RFID Security and Privacy-A Research Survey
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RFID Security and Privacy-A Research Survey


This article surveys recent technical research on the problems of privacy and security for RFID (Radio Frequency IDentification). RFID tags are small, wireless devices that help identify objects and people. Thanks to dropping cost, they are likely to proliferate into the billions in the next several years – and eventually into the trillions. RFID tags track objects in supply chains, and are working their way into the pockets, belongings and even the bodies of consumers. This survey examines approaches proposed by scientists for privacy protection and integrity assurance in RFID systems, and treats the social and technical context of their work. While geared toward the non-specialist, the survey may also serve as a reference for specialist readers. RFID (Radio-Frequency IDentification) is a technology for automated identification of objects and people. Human beings are skillful at identifying objects under a variety of challenge circumstances. A bleary-eyed person can easily pick out a cup of coffee on a cluttered breakfast table in the morning, for example. Computer vision, though, performs such tasks poorly. RFID may be viewed as a means of explicitly labeling objects to facilitate their perception by computing devices. An RFID device – frequently just called an RFID tag – is a small microchip designed for wireless data transmission. It is generally attached to an antenna in a package that resembles an ordinary adhesive sticker. The microchip itself can be as small as a grain of sand, some 0.4mm2 [82]. An RFID tag transmits data over the air in response to interrogation by an RFID reader. In both the popular press and academic circles, RFID has seen a swirl of attention in the past few years. One important reason for this is the effort of large organizations, such as WalMart, Procter and Gamble, and the United States Department of Defense, to deploy RFID as a tool for automated oversight of their supply chains. Thanks to a combination of dropping tag costs and vigorous RFID standardization, we are on the brink of an explosion in RFID use. Advocates of RFID see it as a successor to the optical barcode familiarly printed on consumer products, with two distinct advantages: 1) Unique identification: A barcode indicates the type of object on which it is printed, e.g., This is a 100g bar of ABC brand 70% chocolate. An RFID tag goes a step further. It emits a unique serial number that distinguishes among many millions of identically manufactured objects; it might indicate, e.g., that This is 100g bar of ABC brand 70% chocolate, serial no. 897348738. The unique identifiers in RFID tags can act as pointers to a database entries containing rich transaction histories for individual items. 2) Automation: Barcodes, being optically scanned, require line-of-sight contact with readers, and thus careful physical positioning of scanned objects. Except in the most rigorously controlled environments, barcode scanning requires human intervention. In contrast, RFID tags are readable without line-of-sight contact and without precise positioning. RFID readers can scan tags at rates of hundreds per second. For example, an RFID reader by a warehouse dock door can today scan stacks of passing crates with high accuracy. In the future, point-of-sale terminals may be able to scan all of the items in passing shopping carts . Due to tag cost and a hodgepodge of logistical complications – like the ubiquity of metal shelving, which interferes with RFID scanning – RFID tags are unlikely to appear regularly on consumer items for some years. Retailers have expressed interest, though, in ultimately tagging individual items. Such tagging would, for instance, address the perennial problem of item depletion on retail shelves, which is costly in terms of lost sales. Today, RFID is seeing fruition in the tagging of crates and pallets, that is, discrete bulk quantities of items. RFID tagging improves the accuracy and timeliness of information about the movement of goods in supply chains.

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