Securing Deployed RFIDs by Randomizing the Modulation and the Channel

RFID cards are widely used today in sensitive applications such as access control, payment systems, and asset tracking. Past work shows that an eavesdropper snooping on the communication between a card and its legitimate reader can break their cryptographic protocol and obtain their secret keys. One solution for this problem is to install stronger cryptographic protocols on the cards. However, RFIDs' size, power, and cost limitations do not allow for conventional cryptographic protocols. Further, installing new protocols requires revoking billions of cards in consumers hands and facilities worldwide, which is costly and impractical. In this paper, we ask whether one can secure RFIDs from such attacks without revoking or changing the insecure cards. We propose LocRF, a solution that changes the signal used to read the RFID cards but does not require any changes to the cards themselves. LocRF introduces a new approach that randomizes the modulation of the RFID signal as well as the wireless channel. This design protects RFIDs from eavesdroppers even if they use multi-antenna MIMO receivers. We built a prototype of LocRF on software-defined radios and used it to secure the communication of off-the-shelf cards. Both our analysis and empirical evaluation demonstrate theeffectiveness of LocRF.

Authors: Wang, Jue; Hassanieh, Haitham; Katabi, Dina; Kohno, Tadayoshi
Publication date: January 12, 2013
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