Navy Improves RFID – Because It Has To
Much of the technology that eventually makes its way to the consumer market is born out of military need. Such is the case with RFID. What is known more formally as radio frequency identification was originally developed in the early years of World War II as a way of identifying friendly vs. enemy aircraft. In the decades since, RFID technology has saturated the commercial market.
Now we learn that the U.S. Navy has improved on old RFID technology to create a more secure way to transmit information. Their new dynamic RFID tag is being made available to the commercial sector via patent license agreements. Companies wanting to make use of the technology for commercial purposes are eligible to request a patent license.
How RFID Works
Rock West Solutions, a California company that develops sensors for military applications, explains that the principle behind RFID is actually quite simple. Its basic premise relies on radio waves to transmit information between RFID tags and sensors.
When a tag and sensor interact, they exchange information. This information can be used to both identify and track objects. Thus, both Russia and Germany deployed RFID technology during the war in order to identify aircraft. By installing tags on their planes and then using sensors on the ground, planes could be identified as friend or foe without the need to see physical markings.
As for the Navy, they determined there was a very real need to improve RFID technology. They did so because they recognized a weakness: enemies could intercept RFID signals and use the data to their own advantage. Navy scientists decided they needed a way to maintain data privacy if RFID technology would continue to be useful.
The Dynamic RFID Tag
Scientists started working on ways to prevent bad actors from using RFID data to identify friend or foe. They eventually came up with an approach that makes use of modulating microchips. The microchip is that portion of an RFID tag that stores data and transmits it when interrogated.
A modulating microchip could transmit different signals protected by unique identifiers. Such identifiers could change dynamically based on different interrogators. In essence, a microchip with a modulating frequency would fail to transmit data to an interrogator that did not offer the right identifier code.
The principle of the dynamic RFID tag is similar to how cryptocurrencies are exchanged. In a typical crypto transaction, two keys are involved: a public key and a private key. If the right keys are not identified on both ends of the transaction, it will not go through. Likewise, a dynamic RFID tag requires interrogators to respond with the right ID code before it will transmit information.
Data Must Be Secure
Rock West Solutions explains that RFID technology becomes obsolete for friend or foe identification if data is not secure. Insecure data allows enemy combatants to recognize our assets as foes, just as easily as we can identify them as friends. That means our enemies can also track our movements just as easily as we track theirs.
Securing RFID data then becomes critical to our own defense. We cannot allow insecure data to fall into the hands of enemies – whether on the battlefield or off. Thus, our military scientists had to improve RFID technology or consider abandoning it for something else.
Improving on RFID was the smart way to go. As a technology, the strength of RFID is its simplicity. Having to abandon it for something as easy to solve as a lack of privacy would have been quite disappointing. Thankfully, that problem has been overcome.