Securing the Security System





by Daphne Allen, Editor

A labeling sandwich calls out RFID tag tampering.

At a recent RFID demonstration, Peter Atherton made a bold move. He decided to challenge the security of RFID-tagged bottles as the bottles moved along a conveyor for RFID tag verification. He walked up to the conveyor, grabbed some bottles, and removed the labels carrying the RFID tags. He then put one of the labels on a set of keys, placed the RFID-tagged keys back on the conveyor, and watched with the audience as the RFID tag reader recognized his keys as the original bottle.

Atherton’s demonstration shows the importance of ensuring the physical security of RFID tags. He showed that high-dollar pharmaceuticals could be diverted, stripped of their tags, and distributed illegally, while the legitimate tags could be placed on counterfeited products that are then put back into the supply chain.

Smart&Secure loop seals have been used to secure cases for transportation.

As cofounder and chief technology officer of Mikoh Corporation, Ltd. (New York City, and Sydney, Australia), Atherton has focused on the security of the security system, so to speak. For years, his firm has provided Counterfoil and Subscribe secure labels for sealing government documents and secure areas, such as those at the Olympics. It has participated in the Free and Secure Trade (FAST) project with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, in which its labels are a “green light into the United States,” says Matthew Blomfield, CEO of Mikoh. The firm now offers its Smart&Secure label technology to the pharmaceutical market for securing RFID technology. “The focus has been on the read/write capability of RFID tags and the speed of the process,” says Blomfield. “But how do you know that the RFID tag is on the right product?” he asks.

A tamper-sensing layer built in to the Smart&Secure label causes the antenna to separate from the tag if the label is moved.

Mikoh’s answer is to provide a labeling “sandwich” that renders the tag useless if the label is tampered with. Layers include a topcoat for printing, the RFID transponder layer (chip and antenna), a tamper-sensing layer, and an adhesive layer. If the label is removed after application, the tamper-sensing layer will cause the antenna to separate from the label and remain on the substrate. Smart&Secure also resists tampering involving the use of chemicals or solvents, mechanical means such as razor blades, and high- or low-temperature tricks. Blomfield reports that the technology is compatible with 13.56-MHz tags such as those from Philips, Texas Instruments, and Inside, as well as 915-MHz tags from Philips, Intermec, Symbol, and Alien. Other frequencies are also possible.

Mikoh has just licensed the technology to Serigraph Inc. (West Bend, WI), a firm that uses multiple printing and finishing technologies to manufacture and decorate materials and products. The agreement allows Serigraph to manufacture, market, and sell RFID labels, seals, and tags that incorporate the Smart&Secure tamper-indicating technology. Joseph A. Klahn, business unit manager for consumer electronics at Serigraph, says the technology “addresses the physical vulnerability of the tag.”


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