How to Stop Distant Attacks on RFID Chips

The limited power and processing ability of RFID chips makes them vulnerable to attackers operating at a distance. A new protocol could tackle this problem.

One drawback with RFID chips is their inability to know the distance of any device that is interrogating them. That allows a malicious user to attack from a distance, more or less at leisure and without the owner being any the wiser. One problem, in particular, is that attackers can set themselves up as intermediaries between readers and cards, so-called relay attacks. This gives attackers all the information they need to mount future fraudulent attacks.

That’s an increasingly serious loophole given the role that these cards now play in our society. RFID cards control access to the public transport system, private cars, buildings and in some parts of the world act like ready cash.

In principle, it’s not hard to work out the distances by measuring the signal strength or round trip time of returned messages between the card and reader. The problem for RFID chips is that they normally have no internal power, receiving all they need from the reader, and very limited processing ability, which is determined by the standards to which they are designed. Continue reading.

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