You’ve probably seen RFID-blocking wallets for sale in magazines or online. Maybe you’ve even received one as a gift. But have you wondered: what is RFID and how does it work? Does it really protect my privacy?
RFID, or Radio Frequency Identification, is actually an old technology developed during WWII to identify friendly aircraft. An RFID tag, which consists of a computer chip and antenna, can be detected using a receiver. Receivers can detect RFID even at great distances, such as a receiver that detects a plane’s identification while the plane is still in the sky.
During the 1950s and 1960s, RFID technology was adapted to retail spaces to prevent theft. Many stores still attach small RFID tags to products so that if they are removed from the premises without the tag first being deactivated at the register, an alarm sounds. Since then, RFID technology has been used in shipping inventory to stores and in logistics for tracking trains and ships. It shows up in medicine for tracking equipment, drugs, and patients. It’s even the technology that powers pet microchipping.
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RFID Technology And Your Privacy
Many debit and credit cards, driver’s licenses, and passports now rely on embedded RFID chips that allow for touchless payments and wireless transfer of information. While this technology is convenient, it does make our information vulnerable to hackers with an RFID receiver. Through a process known as “skimming,” hackers can pull sensitive information from the RFID documents in your wallet or purse. Once they have this data, they can then recreate your documents, giving them access to your bank accounts among other things.
What makes this kind of threat especially menacing is that hackers don’t even need to touch you to steal your information because RFID receivers can pull data from long distances. Unlike traditional pick-pocket methods that require someone to bump into or brush against someone with the hopes of stealing from the victim’s purse or wallet, skimming leaves the victim completely unaware that their information has been stolen.
What Is An RFID-Blocking Wallet And How Does It Work?
RFID blocking wallets work by blocking the electromagnetic field surrounding RFID documents. With the electromagnetic field blocked, they prevent skimmers from receiving a signal from your documents. Importantly, cards or passports must be inside the RFID-blocking wallet to be protected. Simply placing an RFID-blocking wallet near your documents does not make them secure because the anti-RFID material needs to create a complete barrier around your documents or the skimmer will still be able to retrieve data from them.
RFID-blocking wallets are convenient, but there are other ways to protect your data. Typically, commercial RFID-blocking wallets are made of carbon fiber or metal, but anything that cuts off your documents’ electromagnetic field will work. For instance, a piece of aluminum foil wrapped around your documents will create a similar electromagnetic barrier. However, the best security method is always the one you will use consistently. Would you be willing to unwrap aluminum foil from your debit card, use it, and wrap it up again every single time you use it? Many people would not, and that’s the real appeal of RFID-blocking sleeves, wallets, purses, and fabrics.
How Big Is The Threat From Skimmers?
On a scale of one to ten, the risk of skimming is…zero.
Maybe that comes as a shock if you’re used to seeing RFID-blocking products marketed as an essential part of identity theft protection. But as of 2017, there was not a single documented case of data theft from skimming.
Why not? Are criminals so clever they’re not being caught? No. Simply put, there are more efficient ways of stealing data.
- First, few cards in the U.S. actually use RFID. Most cards use EMV chips (the visible, copper-colored chips that slide into card readers), which require contact to work and, therefore, can’t be skimmed the same way.
- Second, hackers can simply go online and buy credit card numbers with their security codes for much less than they would pay for the equipment to skim the same data in much smaller quantities.
- Third, computer security expert Roger Grimes points out that RFID receivers are the size of a remote control. Someone standing in a store waiving such a device would likely be noticed by security before they gathered enough data for the crime to pay off.
- Finally, the few cards in the U.S. that do use RFID technology are required to encrypt the data they exchange, meaning that an RFID skimmer would not be able to pick up usable data anyway.
RFID-Blocking Wallets Do Little To Protect Your Identity
While the threat of identity theft is real and growing, relying on RFID-blocking wallets is not the best way to protect yourself. Since RFID technology poses almost no threat to our personal data, it’s much more effective to focus on cybersecurity issues that are common. Internet scams, public wifi networks, and poor passwords all present much greater threats to your data. For tips on protecting yourself from these and other cybersecurity threats, check out TracSoft’s collection of security-related blog posts.
Worried about your business’ security? Trust TracSoft’s experienced IT team to use the latest security software and 24/7 monitoring to keep your data safe. Contact TracSoft today to begin building a tailored security plan customized to your company’s specific needs.