Learn how your RFID security credential works
This article will help you understand the basics of how to radio frequency identification technology works; specifically in reference to your employee or student photo identification card.
Let’s start by defining RFID: “Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is a technology that uses communication via radio waves to exchange data between a reader and an electronic tag or card attached to an object or person, for identification and tracking purposes.”
RFID card technology has evolved over the last decade. It wasn’t that long ago that “smart cards” had a surface-mounted gold chip that made contact with the reader when inserted. Having to insert a card into a reader never caught on in the United States. We’ve gotten used to quickly swiping and waving cards. Inserting, waiting and removing a card so it can be read was not progress! Contact smart cards are now a legacy technology. Contactless RFID is the new standard.
Over the last two decades, RFID has become the ID card technology of choice for various types of data collection systems (door access, time clocks, point of sale, and computer login). other what the non-standard Insertion smart cards, contactless RFID offers the highest level of security afforded by an ID card and is not easy to duplicate. RFID card readers last longer than those using magnetic stripe or barcode technology because they have no exposed read heads or moving parts.
The original “Proximity” RFID cards are considered read-only. Your unique ID is programmed by the card manufacturer or provider and cannot be altered by the issuing organization. There are several safe formats in which they can be programmed. Some are safer than others; however, their increased security also makes them property to individual systems. However, RFID proximity has a non-proprietary standard format integrated into most data collection systems. If you are using the open standard format, you can extend its use to other types of data collection systems.
Proximity RFID is now considered a legacy technology for those implementing new systems. In addition to using a proprietary RFID format, their biggest weakness is that they cannot store information other than their encrypted unique ID. For many, reading and writing capabilities are simply not necessary. If your current data collection system uses proximity RFID, go ahead and maximize your investment and use it to the end of its useful life; as it may never need to be replaced.
Contactless RFID cards have integrated the read/write functionality of the surface contact smart chip into a embedded RFID chip that provides greater security and functionality. You can store a biometric template directly on the RFID card to reduce authentication time and increase information security. You can register a unique user identification number (employee, student, member…) on the RFID protected by encryption. A contactless RFID card can be programmed with tokens, coupons, or even monetary value for use in retail and tracking. This has spurred a new trend on college and university campuses, as an increasing number of them are adopting contactless RFID cards for use in campus gate access, attendance, and point-of-sale systems. Our Federal Government has implemented a Common Access Card (CAC) program for all Federal employees and contractors. The CAC integrates contactless RFID and contact smart card technology required by stringent government programs such as FIPS 201 and HSPD12. Many consumers carry name-brand credit cards that use contactless RFID; however, merchants are still implementing RFID contactless terminals to meet this new rollout of card technology.
The perceived weakness of contactless RFID is RFID itself. A new brand of theft called RFID skimming has been introduced. This has created a demand for new skim-proof sleeves and ID card holders. However, if the data collection scan is deemed so secure that RFID theft needs to be addressed, use an additional PIN and/or biometric reader. Skimming problem solved! If your security risk tolerance to date has been met through the use of magnetic stripes, barcodes and/or proximity RFID technologies, contactless is the safest option you have to choose.
Overall, RFID is a proven and secure identification technology with many benefits. Strong consideration should be given to the use of RFID technology in all data collection systems authenticated by a common photo identification card, ID card, token or FOB.
RFID has continued to evolve with only contactless read/write functionality. Ultra High Frequency (UHF) and Super High Frequency (SHF) technologies have recently made their way onto the RFID scene. They allow an identification credential to be read at long distances. NFC or “Near Field Communication” has already integrated RFID into many smartphone devices, and it’s coming to a door reader and clock near you soon.
RFID card technology has industry standards; however, interoperability between manufacturers is the Achilles’ heel. When selecting the credential technology for your organization, confirm that the RFID format can be used with other systems. RFID identification technology loses value if you only open a door, only create a time record, only log in or only buy your favorite drink. When you can do them all, you’ll have efficiency and safety working for you.
A photo ID card enabled with shared card technology used across multiple systems is the ideal ID card solution!