A research group has shown the additional security capabilities of RFID tags. Here we explain the potential benefits to retailers and consumers

What does the study say?

The security research group within EU-funded RFID research project Bridge has shown that security features can be added to standards-based RFID tags, which means they can be disabled at the point of sale.

The group has found that highly secure cryptographic security is possible using these tags. This provides improved levels of security compared with the existing password-based system.

The tags can also be deactivated and reactivated, which is important when tagging at item-level, because it makes the data unreadable at certain points in the supply chain. The group has also developed an anti-counterfeiting system that conforms to industry organisation EPCglobal’s RFID standards.

What is a standards-based RFID tag?

The EPCglobal standard has been set up so RFID tags can be read and understood throughout the supply chain. The electronic product code (EPC) is a unique serial number in an RFID tag that identifies the article to which it is attached such as an item, case or roll cage.

This enables enquiries to be made about the item wherever it is within the supply chain. These standards-based tags are used by retailers such as Metro Group and Wal-Mart.

How will consumers benefit?

Consumer privacy concerns are addressed by the ability to deactivate tags at the point of sale. For high-value items the tag acts not only as a security and tracking measure while the product is in the supply chain, but also as a marker of the product’s authenticity and as an identifier throughout its life.

The tags can be reactivated by retailers when the products are returned to store. This means they can be used to track products that are returned as faulty, need servicing or maintenance, or are returned to a retailer when it is fulfilling its disposal obligations.

What does this mean for retailers?

David Lyons, EPCglobal business manager at standards body GS1 UK, says: “Retailers can now gain all the benefits that RFID can deliver in product authentication, maintenance, repairs, returns and reverse logistics.”

BT Research supply chain innovation manager Andrea Soppera says that the study has shown how the benefits of RFID can be extended once the security issue has been overcome. She says: “Secure RFID solutions must not just fix problems induced by RFID technology itself, but also facilitate trust in the sort of open loop, cross-supply chain applications first envisaged by EPCglobal.”