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By Dennis Fisher  |  Posted 2004-02-23 Print this article Print

Researchers at RSAs Labs unit see a broad range of applications for the blocker tags. For example, a retail store could place RFID tags on merchandise for inventory management purposes. Upon checkout, however, the retailer would place RFID items in a blocker tag-equipped bag, ensuring customers that those items will go undetected when in the presence of RFID readers elsewhere.

At the RSA Conference, the company will demonstrate an application using a prescription drug bottle equipped with an RFID tag that can be carried in a small paper bag that has a blocker tag.

The company is talking to a variety of parties about licensing the technology, including manufacturers of RFID components, systems integrators and retailers.

"Theres a great need for security and privacy expertise in this area. Security is an afterthought on the Internet, and we dont want to see the same thing happen with RFID," said Burt Kaliski, chief scientist and director of RSA Labs, based in Bedford, Mass. "Theres no standard way to put security on the reader. This is a way to give customers confidence and enable honest companies to demonstrate respect for privacy."

Security experts praised RSAs innovation but also cautioned that privacy protection can be a tough sell.

"Its a cool technology and I love seeing cool technologies pressed into service for privacy protection," said Bruce Schneier, chief technology officer of Counterpane Internet Security Inc. and a well-known cryptographer, in Cupertino, Calif. "The privacy implications are considerable with RFID. But privacy protection technologies tend not to sell. I hope it does. Its a tough market but an important market."

Kaliski stressed that the blocker tag is just the beginning in terms of the companys research into RFID security and privacy technologies.

"The tag is just the first fruit of the approach were taking to this," he said. "Theres still a good amount of research to be done. We need security on the protocol, the readers and the back end, too. We need a full set of technologies on the table in order to know whats possible."

Click here to read why RFID may not pay real economic dividends for at least two years.


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