Trade Group Attacks RFID Virus Claims - InformationWeek

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3/17/2006
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Trade Group Attacks RFID Virus Claims

Researchers claim to have discovered a way to infect an RFID chip with a virus, but in fact they just built a poorly designed system, said an RFID trade association.

For instance, they stressed that most RFID applications, including EPC Gen2, look for specific kinds of data. Poor reader design might allow detection of a "rogue" tag, but a secure system will verify data against predefined parameters, as do current bar code systems.

The ability to insert a virus implies that a tag contains executable code that is recognized by software. This, they assured, is impossible with most RFID applications since specific kinds of data are sought and systems will either flag or reject anything that doesn't fit the data template.

Other industry reaction to the paper was mixed, but many agree it presented a wake-up call.

"With respect to the students involved, the paper as presented is rather weak," said Kevin Ashton, ThingMagic Inc. vice president, and co-founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Auto-ID Center. "The 'real' virus they claim to demonstrate in the paper is not a virus, just a self-replicating piece of SQL code."

The paper, however, does call attention to an obvious problem the software industry has faced for years, suggested Julie England, vice president at Texas Instruments. "Companies need to provide multilevel security and take responsibility for testing before releasing applications to the market," said England.

Last month, cryptographers reported weaknesses in the underlying RFID chips and hashing algorithms. In a panel discussion during the RSA Conference, Adi Shamir, professor of computer science at the Weizmann Institute, disclosed that he had recently applied power analysis techniques to crack passwords for the most popular brand of RFID tags.

At the same panel, Ron Rivest, who co-developed the RSA algorithms with Shamir, called for an industry effort to create a next-generation hashing algorithm to replace SHA-1, which is used broadly for computer security.

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