Minimalist Cryptography for Low Cost RFID Tags

A radio-frequency identification (RFID) tag is a small, inexpensive microchip that emits an identifier in response to a query from a nearby reader. The price of these tags promises to drop to the range of $0.05 per unit in the next several years, offering a viable and powerful replacement for barcodes. The challenge in providing security for low-cost RFID tags is that they are computationally weak devices, unable to perform even basic symmetric-key cryptographic operations. Security researchers often therefore assume that good privacy protection in RFID tags is unattainable. In this paper, we explore a notion of minimalist cryptography suitable for RFID tags. We consider the type of security obtainable in RFID devices with a small amount of rewritable memory, but very limited computing capability. Our aim is to show that standard cryptography is not necessary as a starting point for improving security of very weak RFID devices. Our contribution is threefold: 1. We propose a new formal security model for authentication and privacy in RFID tags. This model takes into account the natural computational limitations and the likely attack scenarios for RFID tags in real-world settings. It represents a useful divergence from standard cryptographic security modeling, and thus a new view of practical formalization of minimal security requirements for low-cost RFID-tag security. 2. We describe protocol that provably achieves the properties of authentication and privacy in RFID tags in our proposed model, and in a good practical sense. Our proposed protocol involves no computationally intensive cryptographic operations, and relatively little storage. 3. Of particular practical interest, we describe some reduced-functionality variants of our protocol. We show, for instance, how static pseudonyms may considerably enhance security against eavesdropping in low-cost RFID tags. Our most basic static-pseudonym proposals require virtually no increase in existing RFID tag resources.

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