Every time you walk through a shop that sells purses and wallets you see these pervasive little tags. RFID blocking wallets are certainly all the rage. It seems as though every company is making their own wallets with built-in RFID blockers. You can get sleeves designed as individual blockers. With all the buzz I went ahead and bought one. Then I realized I’d jumped on the bandwagon without even asking what tune they were playing and I looked into it. It seems there’s more to the RFID craze than I’d anticipated, but I’m happy I decided to research the topic.
Do I really need an RFID blocking wallet? If you carry a passport issued after 2007 or a work ID badge you wave in front of a sensor you probably use RFID. Because this technology is vulnerable, protecting your private information from digital theft is the only sensible solution. More than just a credit card can be taken with a swipe of a reader. In short, yes you need an RFID blocking wallet, but getting a good one can be difficult.
What is RFID
Radio Frequency Identification is a system for keeping track of information and giving selective access to authorized users. Unfortunately, radio signals can be abused. Anyone with sufficient technology can read and copy RFIDs. To break down the types of RFID’s you can sort them into frequency categories.
- Low-Frequency RFID is <135 KHz (Ability to read from a range of 3ft.)
(Used in Pet identification or Keyless locks)
- High-Frequency RFID is 13.56 MHz (Ability to read from a range of 3ft.)
(Used in such things as clothing identification, Smart Cards, and passports)
- Ultra High-Frequency (UFH) RFID is 868-870 MHz or 902-928 MHz (Ability to read from a range of 25 Ft.)
(Used in such things as a container or trailer tracking)
- Super High-Frequency (SHF) RFID is 2.400-2.483 GHz (Ability to read from a range of +300 ft.)
(Used in such things as vehicle tracking)
A “Passive Emitter,” chip has no battery or power source. Effectively it does not ‘beam’ or ‘send’ any information out on its own. RFID readers goose them along by powering them with a beam of electrons. Powered RFID chips send the stored data back like images in bat sonar waves. They have no sense of discrimination, and can’t tell who is asking for the information. They blurt it out to all takers.
An “Active Emitter,” chip broadcasts. These self-powered devices can transmit hundreds of feet to give information out. Whether you use it to pay a toll road or get into a secure building at work, the process is very similar to the passive version, except the device on the receiving end doesn’t need to power up your chip.
I found two completely different answers to this question. Instead of choosing the one that best fits my narrative, I’ve included both here. The first answer is likely outdated and alarmist. The second is perhaps understating the issue. The truth is likely somewhere between the two answers.
Commercial RFID chips basically contain no form of security. They are like an evil twin on truth serum, they know too much about you, and you can’t stop them from telling it all. Though you can shield your RFID chips, with an RFID blocking wallet, for example, you can’t turn them off per se. Many RFID credit card companies can disable the RFID only pay system however, provided you call and make special arrangements.
You have absolutely no valid security concerns with RFID. This generation of RFID is securely encrypted. Furthermore, all forms of RFID theft is inefficient (Like pickpocketing). Targeting individuals on a best-guess basis is pointless, so no one does it. Therefore no one will stoop to bother with it, and there’s no such thing as RFID crime.
Sadly, the reality is that millions of cases of Identity Theft are reported each year. While plenty of articles claim you either need a full-blown panic or that there’s no worry at all, those concepts both fly in the face of basic common sense. You can’t tell how the identity was stolen.
Thus, anyone claiming it’s not possible that thieves would spend the time to skim your data from RFID is almost certainly wrong. Contrarily, those who claim everyone is a target every day are probably overselling it because fear sells. People will spend a ridiculous amount of time and intellect trying to figure out how to con others, but not everyone will fall for it. But if you are convinced you need to have control over total RFID protection, you want to consider getting the TRAVANDO Money Clip Wallet. it is slim and of course, and blocks any potential RFID threat. Click Here to get the latest info.
How to Tell What Has RFID Inside
Do you have a card that you scan or touch to a scanner instead of swiping it through or inserting into a chip reader? If so, then it’s likely you have at least one RFID item in your wallet. If you have a passport issued after 2007, then you certainly do. Additionally, if you use a pass you hold up to a scanner to get through traffic, or into a building then you’re using RFID.
The number of things that use RFID technology is growing exponentially. You may expect it in credit cards, passes for work or school and passports, but there are plenty of other items and devices using it as well. Library books, security tags and passes, even VIP cards you get for shows and sporting events may use RFID. If you’ve had a radio tracker implanted in a pet or keychain, so you don’t lose them, you’re using RFID.
The amount and availability of your data and how much of a security risk it poses varies based on what information you gave. Your generic VIP pass probably doesn’t matter much, but your dog probably has personal data like your name, address, and phone number embedded. If you’re a Prius owner, then anyone with your information can take your car.
Government RFID Use
Americans may be especially concerned about RFID tracking by the government infringing on our rights in the post-Snowden era. I can’t verify any of that, but the tech is indeed in use. In addition to using it for building access in some places, the US border uses a couple of varieties of RFID. Vicinity RFID is read from 20 to 30 feet away. Meanwhile, proximity RFID requires much closer contact, albeit only for a second.
The US isn’t the only governmental entity using RFID to keep track of what’s going on. China had a voluntary RFID program for its cars until this year. As of July 2019, all new vehicles will have mandatory RFID tags. China’s president Xi Jinping hopes their government can use the tags to help track traffic congestion and cut down on vehicle-based terrorist attacks.
Other countries that use RFID for vehicle-related issues include India and Brazil. South Africa has between five hundred thousand and ten million cars that have these affixed to license plates to track the speed of drivers. In Dubai the tags make sure students get the correct priority seats on buses. Alternately you can apply for RFID tags to fill your car at gas stations.
RFID Chips in People
Seemingly out of a Big Brother filled science fiction nightmare, the chips designed for people loom as a potential threat. How realistic is that concern? People chipping is a fringe practice right now, but there are valid fears that this is where the future of business lies. The state of Pennsylvania introduced a bill to outlaw the practice in 2017.
For now, the occasional small company has done it as a PR stunt along with a few others. There are also services that offer to sell you a kit to make and implant your own RFID chips. Biohax makes them for businesses and individuals to implant. If you want a chip, you can have this done today (Assuming you live in the right area), and be among the thousands worldwide who have already done so. Frightening or forward thinking? Getting a personal chip in your body won’t be covered by a wallet. When you’re scanned, you won’t know it happened.
How Does RFID Theft Work
Known as “Skimming,” it’s not very difficult to read an RFID tag. You can purchase a reader for a few hundred dollars with nothing more than a basic google search and a quick check of the reviews for the model you choose. Alternately you can get the parts from a local electronics shop and watch a youtube video. Putting these together is so easy that it’s suggested as a way to save money for researchers tracking wildlife. You don’t need a specialized degree, just the willingness to learn and a few dollars in parts.
An RFID skimmer only reads the information on an RFID chip. There’s not much more to it than, say a barcode scanner at the checkout counter. Skimmers send a request for information, and the chips respond. Et Voila, information for free.
How to Tell if Your RFID Protection Works
The most useful methods involve a small faraday cage. Typically these are wrapped in leather or paper, but the effect is the same. Those marketed as electromagnetically opaque are generally an excellent place to start. The problem is that many so-called RFID blockers are little more than some layers if aluminum foil compacted and put in a covering. This might help a bit, but it won’t completely stop thieves and hackers from reaching your vital information. Foil only makes the process harder, so someone has to be closer to read the data from your card.
In fact, the best RFID protection could double as an EMP shield, albeit a tiny one. Many countries now give special accreditations to companies that make high-quality, compliant products. When shopping for appropriate protection, you may want to look for an indication of this unique validation.
Avoid Breeches Like a Pro
To check and see if you have a data breach, you can purchase or construct your own RFID reader, or you can scrupulously check all your accounts regularly. There are professional services like LifeLock and Identity Guard that do the work for you as well. They protect against all forms of identity theft, but these services are relatively new, and unsurprisingly, you have to give them your private information.
Are You Being Tracked? How is Your RFID Information Used
Officially, the only people and entities with access to your information are those you agree to allow. In reality, if any hacker with $20 can get your data, that’s sadly not how it works. Some ingenious thieves can even use implanted RFID chips to access other people’s secure systems. US Navy petty officer Seth Wahle has a chip in his hand that lets him walk past security and use other people’s phones.
If you don’t carry anything with an RFID chip in it, then you obviously do not need an RFID blocking wallet. Sadly, for most people, this is not the case. We use the technology we’re barely aware of every day for hundreds of small things. It’s possible that someday soon going without an RFID chip will be as tricky as having no bank account or social security card. You can live that way, but it won’t be easy, and travel may be a matter of breaking the law merely to get anywhere you can’t walk. If this all reminds you a little too much of a dystopian novel, you aren’t alone.
Can RFID scanners interfere with things other than cards? No. Radio frequencies require special equipment to read. RFIDs and readers will not mess up your wi-fi signal, your pacemaker or other devices.
Can RFID cards hackable? Hacking is different from copying information. While a hacker of sufficient skill might use the information they obtain to hack a system, it’s easier to use the information as is and then discard it to avoid detection. Technically an RFID card can be used to hack indirectly. Hackers take the data and abuse it elsewhere. Fortunately, the card itself isn’t a computer, just a storage device.
Is RFID safe for my health? Yes, it’s safe to carry RFID chips and even have them implanted. Your implant can get infected. There’s no real risk beyond that. The transmissions only occur under a reader or in proximity to one, so there’s no real concern.