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Unhackable RFID Chips Developed

Category: Science & Technology
Posted: 08:51AM

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips are a somewhat common security tool that is used on credit cards, key cards, and on palettes of goods to easily track their use with little overhead as only a special reader is needed. Among their advantages are that the radio frequencies used can penetrate various materials and that the chips themselves do not require a power source. Both of these advantages also make them susceptible to hacks, but researchers at MIT and Texas Instruments has found a solution to the problem.

One way to hack an RFID chip is with side-channel attacks, which analyze the memory access or power usage to gather some information. By repeating this many times, the cryptographic key stored on the chip can be learned. One way to defeat this attack is to have a random number generator on the key that matches that on a server, so after each use the chip can change the key, but this can be beat by a power glitch attack. This attack cuts power to the chip, which is easily done as it requires power from the reader to operate, before the key can be updated, so the key never changes and the side-channel attacks will still work. The solution the researchers developed to both problems is to integrate ferroelectric materials into the chip. These materials can act as nonvolatile memory but also as capacitors, because they work by separating positive and negative charges, creating a voltage. Texas Instruments manufacturers both 1.5 V and 3.3 V ferroelectric cells, and both have been integrated into the new chip. The 3.3 V capacitors are used to power the RFID chip, in the event power is lost so that the key update can complete, while the 1.5 V capacitors serve as nonvolatile memory, protecting the new key from being lost. Once power is restored, the 3.3 V capacitors are recharged before anything else is done.

Texas Instruments has already built multiple prototypes and while they are slower than traditional RFID chips, at 30 readouts a second, they should still be fast enough to work in most scenarios.

Source: MIT

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