Thursday, October 11, 2007

Countermeasures: RFID

RFID (Radio Frequency ID) tags are certain to be a central component of the security state apparatus. If you haven't heard of this technology yet, they are, briefly, very small chips consisting of a capacitor, an antennae, and an integrated circuit. They can be embedded more or less invisibly in almost anything, and once there provide the ability to track the location of the object more or less at will. While this could be incredibly useful (you'll never lose anything ever again), it can also be quite dangerous (everything you have becomes a tracking device.)

Googling 'disabling RFID tags' found me this page, the results of a German Chaos Computer Club workshop, where a bunch of techies got together and figured out how to turn a single-use camera into an RFID zapper. Here's another tutorial page from the same project, this one with pictures. Basically, the device acts as a miniature EMP, frying the RFID's capacitor but without damaging the article the object is embedded in (you can get a similar effect by nuking it in the microwave, but this is likely to start a fire which will damage the tagged object.)

Of course, the RFID zapper can't be used on electronics without frying them, which actually renders it pretty much useless for surveillance countermeasures, unless you're willing to leave home without your cellphone, PDA, laptop, camera, iPod, and other sundry electronic accompaniments of modern life. And you can be damn sure that electronics will be tagged with RFIDs along with everything else.

Just off the top of my head, I can think of three ways around the system, but none of them are perfect. One is to simply take the device apart, extract the RFID tag, and dispose of it. The main drawback is that unless you have an exhaustive knowledge of electronics and maybe access to the device's blueprints, identifying which chip is the RFID is likely to be quite difficult. Maybe even impossible, if the tag is built directly into the device's integrated circuitry. Another possibility is to ignore the RFID tag and hack into the tracking network's database, deleting the relevant serial numbers, switching the objects they refer to, or otherwise rendering the database unreliable. This is probably even more difficult than taking apart the device and looking for the RFID tag. The last solution is to keep your electronics inside a faraday cage (basically, a metal box), which will block the radio signals that trigger the RFID tag, thus hiding it from the surveillance network. This has the great virtue of being the easiest of the three, but it has the serious drawbacks that a) it stops working as soon as you want to actually use the tagged object, and b) it makes a cellphone pretty much useless as in addition to blocking the radio waves that trigger the RFID tag, it blocks the cell's reception (of course, cell phones are a tracking device - and a listening device - unto themselves, but that's an entirely separate problem.)

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2 comments:

emily said...

Check this out.

Keitousama said...

I love the way this is marketed. The customer is implicitly compared to a shoplifter, but in such a way that it's made to seem cool and appealing.

From a control standpoint, how much easier is it to render someone powerless when all of their wealth resides as ephemeral data inside banking computers? All the state has to do is put a hold on your account, and you are completely penniless.