Heinrich Rudolf Hertz, one of the most influential scientists in the history of mankind, succeeding his detection of radio waves, infamously remarked that it was “of no use whatsoever”. Fortunately, and ironically, such foul worlds paved the way to the future, where radio waves are breathing air to an instantaneous society.
But with the emergence of split-second radio-wave technology comes the assault of high-tech thievery, where evildoers find ways to catch the trickling wavelength for illegal acts. The best countermeasure we’ve had so far is RFID blocking. But what is RFID? What is an RFID card? What does it do?
In this article, we’ll walk you through the fundamentals of RFID and explain how crucial it is to the development society, as well as introducing some of the CabinZero’s best backpack with RFID blocking technology.
What is RFID? - RFID Technology Rundown
RFID is an acronym for radio-frequency identification. It’s a technology that can automatically identify and track tagged objects using electromagnetic fields. More specifically, when a RFID reader is activated, it sends out an electromagnetic interrogation pulse. Any nearby tag that receives the pulse will transmit back digital data, usually an identifying inventory number, to the originating source. This technology is used ubiquitously nowadays, on things you don’t even know have it, like your credit card or passport.
For those who're getting lost, think of it almost like a lock and key system. The RFID reader is a bank of locks, your credit card, passport, etc. is a key, and RFID is how they interact with each other contactless.
Why is this technology more and more prominent?
It’s a very smart and convenient way of identification. In a way it’s like an upgraded version of the barcode. But whereas the barcode needs to be scanned by a reader to work, RFID can function as long as both the sender and the receiver are both in an appropriate propinquity, which is typically a few inches to a few meters.
This is used extensively in a wide range of applications, most prominent in identification, tracking, security industry, logistics, etc.
For example, in the aviation industry, RFID tags are used to quickly identify and locate baggage and cargo in containers and airports. In commerce, RFID is used to categorize and manage stocks and items.
In many experts’ views, this is the key to a cash-free economy that the world’s striving towards. In fact, RFID is being used more and more in credit cards, passports, and driving licenses. The gist of it that authorities seek to streamline a lot of the daily civil process as well as manage the money flow better. Of course, there are many more than meets the eye.
If it’s so great, why hasn’t it replaced other similar technologies?
As versatile and convenient as it is, it’s nowhere near omnipotent. That’s not to say that it’s flawed, that’s just to say that its nature is more auxiliary.
The biggest concern when it’s come to using this technology on a larger scale is production cost. Due to the more advanced technology that it’s made up of, it costs a hefty ton more on mass production, therefore it’s replacing other more affordable identification technologies seems far-fetched at the time of this article.
Another factor that hinders its growth is the fact that, from a management and logistics perspective, it’s more beneficial to simultaneously use multiple identification technologies in conjunction with one another.
RFID related problems and concerns
As RFID technology functions based on relative proximity, it will detect and register many data not necessarily important or relevant. For example, if a customer were to pick an item off the shelf but then eventually put it back, the data recorded from such shifts in space is irrelevant because ultimately that accounts to no good in terms of inventory management.
This calls for the invention of new technology, which is referred to as event filtering. Various concepts have been introduced, but no one-size-fit-all solution has been achieved.
Each region, or companies for that matter, use different frequencies for their RFID technologies. Barcode, however, has reached standardisation on a global scale. For logistics purposes, a global standard is necessary for interregional or international usage.
Ever since RFID was implemented in the poultry industry, there have been cases recorded where animals implanted with microchips have grown tumours. While it’s still debatable if the technology is directly responsible for that, it still raises concerns over its usage on sentient beings.
One of the largest concerns when it comes to a widespread implementation of RFID technology.
Remember how we compare this system to a digital lock-key dynamic? This is where thieves come in. If thieves need to get their hands on conventional locks and keys for forgery, now that locks and keys can function remotely, so can thieves.
Due to advancement in material technology, RFID systems can function anywhere from a few inches to more than 30 meters with powerful RFID readers. This is amazing news to entrepreneurs. But it’s raising eyebrows. If this is true, then theoretically, your credit cards and whatnot are always susceptible to thievery in public spaces.
A method popular among criminals is called “RFID skimming”. It is performed by using a scanner and unlawfully remotely scanning payment cards or other items with the same technology. These scanners are legal and are easily accessible in any electronics store.
Because these devices are designed to be minimal in size and easily portable, hence criminals can just hide them inside their gloves and bags, then wander sufficiently close around their victims for sufficient long, until they have successfully extracted the victim’s card information, or whatever it is that they’re after. In fact, security experts have shown that with an RFID reader, criminals could actually steal your credit card number just by casually strolling through you. Once they do, they can make transactions without their consent as they have obtained your information.
Obviously, RFID can’t just be abolished solely because of this. Experts have come up with ways to combat this act of crime, it comes in the form of RFID blocking.
Blocking / shielding Effectiveness concern
In an effort to combat this “skimming” of RFID cards, governments have taken action. In the United States, it’s required that new ID cards must have an approved shielding. This is met with contradictory reception. On one hand, it is claimed that an aluminium wrapping is sufficient to preclude personal information from being stolen. On the other hand, some people claim that such encasement is unable to completely prevent the process from happening, only merely hindering it, leaving room for exploitation.
RFID Blocking: What is it?
RFID system functions dissimilarly to other identification technologies. Take barcodes for example. Barcoded items need to be in the line of sight of a scanner to work, whereas RFID enabled times simply need to be in range of a reader to work. This is the vulnerable part that thieves target, as explained above. Using a scanner that’s readily available on the market, they can scan our RFID items from afar to steal the information stored in our cards or passports, without your even realizing.
To combat this, and to ensure the peace of mind of customers, experts have come up with what is called RFID blocking to tackle this alarming problem.
How RFID blocking works?
Essentially, RFID blocking systems works by either disrupting the signal transmission process or sending interrupting signals to the reader. It either blocks completely or heavily impede the microchip in the RFID from working properly, therefore nullifying external RFID reader, or at the very least overlengthen the process so that the criminal would risk way more than they could steal, should they persist.
Best RFID protection technology
RFID blocking comes in a few forms. By and large, it can be either passive or active.
Passive RFID blocking essentially is a layer of coating that insulates your wallet or your bags from unwanted skimmings. They are essentially a layer of coating on the outside of your wallet that interrupts the transmission process. There are two ways in which they can achieve this, either by deflecting (or reflecting) or absorbing the RFID signals. In deflective (reflective) shields, the incoming signal is partially or completely diverted, whereas absorbing shields straight up absorb the incoming wavelength. Both render the wave insufficient to activate the RFID chips on the items that you wish to protect. Products of this line are usually metallic encased wallets like Aluma or RFID blocking sleeves you see on the market. There is a problem with these kinds of defensive shields, however, which is their varied effectiveness. For instance, most of these products block RFID signals at 13.56 MHz, which is far easier than blocking security cards that operate at 125 kHz. Moreover, it is reported that hardcore thieves can penetrate this protective layer should they dial up their readers.
Unlike passive RFID shields, active RFID blocking actively interferes with the transmission process. It usually comes in the form of a separate card (of the same size as a normal credit card). When a criminal tries to skim your cards, the protective device instantly switches on and sends out a jamming signal that jeopardizes the connection between your possessions and the thief’s device.
Best CabinZero Bag with RFID Blocking
Fully understanding the threat of RFID-related crimes, as well as the concern of the general public regarding this matter, CabinZero has incorporated RFID blocking materials to many of our backpacks. Take a look at some of the most stylish and most versatile ones we offer:
CabinZero Bum Bag
A classic yet contemporary choice, the Bum Bag is a convenient and stylish choice that keeps your mind off RFID.
With an emphasis on safety, the Bum Bag features some of the most prominent safety technology. It features the YKK® zippers, the safest zips that are used widely. Of course, there’s the RFID card protector, your personal belongings will always be safe with our bum bag. It’s got a water-resistant coating, so even heavy rains won’t be able to bother you.
CabinZero ADV Dry Bag
It’s lightweight, handy, chic, and affordable. It’s hard to find a backpack that packs so much greatness in such a small and compact design like the ADV Dry Bag.
This waterproof backpack is designed to be sturdy but still comfy. It’s made of light Denier Nylon with water-resistant coating all round. It’s got a shoulder air flow system, combined with the bungee cords on the front panel and the stowaway backpack straps, providing for great comfort and adjustability. The bag’s small pocket has an RFID card holder, so no need to worry about pesky thieves.
CabinZero Urban Backpack
Generally, you wouldn’t need as colossal a backpack as this Urban Backpack, but when you do nothing quite beats the calibre that it boasts. This is one of the best heavyweight backpacks out there that still packs RFID blocking material.
With a side handle, the Urban line can function both as an over-the-shoulder bag as well as a traditional backpack, and it excels both ways. The compression straps system together with multiple handles allows you to stow this bad boy however you like. It’s also covered in highly water-resistant tarpaulin and has RFID blocking tickets, which means in the worst of environments your belongings will always be absolutely safe and sound.
How big of a threat is this RFID thievery?
It’s completely understandable that learning that your private information is at risk gets on your nerves. If your information ends up being stolen and falling into wrong hands, the damage could be irreversible.
It’s a justifiable concern, and concern is something that is very easily preyed upon by capitalism. While it’s vital that we recognise the possible threats and allocate sufficient resources to combat them, assessing the probability of their happenings is equally as important. In reality, the chance of encountering RFID thievery is relatively low, for the reasons explained below:
- Most credit cards are not RFID-capable, so there’s no way that RFID skimming works;
- For credit cards that are RFID-enabled, they use a one-time transaction code that is heavily encrypted;
- Even if thieves pull the skimming off, the scannable information on a card exclude sensitive data that they’re actually after (the security code on the back of the card, for instance);
- In order to steal the information in the first place, thieves must get close to their prey, in which case they risk getting caught on security cameras. Real criminals only go for sure-fire victory, not hit-or-miss type of things like this;
- Fully aware of the sensitive nature of this technology, most manufacturers already included layers of RFID blocking materials;
- It’s a lot less hassling to try an internet scam to steal hundreds of thousands of credit cards numbers;
- Dark web sources. Lists after lists of compromised credit cards are available there.
The same goes for passports, even more so to some extent. Only verified readers in airports are capable of reading RFID-enabled passports, and criminals are smart enough not to hang around places heavily guarded like airports.
Does that mean all this RFID blocking PR is a scam?
Nowhere near one. RFID skim is a real threat and RFID blocking is the safest, most reliable, and most affordable countermeasure.
What needs to be addressed here is how threatening it really is and how the companies that produce RFID blocking technology and products are hyping it as such. For reasons explained above, it’s unlikely that you encounter these forms of stealing.
But there is still a chance nonetheless, and as we have said, if your information falls into the wrong hands the consequences might be catastrophic. If you’re looking from that perspective, spending a little extra to buy yourself peace of mind wouldn’t be too hefty of a price.