Radio Frequency Identification Technology (RFID) is a cost-effective method to track and identify items, applied in a wide range of industries. On a number of occasions, it’s also used as an anti-counterfeiting tool, which can prove to be ineffective. This calls for a more secure anti-counterfeiting protocol so that you can combine the two technologies and continue to use RFID.
From helping manufacturers and retailers in tracking supply chains and inventory to pet owners and farmers in finding lost pets and livestock, the small RFID chip is extremely useful. The problem arises when an RFID system is used to protect against counterfeiting. Despite its advantages, RFID is not without its flaws.
With access to advanced technology, counterfeiters can duplicate and clone the RFID chip information, proving the method a failure. Counterfeiting can cost a significant amount of money in losses to brands, ranging in billions of dollars. The losses aren’t in terms of just lost sales, but also the harm caused to brand reputation and consumer trust.
As RFID technology is widespread in a number of industries, completely removing the system isn’t feasible. Instead, brands can secure their existing system by combining it with an anti-counterfeiting technology like AlpVision’s Fingerprint. This allows companies to still gain the benefits of the technology while making sure the entire process is foolproof.
What is RFID?
The Radio Frequency Identification technology or RFID is a wireless system to identify unique items using radio waves. It consists of three primary components: a microchip tag, a reader or scanner, and an antenna that transfers the waves. It’s used in a wide range of industries to track and identify objects, animals, or people.
The technology works on a simple principle: the microchip holds information, and the RFID scanner sends a signal to the chip to acquire the information, which then relays the tag data.
The RFID tags come in a variety of shapes, data capacity, and frequency. Usually, the size of the microchips or the RFID tags is similar to the size of a grain of rice but can hold a large amount of data. This small size makes the system versatile in different applications.
Plus, there are primarily two types of RFID tags: active and passive. Active tags contain a power source inside them, helping them transfer data even without the reader. Passive tags don’t contain a built-in power source and depend on the scanner’s radio waves to transmit the data.
Examples of RFID Tags
Back in the 1940s, using RFID tags was expensive, which kept them from being widely used commercially. However, today, the cost of RFID technology has significantly reduced, increasing its applications. Here are a few examples of RFID tag usage:
1. Animal and Pet Identification
RFIDs made of glass are frequently used as a method to identify animals, from pets to livestock, fish, and purebred pigeons. This is because glass RFID tags are durable and reliable. With an IP68 rating, they are resistant to water, and the glass material can exist in difficult environmental conditions, as well. This offers help to farmers and pet owners.
The pet chips are implanted in the pets by vets, containing important information about the pets along with the contact information of the owners. In case the pet gets lost, a rescue shelter can easily identify the pet’s details with the help of a scanner. Compared to pet collars, pet chips are more reliable as they can’t fall off.
2. Inventory Management
Imagine if supermarkets didn’t have instant access to their stocks and supplies and stock, management would’ve been haywire. This is how RFID tags help – by giving real-time access to data.
This leads to a reduced cost involved in logistics while increasing efficiency and accuracy at the same time. It provides the users with real-time details of inventory along with product details. This helps in forecasting out-of-stock situations.
Inaccurate details of inventory are extremely costly for retailers. Going out of stock during a busy season can result in lost sales and increased stress. RFID tags minimize such scenarios, saving time and money.
3. Supply Chain Management
To manage the supply chain, RFID tags track the movement of goods, starting from manufacturing plants to retail stores. This helps in having a map of the goods and keeping track of them. This is also the point where RFID tags are used as an anti-counterfeiting tool (discussed in the next section).
4. Access Control
RFID cards are used in hotels and apartment buildings to monitor and secure people’s access. This is because the RFID system is simple to use with only a tag and reader required.
5. Identification Cards and Passports
Many countries are increasingly implementing RFID features in passports to decrease the processing time at border control checkpoints. Such passports are also called biometric passports or e-passports. It identifies and authenticates the details of the passport holder instantly. The details inside the chip vary from country to country based on their policy.
Using RFID Tags for Counterfeit Protection
RFID tags are used against counterfeiting because of their ability to provide real-time tracking details and their low cost. They are used wherever tracking of movement is required to make sure any tampering isn’t happening in the supply chain. Here’s an overview of how RFID tags are used in anti-counterfeiting.
RFID tags have the ability to store unique identification data. Hence, genuine products tagged with these chips can be scanned to acquire the data for authentication by consumers and retailers. Next, as they help in tracking the product movements throughout the supply chain, diversions and discrepancies can be identified easily.
The problem is: RFID tags alone can’t provide foolproof counterfeit protection.
Risks Associated with RFID Tags Used in Anti-Counterfeiting
Here are a few risks associated with using RFID tags in anti-counterfeiting, making them unreliable:
- Cloned and duplicated RFID tags: If the RFID security protocol isn’t secured adequately, counterfeiters can easily clone the original tags. RFID tag counterfeiting or “spoofing” is done by duplicating the tag or the data stored inside the chip. Then, the cloned tag is embedded in counterfeit products to sell as genuine products. This process is done carefully so that the users won’t be able to identify the difference between the two tags.
A counterfeiter can also tamper with the data inside the tag by either adding or deleting some information. This can disrupt the operations being controlled by the RFID tag. Or
When RFID tags are used in the pharmaceutical industry, a counterfeiting incident poses a significant health hazard risk. To counter this issue, the FDA even suggested EPC or electronic product code in 2003 to protect against counterfeit medicines.
- Delay in detection: RFID tags are only effective because of the RFID readers at control points. Taking advantage of the time and distance between two checkpoints, counterfeiters can tamper with the products and tags in transit. By the time the counterfeit product or tag reaches the next control point, it’s already too late to identify the counterfeit item or tag. If the fake product manages to bypass the control points and reach the market, identifying the fake product and the culprit is challenging.
- Privacy concerns: RFID tags aren’t only susceptible to counterfeiting, but also pose as a privacy breach hazard. This is because RFID tags can be read by anyone with an RFID scanner.
If the product tag contains a unique serial number or identification number, it can be easily linked to the customer. This is also known as “sniffing”. As the tags don’t have enough computing power to accommodate encryption, this can breach the privacy of the consumers. The only exception is the passport chips.
How to Make RFID Tags Secure
Because of the ease of the application and the low cost of RFID tags, it’s not feasible to completely stop using them to replace them with something else.
A better solution is to find a complementary security feature that enhances the function of the RFID tag, tackling the limitations of the system. A secure solution is to combine RFID tags with AlpVision’s Fingerprint technology. Fingerprint is a patent technology that leverages the specific characteristics of the product surface to authenticate it.
By combining Fingerprint with RFID tags, the tags can still serve as a means of verification and real-time tracking, but the Fingerprint adds an additional layer of authentication. At the point of verification, both Fingerprint and RFID tags can be scanned to fulfill the two functions – tracking and authentication.
This hybrid approach ensures that the genuine product is associated with a unique identity, making it even harder for counterfeiters to operate undetected. Alpvision’s Fingerprint is almost impossible to replicate, so even if counterfeiters clone the RFID tags, they can’t bypass the Fingerprint security feature.
The best part: Like RFID, Fingerprint can also be used for a wide range of products in different sectors like luxury goods, precious metals, FMCG, and more.
Secure Your RFID Tags with an Additional Security Layer
RFID is invaluable in tracking and identifying products and animals in real time. However, it comes with its own sets of advantages and disadvantages.
The good news is, the limitations of RFID are easily manageable with a security feature like Fingerprint. The conjunction of the two technologies will help you maintain the supply chain integrity along with providing a foolproof anti-counterfeiting system. This, in turn, safeguards your brand reputation by protecting your products from possible counterfeits. As the process is simple and cost-effective to implement, without any change in your current logistics, it makes a promising solution to all the weaknesses of the RFID technology.
To learn more about how you can enhance your product’s security with RFID tags and Fingerprint, contact us today.