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How to Prevent Your RFID From Being Stolen

January 3. 2017
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Protect Your RFID!

If you have no idea what an RFID or Radio Frequency Identification is or how it works, then you’ll need to get acquainted with it since your condo fob is very likely embedded with an RFID chip. As a matter of fact, the number of devices utilizing RFID technology is growing exponentially.

RFID chips operate similarly to barcodes, as the data found inside them are transmitted to a scanner, which processes and makes use of the information being read. So, in your condo, the system reads your RFID, recognizes that you are authorized to enter, and unlocks the door.

It’s important to take note that RFIDs don’t have to be visible to the scanner. The distance where they can be read is lot farther than that of a barcode, though it depends on the frequency.


Reasons to Protect your RFIDs

The reason why a person would want to conceal their RFID chips would be to protect their privacy. The likelihood of abuse with this form of technology will only grow as portable RFID scanners become more widely available.

Businesses nowadays are tagging an increasing number of products and items with RFIDs promising convenience in return. So it’s not just your condo fob you may need to protect, as other RFD chips in your possession may contain much more than just a number granting you entry to your building.

Having the ability to protect these chips lets you decide what data you’re willing to leave out in the open in exchange for convenience.


Where to find RFIDs

RFID chip with grain of rice By No machine-readable author provided. Light Warrior assumed (based on copyright claims). [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

RFID chip next to a grain of rice By Light Warrior [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

See the full article on where to find RFID chips

With RFID chips becoming a lot more affordable, the number of devices embedded with these chips is growing. At present, RFID chips are found in:

  • Condo and other building entry fobs and cards: Most new condo buildings use RFID fobs, and many older ones have switched to the technology. Office buildings with controlled access often use cards equipped with RFIDs.
  • Credit/debit cards: The debit or credit card you use to tap for purchases uses an RFID chip. This chip contains much more information than your condo fob.
  • Passports: An RFID chip containing data about you is embedded in every new passport along with a digitalized photo of you.
  • Toll payment systems: Automatic toll payment systems for toll highways, bridges, express lanes and other automatic toll transport options often use RFID, so if you have a 407 ETR transponder, your car is equipped with an RFID chip for accessing that highway and billing you for your access.

There are plenty of other devices using RFID, but these are the most common.


Blocking Your RFIDs

Protective Sleeve via https://www.flickr.com/photos/doctorow/4666471905

Protective Sleeve by Cory Doctorow / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Fortunately, RFID signals are simple enough to block. That means you have the option to utilize the chip whenever you feel like it, rather than having it sitting out in the open, for anyone to steal. The signal emitted by an RFID chip is easily blocked by anything made of metal.

There are several methods to block RFID signals.

  • Buy a signal-blocking sleeve: You can use a sleeve for your entry card (if you use a card instead of a fob) or for your bank and credit cards with tap capabilities. Known brands include Theft Defender, RFD Shield, and DIFRwear. You may want to go for a sleeve capable of concealing debit cards, credit cards and your passport.
  • Make a customized signal-blocking device: Create a duct tape sleeve capable of blocking your RFID signals by first laying out an aluminum foil sheet. Then, begin applying strips of duct tape to the foil. Wrap the tape around your wallet or bag containing anything with an embedded RFID chip. Secure the tape. Finally, use the aluminum foil to wrap around whichever items you need protecting.
  • Buy an aluminum-based wallet or protective case: It’s important to know that these RFID signal-blocking items tend to be priced a lot higher than the protective sleeves. They’re also bulky in size and often set off metal detectors. FYI.
Faraday Bag By MIC85 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Faraday Bag by MIC85 / Wikipedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Bonus: Destroying Your RFIDs

What if you don’t want that RFID chip? You need the one in your fob but maybe you don’t think you need the chip embedded in another card you have. Well, currently, there are several approaches to destroy an RFID chip. Some items you possess containing RFID chips belong to you. So, technically, you may every right to destroy them. But tampering with a passport is considered illegal so do not remove the RFID chip from your passport and destroy it. You could face serious consequences if you do so.

The good news is, there are ways to destroy RFID chips without leaving any digital trace behind.

Here are some popular ways to kill any material with an RFID chip:

  • Heat it in the microwave: The simplest approach to destroying an RFID chip is to heat it in the microwave for several seconds. Doing so can cause the chip’s antenna and chip to melt. This makes it difficult for the chip to ever be scanned again. The bad news is that this method has a risk of creating a fire in your microwave. Destroying an RFID chip in this manner will leave a visible trace that the item has been messed with. Using this approach to a credit card or debit card will scramble the magnetic strip making it impossible to get a clear “swipe.” So, while trying to remove the RFID chip, you might wreck your card in the process.
  • Pound the chip with a hammer: This method involves hammering away at an RFID chip. Simply pick up a hammer and whack the chip hard several times. This completely destroys the chip without leaving any trace that the chip has been tampered with. Of course, removing the chip from whatever it’s embedded in, so you can hammer it safely, might leave a mark. Can you hammer your bank card’s chip without damaging the magnetic stripe? Probably, but do you want to risk it?
  • Shatter the chip with a sharp object: This method is not as damaging as the others. It involves piercing the chip with a sharp object like a needle or a knife. This can only work if you know where the chip is specifically located. The downside with this is method is that there will be visible proof of damage.
  • Cut the antenna: This method involves cutting the antenna situated near the chip. Doing so will lead the chip to have no access to electricity which means it will be unable to emit a signal. This technique is perfect since it leaves little or no physical trace but you have to find the antenna.

So be careful when messing with your RFID chip. The benefit you think you might be getting by damaging or destroying it may end up being more hassle than its worth.