It has taken time but a worldwide focus on both physical security (protecting buildings and facilities) and logical security (protecting data and networks) is hastening the development and deployment of radio frequency identification (RFID). No longer simply a tool for inventory control, mass scale utilization of RFID for fare collection, identity verification, payment and other mission-critical applications is becoming mainstream.
It is not because RFID is the only technology that can do the job … Physical security systems have long employed bar codes, magnetic stripes, and other ID technologies; logical security has most often been the realm for contact smart cards; and payment systems have used both mag stripes and contact chip cards.
It is because RFID can do more … Implementers are finding that RFID offers unique benefits–or more precisely a unique group of benefits. When taken together, this group sets the technology apart from its peers. Other ID technologies may possess one—or some portion of—these benefits but only RFID boasts them all.
What are these benefits? I have worked with implementations of all types of identification technologies and I have found almost all to be acceptably durable if the application is correct for the technology. Similarly, I have found most technologies to possess acceptable levels of both reliability and integrity.
But where RFID begins to distinguish itself from the pack is in measures of speed, security, counterfeit protection, reader durability, and user convenience. RFID is the only ID technology that excels in every one of these qualities.
Speed Data transfer rates between an RFID card and reader are extremely rapid. The “handshake” or secure establishment of communication between the two is also fast. With other technologies the card must be precisely aligned and swiped, scanned, or inserted into a card reader. But with RFID, additional time is saved as the cardholder is only required to present the card into the reader’s RF field. When it comes to speed, RFID is a clear winner.
Security and counterfeit protection Data held on an RFID card can be secured from unauthorized access via key protection and encryption. The technology required to create and encode counterfeit RFID cards is more difficult to obtain and more difficult to crack than with other technologies.
Reader durability Because the cards and tokens do not need to be swiped or inserted for reading, RFID readers can be completely enclosed and weatherproofed. With no moving parts and no openings for debris to enter or vandals to insert foreign objects, RFID readers score high on durability rankings.
User convenience Quite simply, users prefer RFID technology. The convenience, speed, and “cool factor” make it far more attractive in many circumstances. In harsh weather conditions, in high throughput venues, and in areas requiring frequent user authentication, RFID is the technology of choice.
With such a strong set of benefits, it is no wonder that RFID technology has moved from inventory control to personal identification and payment. In our security-focused world, contactless cards and tokens have a bright future as tools for a growing and increasingly vital set of applications.
Chris Corum Editor chris@AVISIAN.com