Can RFID Be Made Tamper Proof?

By Evan Schuman  |  Posted 2005-10-16 Print this article Print

With RFID chips being used to track more products through the supply chain, it's a critical assumption that the chips are still adorning the products they were programmed to adorn. A company called Mikoh is selling devices to make RFID chips more tamper r

With so many retailers and manufacturers embracing RFID tracking throughout the supply chain, there is a strong assumption that an RFID label is still connected to the product it is supposed to be connected with. One vendor—Mikoh—is trying to challenge that assumption.

Todays barcode is relatively easy to replicate and fake with an ordinary laptop, a small scanner and a low-cost inkjet printer. RFID labels are much more difficult to copy but, fortunately for would-be thieves, they are usually quite easy to remove and reaffix to something else.

"There is no physical security in them at all. Its very easy to move the tags from item to item," said Peter Atherton, Mikohs Chief Technology Officer. "If you look at the benefits that RFID has to offer, those benefits are always greatest when RFID systems are automated to the maximum possible extent."

What Mikoh has created is a supposedly tamper-resistant seal—dubbed Smart & Secure—that would alert monitoring systems when a tag has been moved or changed. The system has two modes: a lower-cost option that will cause the chip to "stop working altogether"; a higher-cost approach where the chip will proactively alert monitoring systems that its been tampered with.

Mikohs approach, though, assumes that thieves will steal the RFID label itself. If someone grabbed an RFID-labeled bottle off an assembly line, dumped out its content and refilled it with bogus product, Smart & Secure wouldnt detect anything, unless the Ricoh label had been sealed over the products opening.

For that, Mikoh is developing a line of tamper-resistant containers, Atherton said.

How do thieves try and remove stubbornly-affixed RFID chips? Atherton says a popular tactic is a temperature attack, perhaps by spraying the chip labels with Freon "and theyll just snap off." Less sophisticated thieves will use solvents to dissolve away the adhesive or a simple mechanical attack using razor blades.

Read the full story on CIO Insight: Can RFID Be Made Tamper Proof?
Evan Schuman is the editor of's Retail industry center. He has covered retail technology issues since 1988 for Ziff-Davis, CMP Media, IDG, Penton, Lebhar-Friedman, VNU, BusinessWeek, Business 2.0 and United Press International, among others. He can be reached by e-mail at

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