Plastic Sleeves and Radio Chips: Simple Protections for RFID Cards


Plastic Sleeves and Radio Chips: Simple Protections for RFID Cards

The Evolution of “Charge It!” in Payment Technology

As the news keeps making clear, changes are coming to what exactly it means when a customer says “charge it!” There are smart wallets, phones-as-credit cards, and more.

Changes in Credit Card Technology

For the actual plastic cards themselves, changes are coming too, along with changes in “best practices” for securing those cards. We previously covered the EMV chip, set to become a standard in America within a few years (and already standard in Europe), where it stores your information on a chip instead of a magnetic stripe.

Understanding RFID Chips in Credit Cards

This, however, shouldn’t be confused with an RFID chip (which stands for Radio Frequency Identification). As the Lowcards website says, in a recent article, “These ‘smart cards’ are supposed to be more convenient than traditional credit cards because you do not have to swipe them to use them. All you do is brush them up next to a credit card reader, and it processes your payment request.”

Vulnerabilities of RFID Technology

Current RFID cards include Visa PayWave, MasterCard PayPass, American Express ExpressPay and Discover Zip. The problem, however, is that someone else can have a nearby “scanner” — their purse, or as an app on their smartphone – and zap up your credit card info, too.

Differences Between EMV and RFID Chips

Note, though, that while both EMVs and RFIDs use the same technology, the chip isn’t the same. As noted on the CardRatings website, “unlike other, stronger chips based on RFID technology, EMV chips in contactless credit cards work only in very short range from payment terminals.”

Hackers’ Interest in RFID Information

So the RFID chips tend to broadcast, as it were, in a wider range than their EMV counterparts. But merchants should be aware that hackers are still more interested in their information, than merely swiping from individual cardholders. As an article on CBS’ Moneywatch observes, “Hackers are much more interested in stealing data on the wholesale rather than individual level.”

RFID Blockers and Alternatives

The same article also lists several countermeasures already available to those using RFID cards — aside from the advice to simply wrap your card in tinfoil (which actually works, but of course is very convenient, and requires you to always “re-wrap!”)” A number of companies now sell wallets that have RFID blockers built in,” However, the article continues that “In 2011, Consumer Reports found that many of the blockers didn’t perform as well as promised and that none did as well as simply wrapping the cards in tinfoil. A slightly more attractive option: credit card sleeves made of Tyvek, a material made of high-density polyethylene fibers. They are inexpensive — 50 cents buys you added security.”

Promotional Opportunities with Tyvek Sleeves

And saves you a lot in tinfoil costs! So four-bit Tyvek sleeves could become the wave of the future, just as RFID and EMV chips will. Eventually, as a merchant, you may want to offer a promotion of free Tyvek sleeves with your company’s information, URL, etc, printed on it!

Staying Safe and Secure in Transaction Processing

As for staying safe and secure in processing transactions now, contact your AVPS rep for any updates on security you want to implement, and save that foil for wrapping up leftovers during our final summer BBQ stop on Labor Day!