RFID snooping-proof wallet

Posted: August 27, 2009 in design, Money/ wealth, sci-fi, science, Travel
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

When I tell people about how I made my own wallet to protect myself from arphid snoopers, they look at me like I’m crazy. When I say it has aluminum foil in it to block the signals, they know I’m crazy. Like tin-foil hat so the Government can’t hear my thoughts, crazy. And maybe, in a way, I am. Crazy like a FOX!

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RFID, or Arphid in lingua franca, stands for Radio Frequency Identification. They are tiny computer chips implanted in things like hotel key-cards, quick-fill gasoline keychains, ID badges, and easy-pay credit cards. This last one concerned me the most. Ever since I opened a new account a few years ago, my new credit card has the “convenient” Pay Pass option. When I go through a grocery store checkout, instead of going through the labor-intensive process of getting my card entirely out of my wallet, I an just hold my wallet up to the Arphid Reader on the register, and it will scan my card and read all the relevant information it needs. Bank account numbers, my name, date of birth, etc. Quick and easy. Great! Right?

Wrong! With a little know-how (easy to glean from teh intarnets these days), and some cheap hardware, any punk kid can make their own arphid scanner/cloner. These devices are usually about as big as a pack of cards and can easily fit into a pocket. With an antenna coiled in the palm of his hand, an arphid hacker could brush up next to you in a supermarket aisle, and walk away with all your bank account and credit card numbers. You would not feel them touch you, they would just need to be close (2-4 inches). The arphid chips themselves do not actively transmit your vital information at all times, and do not have their own internal power source, but when in close proximity to a reader, they will transmit all they know to whoever just gave them a little wireless elbow in the ribs.

So what can you do about it? Do what I did. Make a radio frequency proof wallet. At first, I didn’t believe that the whole tinfoil thing would work. I mean, I read it on the internet. Home to crazy conspiracy theorist who where tinfoil hats. But I found a site with simple instructions, and more importantly, a way to test it. When you’re all done, slip you cell phone into the dollar section of the wallet and watch as the signal strength drops to zero. Close the wallet completely with your phone inside and get someone else to call it. It shouldn’t ring.* ( the very first time I tried this, my phone rang, and I was mightily disappointed. I made sure the flaps were closed, waited 15 seconds or so, and tried again. No ring.) But the best way to test it is out in the real world. I went to Wegman’s and brought a pack of gum up to the register. When it was time to pay, I said, “Here goes!” and held my closed wallet right up to the arphid reader. Nothing. I flipped it over and tried again. Nothing. I pumped my arm in the air and said, “Yes!” while the cashier just looked at me funny. Why was I happy about my card not working? Still holding my wallet up to the reader, I pulled up my credit card from the little pocket. As soon as it cleared the top of the wallet, the reader picked it up and the transaction went through. Whoo hoo!

So make sure that you protect your privacy by covering your Arphid devices so no one can steal your precious information (and maybe even your money!) You’re welcome.

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