threats include:

9.1 RFID Spoofing

The process of unauthorized capturing of RFID tag information including its unique tag ID (TID) and retransmitting this information to a reader thereby fooling it into believing that the data is coming from a legitimate transponder is known as RFID spoofing. There have been numerous demonstrations that show the ease with which this can be done given the right equipment [31].

9.2 Tag Cloning

When the RFID spoofing is done coupled with replicating the original form factor of the tag to give an identical product, the RFID tag is said to have been cloned. RFID cloning is also referred to as a relay attack.

9.3  Side Channel Attacks

Rouge RFID can readers sniff RF communications between authorized tags and readers and might use the confidential information thus obtained for carrying out industrial espionage or other illegal activities [32]. Such an attack on a Generation 1 RFID tag was demonstrated at the 2006 RSA Security annual conference.

9.4 RFID Viruses and Worms

Since RFID systems rely on middleware top communicate with business applications and backend databases, they are susceptible to malware attacks by hackers just as any other software based solution. It has been demonstrated that by merely scanning an infected RFID tag, it is possible to compromise the system’s security and cause malicious pre-programmed damage to the backend database of an RFID implementation. Once the system has been compromised, the malware’s payload can be designed to spread the damage by infecting other tags. Based on the propagation vector used, RFID malware can be classified as RFID worm or RFID virus [33].

9.4.1 RFID Worm: An RFID worm is a malware that propagates using network connections by exploiting online RFID services as well as via RFID tags. The RFID middleware server gets compromised when a legitimate RFID server is tricked into downloading and executing malicious code. The compromised middleware server then unwittingly propagates the infection by replacing legitimate tag data with the malicious code.

9.4.2 RFID Virus: An RFID virus is a self-replicating malware that does not require a network connection for propagation. Once a tag with a specially crafted code is able to infect the backend software of the RFID implementation, the middleware can be used to churn out infected tags which in turn have the capacity to infect the middleware layers of the same software in different geographic locations when these infected tags reach a new location and are scanned by the system.

Figure 5: Avirus infected RFID chip (source:

9.5 SQL Injection

SQL Injection is an attack technique that exploits database security vulnerability by injecting specific code to gain access to the underlying database. If incorrect input is not filtered properly, an attacker can cause real damage to the RFID database using malicious SQL commands.

9.6 Cross –Site Scripting

XSS is a web application vulnerability that allows embedding of form input with malicious scripts. By injecting client-side script into web pages, attackers can bypass client-side access control mechanisms and if this website is a necessary part of an RFID implementation, the attackers can compromise the RFID backend system.

9.7  Buffer Overflow

It is possible to exploit poorly written middleware code which doesn’t dynamically check the data capacity of the tags to send irregular amounts of data to the reader and cause a buffer overflow that may either crash the RFID system or compromise some part of it that can be used for launching other attacks such as SQL injection to disrupt the integrity of the database.

9.8  Glue Code

Glue code is code that is primarily used to "glue together" different parts of code to make different modules or components compatible with each other but not specifically contributing towards a specific functional requirement. Glue code attacks focus on targeting various types of interfacing code where there is a greater probability for introducing data format errors and thus crash the system. A typical RFID   implementation uses glue code to interface the RFID readers with the middleware or other end-user applications and is thus susceptible to glue code attacks.



The threats and vulnerabilities inherent in RFID systems described above can be minimized to a great extent by employing the following countermeasures

10.1 Faraday Cages

Faraday cages or meshes or shields use containers coated with certain metals that don’t allow RF waves to pass through. Good examples include the use of Credit card shielding sleeves or passport shielding cases such as those shown in table 6.


RFID Smart Card Shielding sleeve[34]

RFID Passport shielding case[35]

RFID Shielding Flipside Wallet[36]

Flipside RFID-Shielded Wallet

Table 6: RFID Shields

10.2 Kill Command

The Kill command is a feature built into the RFID transponder that can be activated by a reader by transmitting an access code or PIN at the point of sale to make the tag unreadable [37]. Once the kill command has been executed there is no way to revive the tag’s usability at a later stage.

10.3 Sleep Command

Unlike the kill command, the sleep command de-activates the RFID transponder only temporarily. For using the tag again it needs to be activated physically. As a security feature, it can’t be re-activated remotely without the user’s knowledge.

10.4 Encryption

Using encryption is a good way to secure the contents of the data that is transmitted so that even if an unauthorized person eavesdrops on the communication, the cipher text would not reveal meaningful information unless the key has also been compromised.Use of cryptographic protocols in conjunction with Challenge-response authentication systems or using "rolling code" schemes, wherein the tag identifier information changes after each scan, are some other ways to make RFID communication more secure. Care should be taken not to transmit secret tag information over the insecure communication channels [38].

10.5 Clipped Tags

The Clipped Tag is an RFID tag which allows a consumer to tear off a portion of the tag after an item has been purchased. Produced as a collaborative effort by IBM and MarnlenRFiD, this helps in increasing consumer privacy as once the antenna is clipped the distance from which the tags can be read is reduced drastically. Figure 6 shows an example of the clipped tags.

Figure 6: Clipped Tags (Source:[39]:

10.6 Blocking

A possible solution is introducing a blocker tag and extending the tag data structure format to handle a privacy bit that can be turned on or off like the kill command only when the reader has the appropriate access code or PIN [40].

10.7 Reduction of the Transmission Range

An easy solution to prevent unauthorized eavesdropping is by limiting the transmission range of the tag to just a few centimeters. However, this method does not provide very strong security against determined eavesdroppers.

10.8 Randomization

One solution is to store a sufficiently large random number as the tag ID of a write-once read-only tag and the mapping of this number to product information be handled by a secure database so that even if the ID information is compromised, it doesn’t reveal any meaningful information without access to the backend database [41].

10.9 EPC Gen 2 Standards

Using the EPCglobal UHF Class 1 Generation 2 standard provides slightly more secure communications than Generation 1 standards as it supports a memory locking feature that can only be accessed by using the appropriate password. Though this prevents unauthorized alteration of the memory, it is not fully secure as the password is sent to the tag by the reader using the same channel as the secure data rendering it susceptible to password breaking attacks. Security is provided by encoding data transmitted by the reader using a 16-bit random number as communicated by the tag to the reader. This implementation assumes that strength of the backscattered signal as transmitted by the tag is not sufficient enough to be eavesdropped by unauthorized entities. However it has been shown that technologically, this assumption does not hold true. Plus it also adds an overhead in the backend database management system [42].

10.10 RFID Enterprise Application Framework based on Kerberos

Another implementation that may be used to enhance security in dynamic RFID application environments is the proposed Enterprise Application Framework based on Kerberos and abstract business processes that includes a standard communication protocol and diverse security functions [43].

10.11 RFID Security Framework for Smart Home Environments

Futuristic smart home environments that envisage network and RFID enabled devices such as refrigerators, music systems, air-conditioning systems, mobile RFID-enabled smart phones, kitchen appliances and other household gadgets are leaving the realm of science fiction and becoming a reality. These smart home networks are susceptible to their own security threats and vulnerabilities. A proposed ‘Security Framework for RFID-based Applications in Smart Home Environment’ deals with tag locking and other strategies to provide authentication and data confidentiality as well as integrity [44].

10.12 RFID Security for Ubiquitous Computing Environments

RFID is an integral part of the ubiquitous network computing environment and apart from the traditional focus on RFID reader system and tag-based security, the practical usefulness of low-priced RFID tags can be increased with the help of a proposed security service that not only ensures availability but also provides for ‘forward channel security’ and ‘secure status-acquisition technology’ [45].

10.13 Other Security Threats

Other security threats such as SQL injection, cross –site scripting, buffer overflow, and glue code attacks can be minimized or eliminated by using the following countermeasures:

                                i.            Strong Input validation

                              ii.            Good software design

                            iii.            Proper filtering rules on the perimeter firewall that controls access to the middleware and end user applications

                            iv.            Disabling scripts on the backend system

                              v.            Auditing buffer bounds and thoroughly checking for boundary condition errors

                            vi.            Accepting cookies only from trusted sites

                          vii.            Limiting account privileges for users that don’t require full administrator access to the software component.


While the list of applications that may be streamlined or optimized using RFID implementations keeps on growing every day, it is also true that newer exploits keep demonstrating again and again that RFID in its current form is certainly not secure enough to deal safely with transactions involving sensitive personally identifiable and financial information. Though it is safe to say the technology has matured for use in inventory management throughout the supply chain, toll–gate payment systems, high value asset tracking for defense applications, animal tracking, casino management, and automobile security; it would not be wise to rely completely on RFID based solutions for carrying out financial transactions and using ID documents embedded with RFID chips unless better safeguards are implemented to ensure foolproof security. While many of the security concerns can be handled by using existing technology, one of the biggest challenges is the general lack of awareness of the various RFID security issues.



[1]  Finkenzeller, Klaus, RFID Handbook, John Wiley & Sons, Chichester, West Sussex England, 2003, pg 4.

[2] Sweeney II, Patrick J., RFID for Dummies, Wiley Publishing, Hoboken NJ, 2005, pg. 37.

[3]  Finkenzeller, Klaus, RFID Handbook, John Wiley & Sons, Chichester, West Sussex England, 2003, pg 5.

[4] Newitz, Annalee, “The RFID Hacking Underground”, Wired Magazine,

[5] Sweeney II, Patrick J., RFID for Dummies, Wiley Publishing, Hoboken NJ, 2005, pg. 99.

[6] Jerry Banks, David Hanny, Manuel Pachano, Les Thompson, RFID Applied, Wiley, 2007, pg 12.

[7] Sweeney II, Patrick J., RFID for Dummies, Wiley Publishing, Hoboken NJ, 2005, pg 89.

[8] Jerry Banks, David Hanny, Manuel Pachano, Les Thompson, RFID Applied, Wiley, 2007, pg 73.

[9] Sweeney II, Patrick J., RFID for Dummies, Wiley Publishing, Hoboken NJ, 2005,pg 69.

[10] Sweeney II, Patrick J., RFID for Dummies, Wiley Publishing, Hoboken NJ, 2005, pg 91.


[12] Finkenzeller, Klaus, RFID Handbook, John Wiley & Sons, Chichester, West Sussex England, 2003, pg. 13 – 20.

[13] Glover, Bill and Himanshu Bhatt, RFID Essentials, O’Reilly Media, Sebastopol CA, 2006, pg 72.

[14] A Summary of RFID Standards,

[15] Jerry Banks, David Hanny, Manuel Pachano, Les Thompson, RFID Applied, Wiley, 2007, pg. 81.

[16] Jerry Banks, David Hanny, Manuel Pachano, Les Thompson, RFID Applied, Wiley, 2007, pg. 112.

[17] Sweeney II, Patrick J., RFID for Dummies, Wiley Publishing, Hoboken NJ, 2005, pg. 25,132

[18] RFID: The Next Generation Auto-ID Technology,

[19] Glover, Bill and Himanshu Bhatt, RFID Essentials, O’Reilly Media, Sebastopol CA, 2006, pg 72.

[20] Sweeney II, Patrick J., RFID for Dummies, Wiley Publishing, Hoboken NJ, 2005, pg 100.

[21] Jerry Banks, David Hanny, Manuel Pachano, Les Thompson, RFID Applied, Wiley, 2007, pg 297 – 363.

[22] Are RFID Chips a Personal Security Risk?,


[24] Garfinkel, Simon and Beth Rosenberg, RFID Applications, Security, and Privacy, Addison-Wesley, 2006, pg 63.







[31] RFID: Cloning vs. Spoofing, Bert Moore,






[37] Jerry Banks, David Hanny, Manuel Pachano, Les Thompson, RFID Applied, Wiley, 2007,pg 276.

[38] Garfinkel, Simon and Beth Rosenberg, RFID Applications, Security, and Privacy, Addison-Wesley, 2006, pg 297.


[40] Jerry Banks, David Hanny, Manuel Pachano, Les Thompson, RFID Applied, Wiley, 2007, pg 279

[41] Garfinkel, Simon and Beth Rosenberg, RFID Applications, Security, and Privacy, Addison-Wesley, 2006, pg 343.

[42] Garfinkel, Simon and Beth Rosenberg, RFID Applications, Security, and Privacy, Addison-Wesley, 2006, pg 342.

[43] Kyuhee An, Kiyeal Lee, and Mokdong Chung, “Design and Implementation of an RFID-based Enterprise Application Framework based on Abstract BP and Kerberos”, International Journal of Information Processing Systems, Vol.2, No.3, December 2006.

[44] Divyan M. Konidala, Daeyoung Kim, Chan Yeob Yeun and Byoungcheon Lee, “Security Framework for RFID-based Applications in Smart Home Environment”, Journal of Information Processing Systems, Vol.7, No.1, March 2011.

[45] Dae-Hee Seo and Im-Yeong Lee, “A Study on RFID System with Secure Service Availability for Ubiquitous Computing”, International Journal of Information Processing Systems, Vol.1, No.1, 2005.