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Labs Presents: RFID-Blocking Gear


There are dozens and dozens of RFID protection products which claim to stop evildoers from stealing your identity and essentially ruining all life as we know it. We tested some of these products to see how effective they really are.

A lot of the things we carry, such as credit cards, passports, and building access cards use Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology. The electromagnetic tags on these things usually contain some type of identifying serial number and other data—something static like a serial or inventory control number, or something triggering onboard circuitry to run and produce data, like a credit card. Someone armed with a reader could potentially stand near you and interrogate your credit card’s tag, copy whatever data gets coughed up, and then use that to create a duplicate credit card.

Some claimed to prevent all RFID scanning, but testing proved that they blocked only one frequnecy, not both. If you are just looking to protect yourself from someone getting at your hotel access card, credit card, or passport, you’re in luck. Nearly all of the products block in those ranges. If you are looking to protect your company’s building access card, well, it’s probably best to stick with the sleeves or a metal wallet.

The nitty-gritty of the details can be found in our Labs Presents report.

If you are a hardcore tin foil hat kind of person, hit up Chipotle for a free foil wrapper and elegantly wrap your credit cards in that. The nominal yield from one wrapper is four “pouches” for cards (two for passports), and trust me—you’ll be the talk of the party. Check out the video.

Go Low-Tech

Regardless of whether you buy some type of RFID-protection or not, there are other, low-tech defenses, that will help neutralize most common attack scenarios:

  • Increase the distance between the tag and the outside world. Putting the tagged items in the physical center of the fully-loaded backpack will protect them from being picked up by low-power readers, which have just a 1-cm range.
  • Use misdirection. Keep a bait wallet in your back pocket, and the real thing in the front pocket. Mainly for thwarting pickpockets, this little trick also foils anyone with a RFID reader. I’ve done this for ages. A purse or murse person can keep things in different places and that might be enough to throw things off. Using a wrist or ankle wallet is also a good idea--placing the tagged valuables in a different place away from a purse or wallet could help protect that hotel key from being duplicated.
  • Get a tin foil (almost literally) hat. Wrap your tagged stuff in aluminum foil. Believe it or not, this kind of works. Foil tears really easily, so if you are traveling you need to carry extra foil or ask the person behind the counter at Chipotle to double wrap your burrito. I’ll let you decide if you want to wrap your entire wallet, or just the chipped credit cards.

Ooo wait. Chip. Chipotle. That may not be a coincidence.