MIT Introduces a Hack Proof RFID Chip

Posted by on Feb 15, 2016 2:19:26 PM


As most devices come with in-built Radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips there are serious concerns about the safety of data as they can be easily stolen. Even if your devices are not physically stolen, an expert attacker doesn’t need to possess the RFID chip to get all the information from it. Using a secret key to protect data on the chip may prevent a casual thief, but you should know that there are many ways to retrieve data. Recently, MIT scientists claimed that they have come up with new RFID chip that cannot be hacked by any means. The chip manufactured by Texas Instruments works on a combination of integrated power and data storage - the first of its kind in RFID technology.

How RFID Chips are Hacked

Most RFID hackers use what is known as the side-channel attack. By analyzing the pattern of the device’s power usage and memory utilisation, they can extract the cryptographic key. Side-channel attack method only a fraction data during each runs of an algorithm. As such to get the full key, they have to launch man attacks. One of the common methods to protect from such attacks is by rotating the private key every now and then. However, an expert hacker can still get around with the power glitch attack, and that’s exactly what MIT’s RFID chip is crafted to block.

Power-glitch attacks on RFID chips involve cutting off power to the device immediately before it can rotate its secret key. This gives time to the attacker to run side-channel attack multiple times to get the key. A power-glitch attack can be deployed against various devices, but RFID chips are more vulnerable as they don’t have their own built-in power source. In fact, they are powered via induction from the reader. The secured RFID which is developed by Chiraag Juvekar, a student and his guides, has an integrated power supply and a non-volatile memory to guard against this scenario.

New Technology Stops RFID Chip Hacking

The MIT’s RFID chip takes advantage of ferroelectric crystals which is made up of arranged into a lattice. Applying an electric field can also change the charges to one direction or the other way round, thus representing some form of information. A ferroelectric crystal can also be used as capacitor for storing power; this is voltage difference between lattice’s the negative and positive poles.

Texas Instruments’ has been able to manufacture banks of 1.5v and 3.3v cells on RFID composed of ferroelectric crystals. When an attack is attempted on the chip, the 3.3v cells act as a source of energy to allow the chip to retrieve data it’s has been working on in 1.5v cells. As soon as power is restored, the first thing the chip will do is recharge 3.3v cells in case power is lost again, and then it picks up where it left off with the saved data. And if someone tries to rotate the secret key, it will continue to make the attack useless.

Future Implactions of Hack-proof Chips

The MIT team also speculates that this technology, when adopted widely, could make RFID chips much more secured. The storage and power requirements resulted in increase cost and its output rate is much slower than the conventional chips. However, they found that it can produce as many as 30 readouts per second, which is a common standard for most RFID applications.

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Topics: RFID

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