RFID blocking wallets are the latest countermeasure that many people are using to prevent identity theft. What is an RFID blocking sleeve or wallet? Radio Frequency Identification Chips are now being used in all new U.S. Passports including the wallet cards, many credit cards and even some state driver’s licenses. A hacker using a directional antenna concealed in a briefcase, etc, can capture all of your credit card’s information from as far away as 20 feet. The information that they can hack includes the credit card number and expiration date along with your name. They can then take this information and use blank plastic credit card stock and a magnetic stripe writing device to create a new credit card in a matter of minutes. With a photo of you they could even duplicate your passport. This is why many people are turning to RFID blocking wallets or sleeves. So which is best, the RFID blocking sleeve or the wallet?
How real is the threat of RFID hacking? Very real. At the last DefCon hacker convention in Las Vegas, an RFID data mining device was set up as a demonstration at an entrance to the convention. A camera snapped a photo of each person whose information was grabbed and saved it to the hard drive. After the demo the data was erased but not soon enough to alarm the Feds, who questioned the exhibits owners at length about their intentions.
Federal authorities were present at DefCon as a part of the “Meet The Feds” awareness project. Brian Markus, CEO of Aries Security said they planned to blur the camera images and replace human faces with an animal’s before putting the results of the project on a display wall.
“We’re not here to gather the data and do bad things with it,” Markus said and explained that the aim of the project was to raise awareness about how easy it is to hack RFID chips.
“There are people walking around the entire conference, all over the place, with RFID readers [in backpacks],” Markus said. “For $30 to $50, the common, average person can put together a RFID reader”. “This is why we’re so adamant about making people aware this is very dangerous. If you don’t protect yourself, you’re potentially exposing your entire company or agency to all sorts of risk.”
As seen in this video hackers can buy the equipment they need to hack your wallet RFID equipped cards for about eight bucks. Very scary.
Hackers are even cloning U.S. passports. In the following video a hacker shows how $250 worth of gear can copy your U.S. passport. This has serious implications for national security since terrorist hackers could find a person that looks similar to them, photograph them and scan their wallet for an unprotected RFID passport. Hackers have even coined a term for this, “war cloning”, after the commonly used term “war driving” which refers to driving around and hacking into wireless internet networks that are poorly protected.
Sleeves that shield your credit card or passport are inexpensive. Basically all they are is a pouch lined with heavy aluminum foil. This keeps radio waves from entering and leaving the RFID device. Radio Frequency Identification Chips do not have their own battery. They are powered by the RF signal that also communicates with the chip. Depriving hackers of the ability to power on the chip in your credit card will prevent them from downloading your account information. RFID blocking sleeves cost around $5.00 Real RFID blocking wallets cost around $30.
So, if you already have a good wallet a RF blocking credit card sleeve will work just fine to stop hackers. The problem is when you have several cards. Then the sleeves, which are themselves about the thickness of a credit card, will start to fill up your wallet space and can get quite heavy. RFID blocking wallets have metal mesh surrounding the whole wallet so that they protect all of your cards at once.
How Well Do RFID Blocking Wallets Really Work?
There are emerging standards for RFID blocking sleeves and wallets. The Government’s Federal Information Processing Standard or “FIPS 201 Evaluation Program – Electromagnetically Opaque Sleeve Approval Procedure, Version 3.0.0 is one of them. Look for wallets that conform to this standard, which is used by U.S. Government agencies. Government employees in certain positions are required to use an approved RF opaque shielding device to protect access cards, passports, etc. Those products which conform to the government standard are very effective at blocking RFID scanning and passport cloning devices. Most RFID blocking wallets are not on the FIPS 201 approved products list. This does not mean that they will not work to prevent RFID cloning, it just means the manufacturer has not gone through a lengthy and expensive government approval process. Many government employees however are required to use FIPS 201 certified wallets and passport holders.
These are new and scary times in terms of identity theft. Having one of these RFID blocking wallets just might save you thousands of dollars if it prevents one case of identity theft.