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Wednesday, August 03, 2005
  big impact - Concern over data security with RFID

New technology often bring new challenges, but it's a slightly different story with RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) - here, it's case of a widely-used technology gaining new problems as a result of discovering new ways to use it.

Obviously, security and data protection have become hot topics with regards to RFID - thanks largely to the heightened public awareness of technology-related security issues (namely, computer viruses, worms, and hackers).

The main draw of RFID devices - that they offer contact-free tranmission of data - is also its greatest drawback. Unlike cards with magnetic strips or embedded smartcard chips, you could walk right through an RFID scanner and not realise it, inadventently giving away precious information to third-parties - both authorised and otherwise.

This ablity allow RFID systems to track not only items, but people too. This has lead some consumer and data privacy groups to question the suitability of using RFID tags in the retail sector, and its implication on privacy.

Security measures?

The situation with RFID is quite similar to when wireless LANs (local area networks) first come out - there were question about eavesdropping and radiation. There was, and still is, a lot of concern about 'war drivers; since many companies tend to leave their wireless networks at their default settings. The same things is happening with RFID systems these days - systems administrator are still using the factory default security settings.

At the moment, most users are adopting a learn-as-you-go attitude when implementing an RFID system, particularly with regards to security. This isn't the best way to do it, since it means that the systems administrators are merely waiting for something to go wrong before patching up the holes.

The things is all the tools and safety mechanism are already available. So it's really the responsibility of the systems administrators to use them.

The general view is that, existing encryption technologies are secure enough to prevent unauthorised access to data within an RFID tag.

Of course one way to limit that damage from a potential security breach is by limiting the amount of information that's store on RFID tags, esspecially when the information is personal. When you store private data on these RFID chips, you also have to ask yourself what are the benefits of doing so. There is fine line between information that is beneficial to your business and personal information that customers may consider sensitive.

Big brother's watching

In the retail industry one possible application for RFID is in-store customer and product tracking. In fact, such a sytem is already being tested out in Germany. By placing RFID devices in price tags and shopping carts - along with RFID sensors on the aisles and shelves - retail stores will be able to track the movement of customers and analyse their shipping habits.
Some important information can be derived from customer actions, such as the visibility of certain products, the effectiveness of advertising or the importance of pricing. For example, if a product is often picked up but rejected in favour of a cheaper alternative, it probably means that the products' packaging is great but that its price is prohibitive.

Well this may seem perfectly innocent, it doesn't mean that customers are perfectly fine with the idea. the main issues here is privacy. Some people may not like the idea of being tracked. ethically, we have to make sure that they (the store customers) are aware that their actions are being monitored. The actions to the data that collected is also must be aware by them.
Consumers have voiced their concerns over this issue, so the least that could do is respect their opinions on whether they'd mind being tracked or not.

Part of the paranoia stems from the fact that most customers don't really know if they're being tracked anonymously or not.

The likehood is that the tracking will personalised in future - so that advertisements, offers and other perks will be specifically tailored for each customer. Personalised advertising is one of the purported "holy grails" of marketing that will be possible with RFID technology. While it may sound like a cool idea, it does have potential drawbacks.

Say you're in a country where you are required to carry an RFID-enabled identity card, and that retail stores are able to track which items you've been browsing through and purchasing. Wouldn't it be rather embrassing, then if you were to walk past an electronic billboard, which promptly flashes a bright, colourful lingerie advertisement, with sound effects and music?

This little example shows how sensitive information may be picked up from simply tracking a person's behavioural patterns, and abused.

The need for legislation.
 


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