Chips can be friend or foe

The concept of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips (some less than a millimetre across) began with the development of “friend or foe” transponder systems for military aircraft a few decades ago, but costs kept it from being adopted widely.

Today RFID is used for thousands of applications such as electronic road tolls, access to secure buildings, antitheft systems in cars, ski lift access, library books tracking, and the growing opportunity to track a wealth of assets in supply chain management. Many experts believe that RFID technology will be found in anything and everything by 2010, and it will revolutionise supply chain, manufacturing and retail efficiency.

Imagine if your merchandise could talk? What if it communicated automatically not just when you picked it up and scanned its barcode? Imagine each and every item was talking about itself as soon as it pulls into the warehouse. It would not be necessary to register the items manually as all the relevant information is read from the items automatically. All you have to do is unload the truck. Once in the warehouse, there are no more stock counts because every item is continuously sending a signal to a reader. If the items have passed their expiration date, they scream to the reader: ‘I’m too old!’

But we recognise that for people to benefit from this technology, they must be confident that the information in tags or associated with tags will not be detected or used inappropriately. In short, it must be trustworthy. If you are responsible for security in your applications you need to understand that RFID tags are dumb devices. They listen, and they respond. They don’t care who sends the signal. Anything your company’s transceiver can detect, other transceivers can also detect. Be diligent about what is collectible! It is already possible to put in place safety measures such as ‘killing’ the send information function when an item leaves a store. RFID technology will take off in a business-to-business context before it’s widely adopted in the business-to-consumer market, thereby giving the industry time to solve privacy and security issues.

We have done significant work in the area of privacy on the Web and other important application areas. We are looking at security and privacy issues at a fundamental level, and I am confident that we will be able to deliver solutions that will create value for businesses and consumers alike.

Ross Dembecki is lead product manager, Microsoft business solutions

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