Technological development in every field is making our lives better and more convenient. But sometimes, this convenience comes at a certain cost. That is the case with our new contactless EVM credit card chips. In this article, we will explore how RFID enabled credit cards made users prone to data theft and how RFID wallets can help secure your most important data.
These EVM credit cards made payments 'contactless' by replacing the traditional magnetic swipe strip with an RFID enabled chip inside. Everything was great until someone figured out that these RFID chips can also be hijacked from inside someone's wallet, and the data stored on the credit card can be stolen without even taking the card out.
What is RFID Wallet?
So, what is an RFID blocking wallet? An RFID blocking wallet or simply an RFID wallet is a wallet with a special layer of radio-signal blocking material that blocks signals from an unauthorized RFID scanner. It protects your EVM credit cards with RFID chips safe from RFID skimming.
If you don't know about what RFID is and how it works, let's look at things in more details.
What is an RFID?
RFID - Radio Frequency Identification - is a short range communication protocol using passive chips that stores a small amount of identification information.
You might have seen RFID tags in shopping malls and superstores - the small plastic item attached to the products. When you are at the checkout counter, the cashier brings the tag near a scanner to record the item in your checkout list and remove the tag before packing the item. If someone forgets to remove that tag and try to leave the store, the scanners at the exit door will siren an alarm, quite handy to deter shoplifters.
How RFID works?
Let's understand the basic working of RFID without going into much technical details.
A simple RFID tag or chip system has two working components.
- A passive chip or tag that holds information
- An active scanner that reads that information when in close contact
The chip in your credit card is passive electronic memory that holds your sensitive identity information necessary to process your transaction. It's called "passive" because it does not have a power source and only power up and transmit data when it comes in close contact with a scanner.
The scanner is a small device (often handheld) that serves two purposes. It produces an electromagnetic energy field that powers up the chip inside your card. The chip has a small coil that converts the electromagnetic energy into electrical energy to "awake" the chip. The second purpose of the scanner is to read the data transmitted by the card.
Once the scanner and the card are close to each other, the RFID chip inside the card becomes active and transmits the authentication information which is received by the scanner to verify your transaction.
This is the most basic explanation of how RFID works inside your credit card. If you are interested in exploring the topic further, you can read this very detailed blog about the inner working of RFID
What is RFID Skimming?
Now that we know how RFID chips in your wallet work, it's time to explore how they can be used to steal user identity information via a process known as RFID skimming.
What is RFID skimming? RFID skimming is a process of reading sensitive data on your credit card's RFID chip with a handheld RFID scanner. The RFID card can be 'skimmed' from a distance of 15 cm (5 inches) and from within your wallet in your back pocket.
Most people have the habit of keeping their wallets in their hip pocket. It's the perfect place for bad actors to skim your card data without you even knowing about it (that's why we recommend front pocket wallets). All they have to do is bring a portable scanner near your pocket and read your sensitive card data. The data they can read includes;
- Cardholder name
- Card number
- Expiry date
- issuer (Visa/Mastercard etc.)
After your data is stolen, hackers can use that data to make an exact clone of your card and use it for unauthorized or fraudulent transactions. RFID chips are also present in your biometric passport and other documents, so they are at risk, too.
Public transport, restaurants, fuel pumps, airports, and other crowded places where people stand close to each other are perfect places for RFID skimming.
Note: if you ever become a victim of credit card theft, read our detailed guide on what to do about it.
How RFID blocking wallet work?
Ever heard of a tinfoil hat? It's a conspiracy theory that wearing a hat made of tinfoil will protect your brain from being controlled by the government or aliens. Although there is no evidence of mass government surveillance using brain controlling waves, the science of tinfoil is rooted in an actual scientific law by an English scientist Micheal Faraday.
To understand how RFID blocking works, we have to understand a very simple concept called Faraday's cage name after Micheal Faraday.
An item sensitive to electromagnetic interference (like an RFID chip in our case), when placed inside an enclosure of a conducting material or mesh, the mesh act as a cage by distributing the electrostatic charge on the outer surface of the cage and protects the item inside the enclosure. So, to prevent your RFID cards from unauthorized scans, all you have to do is make a 'tinfoil hat' for your credit cards.
So, how RFID blocking wallet work? RFID blocking wallets have a special layer of flexible, woven polyester fabric coated with nickel & copper alloy to act as a Faraday's cage. The fabric is sewed inside the wallet inner layer, making it invisible to the user but effectively blocks all RFID signals from scanners.
RFID blocking wallets have been gaining popularity in the last few years and it is considered one of the main features of a good leather wallet.
Do you need an RFID blocking wallet?
Not everyone needs an RFID blocking wallet. You only need one if you are carrying an RFID enabled card or a biometric passport or other biometric cards.
All RFID enabled cards or documents have a small RFID symbol that looks like a wi-fi signal. Look into your wallet and see if you are carrying any such card. If you do, you need to get an RFID blocking wallet. If all your credit cards are old-fashion magnetic strip variants, you are safe and don't need an RFID-blocking wallet.
How to tell an RFID blocking wallet?
Most brands mark their wallets with an embossed sign indicating that it is an RFID blocking wallet. The embossing can either be on the inside or the outside. At Aurochs, we make both RFID & non-RFID versions across our portfolio. We have recently started marking our RFID variants with an embossed sign (see picture below)
If you have bought a wallet online and are not sure it is an RFID blocking or not, try to find an embossed sign. If you can't find any marking, you will have to test it with an RFID scanner physically.
Go to a mall and try to scan your RFID credit card inside your wallet at the checkout. If the scanner can read your card from inside your wallet, it is definitely not an RFID blocking one.
Important note: Most RFID blocking material will allow the frequency bands that are commonly used in office punch cards and door locks. That' means, your RFID blocking wallet will allow using your door access and employee punch cards without getting them out of the wallet and only block the higher frequencies (13.5MHz) used in Credit Card chips.
RFID is a great technology which has made many applications possible like door access cards, employee punch cards and contactless RFID enabled credit cards. But at the same time, it has the potential to compromise your private financial data.
To make sure your RFID credit cards are safe from any unauthorized scans, look into getting an RFID blocking wallet. It will not only protect your precious data but will also give you that extra peace of mind.