Paul Moskowitz, a Ph.D. researcher at IBMs Watson Research Center, believes security is definitely an issue with RFID-tagged goods. Along with his colleagues, Moskowitz has invented whats referred to as Clipped Tag technology to help solve some of those basic security issues.
IBM, commercializing Moskowitzs work, announced Nov. 8 that it will license the Clipped Tag technology to RFID (radio-frequency identification) tag and label manufacturer Marnlen RFiD—the first manufacturer to license IBMs technology, which was announced earlier this summer. Marnlen, based in Markham, Ontario, will began producing and marketing the technology immediately.
To help move various industries along with RFID adoption—retail and pharmaceutical are most notably looking for ways to implement item-level RFID tags—Moskowitz has come up with a fairly simple answer to the increasingly convoluted privacy issue: the clipped tag. The idea is that by adding perforations to an RFID-chipped tag on a pair of jeans, for example, a consumer can rip the tag in half and at the same time rip the antenna that transmits radio waves that are in turn read by an RFID reader.
Ripping the tag, however, doesnt make the RFID chip unreadable. Rather it shrinks the read range in which the information on the tag can be transmitted—from about 30 feet down to two inches.
"The clipped tag is a simple structure where youre tearing off a piece of the antenna," said Moskowitz, in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. "If you wanted to protect your privacy you could also take a hammer and smash [an RFID-chipped] tag once you buy an item, or kill it with the Gen 2 kill feature, but this cuts off the tag for downstream use like authentication of an item, recycling, and warranty."
Gen 2, the tag and reader standard ratified by EPCglobal in 2004, does have a kill feature. However, a password is required to access the back-end data of the tag, which makes the kill option really only available to companies implementing the tags, not to consumers.
The retail and pharmaceutical industries are the two most lauded markets for going after item-level RFID tagging—the point where consumers are potentially most negatively affected by the consequences of easily broadcasted tag information. RFID tags can contain different types of information based on the tags memory, the industry its being used in, and the intended use of the tag itself. What is common to all tags is a unique identifier number that is specific to a tag, and in turn to the item it is affixed to.
"Personal information such as credit card information and addresses are not usually on the tag, but based on the unique identifier number (developed by EPCglobal) it is easy to track what items have been purchased" and by whom, said Moskowitz.
"Imagine this scenario: if you were to purchase a diamond necklace and leave the store with the tag on the box, anyone within a 30-foot radius could potentially read the tag using an RFID tag reader."
Once the reader links the purchase to the item on the box, anyone with knowledge of the unique identifier number knows what that box contains—a scenario that could make individuals susceptible to a robbery, for example, according to Moskowitz. Even more onerous, he said, "The organizations owning this data could track your shopping habits to learn more about you without your consent."
While Marnlen has made the first prototypes of the Clipped Tag for garments, it could also manufacture adhesive labels for pharmaceuticals where the clip mechanism is a little different, but nonetheless serves the same purpose. "There is a zip tear like on express envelopes when you open them," said Moskowitz. "It separates the top from the bottom so you can open the thing."