An introduction to RFID in the printing industry

Quentyn Taylor, Director of Information Security at Canon provides his insights on how RFID is transforming print security.


An introduction to RFID in the printing industry

Understanding RFID

The Internet of Things (IoT) has become a growing topic of conversation both inside and outside the workplace, with billions of devices of all kinds now being connected to the internet and sharing data. One of the key enablers of the IoT is radio frequency identification (RFID) technology, which allows users and applications to know the identity and location of any object (or person) equipped with an RFID chip.

If you have a swipe card that you use to access your employer’s building, it most likely has an RFID chip inside it which contains a unique identifier and other data. RFID is also commonly used in logistics and supply chains to provide real-time data on the status of items. Whether it’s secure access to buildings or assets, or seamless tracking of people or goods, RFID can offer the perfect business solution, with some RFID systems having already been in use for decades.

To get some deeper insights on RFID technology, and how organisations both inside and outside the Middle East can harness it both effectively and securely, Quentyn Taylor, Director of Information Security at Canon Europe, Middle East and Africa shares his insights.

Understanding RFID

The potential uses for a technology like RFID seem endless. What makes it different, and how can businesses be interested in RFID to mitigate some of its risks? Where should they begin?

RFID was first developed in the 1970s, and continues to evolve. Essentially, it consists of an antenna and a chip. When you wave your card in front of a reader, the reader sends out radio waves which power the chip, which responds by sending a code back to the reader.

We have low and high-frequency RFID technology, although low-frequency is much less common nowadays. High-frequency RFID lets you store much more data on the card – several kilobytes or more. It also allows a lot more flexibility and is less prone to read errors.

RFID technology does have a bit of a chequered history when it comes to security. A good example is the original MIFARE Classic card, which was first used in the Dutch railway system. With the right equipment and know-how, these cards were easy to copy and change. For example, you could fraudulently add credit to the cards because there was no central verification system.

Compare that to the chip in your credit card. It more than likely uses the very secure DESfire system,. A basic problem with all RFID access cards is that they tend to look the same on the outside, but can contain very different RFID technologies. Can I trust what’s on the card? Can the card be copied? These two basic questions should be at the foundation of any RFID risk assessment.

The potential uses for a technology like RFID seem endless

Where have you seen RFID technology being utilised successfully in the Middle East? And how do you think RFID can positively affect the future of the print industry in the region?

In the UAE, for example, the transport authority issues secure RFID cards which can be used for taxis, buses, trains and so on. They offer fantastic convenience for busy commuters.

When combined with RFID technology, Canon’s “print anywhere” technology can offer similar flexibility and user-friendliness. It allows easy swipe-or-tap authentication for access to multifunction device features such as job release, customised menus, and push and pull of documents to cloud services. These are all things you can do using passwords, but as long as it’s implemented securely, RFID can make it that much easier, improving workplace productivity significantly.

Where have you seen RFID technology being utilised successfully in the Middle East?

How do you think the print industry in particular can begin to mitigate some risks associated with RFID security breaches?

The first challenge for businesses that want to use RFID in their printing and scanning infrastructure is understanding what systems they’ve already got. These plain white cards look like each other, but many people don’t realise that they can come with totally different technology and security considerations.

Consider the RFID readers used for access to an office building. They are often designed to last the lifetime of the building, which could be 20 years or more. They can be expensive to upgrade or replace. So, you can end up with companies using very old and insecure RFID cards to unlock and access new printing and scanning devices, which are otherwise designed to be extremely secure.

This is when security managers can make the decision to switch to more secure RFID technology. Or if that’s not currently cost-effective or practical, they can force users to use another type of authentication in addition to RFID, such as a PIN or SMS code. This of course can negate the convenience of RFID.

How do you think the print industry in particular can begin to mitigate some risks associated with RFID security breaches?

What barriers do you currently see in widespread implementation of RFID in the Middle East, and how can these be overcome? And where do you see RFID going in the future?

Given the high number of security breaches in the Middle East in recent years, companies are understandably cautious when it comes to introducing potentially insecure technologies into different areas of the business.

However, this needs to be weighed against the fact that RFID can bring a huge array of benefits to the business. Just as with any other technology, companies should be constantly updating their risk profile. Is our existing RFID system still secure? More specifically, would the cost of compromising our cards be worth it to an attacker? Are there easier and cheaper ways for them to access our systems and data? If the answers to these questions highlight your RFID system as a security risk, you should definitely consider updating it.

Where is RFID headed in the printing and scanning space? One possibility is that we’ll eventually get rid of cards and be able to access devices using the NFC chip in our phones or other personal devices. At present, this is a challenge because there isn’t really a common standard that we can use. For now, it’s certainly a technology that forward-thinking companies should consider adopting more, for the security, speed, simplicity and savings it can offer.

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