Mikroe

If you have bought a wallet that claims to have RFID blocking features, you may be concerned about the security of your debit or credit cards that have RFID chips. But what is RFID, anyway? How does it work and what does this term even stand for anyway? If you have these questions, we can supply you with the answers.

What does RFID stand for?

Let’s get the easy question out of the way first. RFID is a rather clumsy acronym for Radio Frequency Identification. The full name is a clue into how this technology works. It uses radio waves to send information to very small and simple hardware devices. While papers and theories about systems similar to RFID were first published in the 1940s, the first real practical applications and RFID products launched in the early to mid-1970s, according to a paper on the history of this technology. In some ways, RFID is a simpler version of the NFC (Near Field Communication) technology that many Android smartphones use for digital payment systems like Samsung Pay and Android Pay.

What is RFID used for?

RFID products are used all over the place. RFID chips are found inside identification badges for added security, and to help offer access to restricted areas. RFID tags are placed on items like clothes and other retail sale products, not only to offer better security, but also to track them more efficiently from shipment to store. Increasingly, more credit and debit cards have RFID chips embedded inside them to offer a better and more secure system of payment when they are used with a “chip reader”. Even pets are now “chipped” with RFID tags so they can be identified if they get lost.

How do RFID devices work?

Lowcards

There are actually two different types of RFID devices, or tags. The more common tag, and the one used in credit and debit cards, is “Passive RFID.” A tag that uses this technology does not have an internal power source. Instead, it’s powered when it comes into contact with another device, like an RFID chip reader. The reader sends radio waves out to the passive RFID tag, which powers it up and also reads the information on the tag, such as an identification number.

The other type of RFID tag uses “Active RFID” technology. These tags actually do have a battery that serves as their own power source. They can then send out their own radio waves to transmit any information encoded in the tag to the appropriate reader. Again, that’s similar to how NFC works.

Passive RFID tags have a limited range; in theory, they can be used up to 20 feet away from a reader. Active RFID tags have a much longer range, up to 100 feet or more.

A passive RFID tag, like the ones typically found on clothes and other retail items

Is using RFID tags safe and secure?

The radio waves that come from an RFID tag or RFID reader are in the low-frequency range. In other words, there are absolutely no health issues with using or holding onto an RFID device. However, it is possible for someone to create a device that could read the information embedded in an RFID tag, like the one found on credit and debit cards, from a small distance. Reported cases of this actually happening are quite rare. It never hurts to be safe, which is why RFID protected wallets are now more commonplace.

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Author: John Callaham