The Threat of Radio Frequency Identification

During the Victorian era, pickpockets were rife. The scenes of Victorian vagabonds, trained by thieves like Fagin, from the Charles Dickens book, ‘Oliver Twist’, to act as pickpockets, is famous the world over. But those days are long gone. Fast forward over one hundred years or so, and Victorian pickpockets have been replaced by thieves of the electronic kind. In the 21st century, we have electronic pickpockets – or card readers – that will take money without people even knowing that have been mugged; until it is too late, that is.

Anyone who is tech-savvy enough, can steal countless thousands of dollars/pounds, by simply swiping the card reader next to the victim’s pocket. Get close enough and the reader is then able to steal information – using radio waves – to transmit information from your card to the reader.

Although, to date, no one has been a victim so far of this kind of technology, that is not to say that it could not happen in the near future.  Indeed, the potential of this type of electronic scamming, to do major damage should not be underestimated. And, it is only a matter of ‘when’, and not ‘if’, it happens.

The information taken is not only the credit card number, but the account number, sort code and even the full name of the card holder too. However, pin numbers and also the three digit code on the back of the card are safe. This is because they are not digitized the way other information on the card is. An illegal transaction would not be possible this way because the thieves would still need pin numbers and the three digit code numbers that are situated at the back of the card in order to make unauthorized purchases.

It has to be understood that most new cards that are issued, do not include the name of the holder within its digital information. This is why ‘card not present’ transactions’ quite often pop up, when illegal transactions are being carried out. So what can card holders do to combat the threat of their money being stolen? 

To combat this threat, card holders can purchase stainless steal sleeves. Simply by placing the credit card within the sleeve it is then protected from any card reader that is near. The reader will not be able to read the information that is stored on the card, because of the stainless steel. Wrapping a credit card in aluminum foil will also do the same thing. which is offer protection from card readers.  Further protection is the fact that many banks and card issuers use encryption processes that are unbreakable.

However, one does not even have to have a card reader in order to steal. Simply by owning an android phone, an app can be downloaded that enables stealth attacks to take place. Any cards with embedded RFID chips, is susceptible to attack as the app acts precisely like a card reader. NFC Proxy allows anyone to use and abuse someone else’s data, stored on their credit cards. Which is, again, very worrying for those who carry around credit cards whose data is digitized.

As fast as technology progresses, the more hackers will try to overcome all of the safety measures in order to get at the information they need. Technology must always be one step ahead at all times. This is because with every advance there is a potential security issue to be resolved.