Report exposes potential RFID weaknesses

Related tags Rfid tags Supply chain management Electronic product code

A leading consultancy firm has warned that the widespread adoption
of RFID could open up the door to a range of potential scams,
resulting in huge losses for retailers and manufacturers, writes
Anthony Fletcher.

The report, from Forbes​, suggest that while bringing huge potential benefits in terms of traceability and access of information, there are still flaws in the concept.

For example, a consumer wishing to pay less for a product could alter the price of a particular product by taking out a hand-held personal digit assistant (PDA) equipped with an RFID reader and scanning the product's tag. He could then replace that information with data from the tag on, say, a €3 carton of milk.

If the checkout stand is automated, then the store's computer system will be none the wiser.

The report quotes German consultant Lukas Grunwald as saying that there is a huge danger to customers using this technology, if they don't think about security.

Another worry, expressed by a number of civil liberties groups such as Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering (Caspian), is that, used improperly, RFID could jeopardise consumer privacy and eliminate purchasing anonymity. There are fears that RFID tags could be embedded into goods without the knowledge of puirchasers, and as radio waves traveleasily through fabric and plastic it might be possible to read RFID tagsaffixed to objects in shopping bags etc.

In addition, the RFID chip could result in every product on earth having its own unique ID. The use of unique ID numbers could lead to the creation of a global item registration system in which every physical object isidentified and linked to its purchaser or owner at the point of sale or transfer.

A position statement issued bv Caspian states that the implementation of RFID technology should ensure that individuals are not tracked within stores and after products are purchased.

"To mitigate the potential harmful consequences of RFID to individuals and to society, we recommend a three-part framework,"​ said the pressure group. "First, RFID must undergo a formal technology assessment,and RFID tags should not be affixed to individual consumer products until such assessment takes place.

"Second, RFID implementation must be guided by Principles of Fair Information Practice. Third, certain uses of RFID should be flatly prohibited."​< P>However, as the Forbes report points out, retailers such as Wal-Mart have been embracing RFID primarily as the next great boost to their supply chains. They, like most companies, aren't yet tagging individual items, which is what Grunwald hacked at a store belonging to the Metro retail chain.

Instead, they are putting RFID tags only on large cases and shipping pallets until the cost of item-level tagging comes down. Wal-Mart claims there is no price information on its pallet tags.

Nonetheless, it seems inevitable that RFID will extend from being primarily a supplier-based technology to being embracing fully by every aspect of the food supply chain. The potential benefits in terms of traceability and complete supply chain integration are enormous.

And by the time products on the shelves RFID tagged, the issues of fraud and personal liberty should have been addressed.

RFID tags are tiny computer chips connected to miniature antennae that can be affixed to physical objects. The most commonly application of RFID contains an Electronic Product Code (EPC) with sufficient capacity to provide unique identifiers for all items produced worldwide.

When an RFID reader emits a radio signal, tags in the vicinity respond by transmitting their stored data to the reader. Passive (battery-less) RFID tags, read-range can vary from less than an inch to 20-30 feet, while active (self-powered) tags can have a much longer read range. The data is then sent to a distributed computing system involved in supply chain management or inventory control.

Related topics Processing & packaging

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