ALGSICS ” Combining Physics and
Cryptography to Enhance Security and Privacy
in RFID Systems

N. Bird1 , C. Conrado1 , J. Guajardo1 , S. Maubach2 , G.-J. Schrijen1 , B.
Skoric1 , A.M.H. Tombeur1 , P. Thueringer3 , and P. Tuyls1
Philips Research Europe, Eindhoven, The Netherlands
Department of Mathematics, University of Texas at Brownsville, Brownsville,
Texas 78520, USA
Philips Semiconductors, Gratkorn, Austria

Abstract. RFID-tags can be seen as a new generation of bar codes with
added functionality. They are becoming very popular tools for identi¬-
cation of products in various applications such as supply-chain manage-
ment. The widespread deployment of RFID technology will depend to a
large extent on its acceptance by the general public. Thus, developing
privacy and security technologies speci¬cally suited to the constrained
environment of RFID tags continues to be a key problem. In this paper,
we introduce several new mechanisms that are cheap to implement or
integrate into RFID tags and that at the same time enhance the security
of the tags and the privacy of the individual carrying the tags. These new
mechanisms are based on physical principles alone or on their combina-
tion with cryptographic methods. We also review previous works that
use physical principles to provide security and privacy in RFID systems.

Key Words. RFID, privacy, cheap security solutions, sensors, physics
and cryptography

1 Introduction

It is envisioned that in the near future RFID tags will be as ubiquitous as
bar codes are today and, in fact, even more pervasive as they are expected to
be embedded in every object from clothes to posters, from microwaves to food
packages, from the smallest to the largest, thus enabling the so-called Internet of
Things. The pervasiveness of RFID tags, their ability to carry more information
than bar codes, their expected low cost (below 10 US dollar cents), and their
lack of need for line of sight communication also pose interesting challenges to
Work performed while at Philips Research Laboratories, The Netherlands
those interested in their widespread adoption. Such challenges include both pri-
vacy and security concerns. On the privacy front, we can identify concerns on the
part of consumers who will be carrying tagged objects. In particular, the wireless
communication capabilities of RFID tags and their simple functionality (when
queried they simply reply with their unique identi¬er) could make it easier to
track people based on tag identi¬ers as well as to ¬nd out consumer preferences
clandestinely. Similarly, companies and government organizations will also be
more vulnerable to espionage as it will be much easier to gather information on
the competition or the enemy and much harder to detect such spying activities.
We refer the reader to the surveys of Juels et al. [24, 21] for a comprehensive
survey of privacy issues in RFID. On the security front, we have the authenti-
cation problem. In other words, how a legitimate party can assess whether an
RFID tag embedded in an object (and thus the object itself) is authentic or not.
The ability to authenticate legitimate tags has direct implications on industry™s
ability to decrease the counterfeit market, which in 2004 was expected to surpass
the 500 billion USD per year mark [18, 46]. Thus, it is clear that solutions for
authentication and privacy in RFID systems need to be developed. In fact, as
we will see, both the academic and business communities have dedicated a lot
of e¬ort to these problems.
Based on the solutions that are known today, we propose to divide security
and privacy solutions for RFID into two groups4 : algorithmic solutions and so-
lutions that either combine cryptography and physical principles, or that simply
take advantage of a physical process. By algorithmic solutions, we mean those
solutions based on traditional cryptographic mechanisms (e.g. public-key and
symmetric-key primitives) or mechanisms which have been developed explicitly
for the RFID environment but which make use of some type of cryptographic
primitive (even if the primitive in question is not a standardized one, such as
the AES[34]). Examples of RFID security solutions based on algorithmic meth-
ods include: basic access control through passwords as speci¬ed in standards [2,
12], minimalistic cryptography [20] and lightweight protocols [27, 37], solutions
based on symmetric-key cryptography (e.g. [13, 11]), hash functions (e.g. [49]),
and elliptic curve based solutions [47, 5, 31, 43]. However, at the present moment,
solutions based on traditional public-key cryptography, symmetric-key cryptog-
raphy, and hash functions are out of the question for the cheapest of RFID tags.
Notice that the “low cost” requirement is an economics requirement. On the one
hand, RFID tags are envisioned as more powerful substitutes for bar codes. On
the other hand, if they are to be widely deployed (as bar codes are) then they
also need to be in the same price range as a bar code, which only requires ink
to be printed on a given item and thus, has cost close to zero.
In the search for cheaper solutions, researchers have turned away from al-
gorithmic approaches. Thus, ideas have been developed such as the kill com-

Clearly, it is possible to come up with many di¬erent classi¬cations depending on
the aim of the study. For example, see [3] for a classi¬cation according to the way
the reader participates in the authentication protocol.

mand5 , the blocker tag [25, 22] and similar blocking/proxy mechanisms [16, 40].
More engineering oriented approaches have also been introduced such as the
IBM clipped tags [28] or distance bounding protocols [33]. Finally, we have be-
gun to see the development of techniques that take advantage of noise in the
communication channel between reader and tag to camou¬‚age their commu-
nication [8, 9]. We will refer to such approaches as algsics methods6 . In other
words, approaches that combine the physical properties of RFID tags (or their
environment) with traditional cryptographic primitives or that simply make use
of physics to enhance the privacy friendliness and security of tags.
In this paper, we propose several additional mechanisms to enhance privacy
and security of RFID tags. Some of our proposals combine environmental infor-
mation to disable or enable the RFID tag. Although the combination of sensors
with RFID tags is not new [38, 36], the realization that such environmental infor-
mation can be used to enhance privacy is. A second possibility that we explore
is the use of delays in revealing a secret key used to later establish a secure
communication channel. We would like to point out that we do not claim that
all the solutions presented in this paper will constitute stand-alone solutions to
the privacy (or security) problems in RFID. Rather, we believe that these solu-
tions will enhance other security and privacy solutions. It is possible that such
methodology will in the end be the way towards securing RFID.
The remainder of this contribution is organized as follows. In Sect. 2, we
introduce solutions which make use of sensor information to enhance consumer
privacy. Section 3 describes a new RFID proxy mechanism that we call a sticky
tag. Sticky tags allow the implementation of the kill command without its dis-
advantages by resurrecting the tag wherever and whenever the user considers
it safe to do so. In Sect. 4, we explain how we can use time delays in the mes-
sages exchanged between the tag and the reader to enhance security. Section 5
summarizes related work proposing algsics solutions. Finally, we end with some
conclusions in Sect. 6.

2 Physics at the Service of Privacy
In this section, we describe two solutions that enhance the privacy of users car-
rying objects with embedded RFID tags. They assume the integration of sensors
in the RFID tag functionality. Two questions7 may arise: whether this is possi-
ble at all and if this can be done in a battery-free manner. These two questions
Although not application friendly, the kill command is a rather e¬ective mechanism
to safeguard the privacy of individuals.
The ¬rst three letters of algorithmic and the last four of physics.
A third question (how much would such sensor-RFID cost?) will dictate whether such
a solution will experience widespread adoption or not. To be successfully adopted at
the item level, we require a price in the range of $0.05 per tag [48], otherwise only
targeted applications will be able to bene¬t from this technology. The experience of
[38] seems to indicate that today it is possible to build RFID tags including sensor
functionality under a $1 but far from the $0.05 mark. Thus, time will only tell
whether sensor-RFID will be able to be embedded into everyday objects or not.

can be positively answered as [38, 30, 36] provide evidence of the feasibility of
this approach. In what follows, we describe two scenarios which take advantage
of embedded sensor functionality in an RFID tag to make the technology more
privacy friendly.

2.1 Tag Privacy Protection Via Moisture Dependent Contact
It is envisioned that RFID tags will be embedded in clothing to support activities
such as supply chain and retailer product management. In addition, such tags
could also support other applications such as smart washing machines. Smart
washing machines could be equipped with an RFID reader, which allows the ma-
chine to access clothing information. Therefore, the machine could autonomously
select a washing program based on that information as well as it could advise
the user to remove an item which needs a di¬erent washing program. However,
including RFID tags in clothing raises privacy concerns to those that wear such
garments (see for example [1]). To enhance the privacy of users in this situation,
a modi¬ed tag is proposed. The tag operates normally prior to sale. At the point
of sale, the tag is disabled, e.g. by burning a ROM component or wire, which
can be done by applying a large amount of power to the tag at the point of sale
reader/terminal. Notice that we do not completely kill the tag but rather disable
its RF interface. Once in the disabled state, the tag can still function but only if
enough conducting moisture is present. This can be done by means of a switch
(put in a strategic location such as the tag™s antenna) that can only make electric
contact if conducting liquid is present. Therefore, the tag is e¬ectively disabled
in the street (as long as it stays dry) and can be ¬nally re-enabled when the
washing machine pumps water onto the clothes. One may worry that tag read-
out is hampered by large volumes of water absorbing RF radiation. However,
studies have shown that this is not a problem. In particular, it is well known that
at low frequencies (in the 10 to 20 MHz range) water is transparent to an RF
signal [29, pages 2-6“2-7 ]. At higher frequencies, the attenuation is signi¬cant
and it is highly frequency dependent. For example, the study in [10] shows that
the attenuation of the signal travelling a distance of 6 cm varies between 7 dB
and 23.5 dB for frequencies between 100 MHz and 950 MHz. Notice, however,
that there are starting to appear solutions which can perform well in the pres-
ence of water and metals at high frequencies as shown in [35]. Finally, for the
particular case of an RFID-tag operating in the 13.56 MHz band, a weakening of
the signal by 10 dB is deemed acceptable. It can be shown experimentally that
at frequencies around 10 MHz the RF signal penetrates 25 cm into salty liquid,
which is more than su¬cient for the washing machine example.

2.2 Tag Privacy Protection Via Light Controlled Tag Activation
In this section, we describe the idea of controlling access to the powering circuit
of the RFID tag via a fully integrated light-sensitive diode which can detect the
presence of a laser-beam, e.g., from a laser pointer. This allows for the presence
of a secure light-controlled ON/OFF switch on the tag. When the tag is powered

by a reader and a laser-beam is pointed at the light-sensor, a digital ON code
is written in the RFID™s non-volatile memory. This ON code can, by means of
an active switch (e.g., a MOS-transistor), be used to enable the power-supply
voltage to parts of the RFID-chip, or enable other circuits to the rest of the chip,
in such a way that the chip becomes fully functional. Even when the tag is taken
out of the reader ¬eld, this ON state remains stored in memory. The tag can also
be set in its OFF mode under similar conditions. When the tag is powered by
a reader and a laser beam is pointed again to the light-sensor, then an OFF bit
will be written in non-volatile memory and the power-supply voltage is disabled
from the rest of the tag. In that case, the tag is not functional anymore until it is
switched ON again by means of the laser beam. As with the moisture dependent
switch, a consumer carrying items with such a modi¬ed RFID tag could disable
the tag at the point of sale terminal and re-enable it again once he/she is in a safe
environment, e.g., home. Thus, future ambient intelligent applications would still
be supported and the user™s privacy not a¬ected. Clearly, a potential attacker,
intending to track someone via the RFID tags that his victim is carrying, would
be required to point a light source at each consumer tag that needs to be enabled
without this activity being detected by the victim.
Even though such a switch provides the desired functionality of access control
to the tag, it su¬ers from the drawback that a laser beam needs to be pointed
to the tag. Thus, this could be considered as undermining one of RFID™s main
advantages: no line of sight communication. As an alternative, it is also possible
to make an RFID tag that will only function if enough environmental light is
present. In this case, the user can protect his tags from being read out by an
unauthorized party simply by covering the tag such that no light can reach
its photo detector or by keeping the tags in the dark. Notice that in many
situations, this would not be an unnatural thing to assume (just think of a
grocery bag). Alternatively, an RFID tag could be part of a label that can be
closed or opened (covered/uncovered) such that light to the tag is blocked or
passed, respectively. This way the user is in control of the readout of his tags
and can choose when and where her tags may be read. No special reader is
required for reading out the RFID tag. The silicon-area required for the light-
sensitive diode, including control circuits, can be very small [39]. This results in a
cheap protection method that can be, if necessary, combined with other existing
privacy enhancing technologies. As a ¬nal remark notice that the idea of a light
switch is similar in ¬‚avor to that of a Faraday cage enclosing a passport that only
allows reading of the passport™s contents when the metallic cover surrounding
the passport is physically opened [23].

3 Sticky Tags and Privacy

Current privacy preserving solutions for RFID are such that they either add cost
to the tag by including additional hardware to perform cryptographic functions
(such as the computation of a hash function or an encryption of a message with a
symmetric or public-key algorithm, e.g. [49, 13, 4]) or require the modi¬cation of

current tag speci¬cations to perform additional operations. On the other hand,
the most widely available (standardized) solution for privacy concerns is the kill
command that permanently disables the tag. This solves the privacy problem but
it gives up the advantages that RFID tags could provide in other environments.
Thus, the idea proposed in this section should be seen as middle ground between
the two extremes of rendering tags completely useless with the kill command
or having additional costs added to current RFID tags. In a way, it can be seen
as yet another instantiation (yet with di¬erent properties and characteristics) of
a privacy sentinel [44] or watchdog tag [16].
The basic idea is to allow the kill command to completely disable the RF
functionality of the RFID tag but to allow access to the information in the tag
via a second interface, which requires proximity to the tag. This second interface
could take di¬erent forms:
“ The simplest instantiation of the second interface would be a contact-based
interface. In this case, proximity means “as close as it is physically possible,”
i.e. touching the disabled tag. We emphasize that adding a contact interface
to an RFID tag is not new. However, to the authors™ knowledge the idea that
a second interface can be used in combination with a second (more powerful)
tag to “resurrect” the functionality of the killed tag and guarantee privacy
(and security) for the user is novel.
“ A second possibility is a modi¬ed antenna system which upon receiving the
kill command changes its con¬guration. For example, the read-range could
be limited by the kill command to 1 mm. By a modi¬ed antenna system,
we mean both an antenna which changes its range (for example, via clipped
tags as in [28]) or simply a system consisting of two antennas. The ¬rst
antenna has a normal range and it gets disabled upon the tag receiving the
kill command whereas the second antenna has a very short range and it is
not a¬ected by the kill command.
The second interface can then be used by another device, presumably a more
powerful RFID tag both in terms of computational power and security, to access
the data in the original RFID tag and communicate in a secure manner with
RFID readers. We will refer to this device in what follows as a sticky tag to
illustrate the fact that we expect such devices to be implemented as a sticky label
that adheres to objects whose original RFID tags have been killed. “Sticking” our
new more powerful tag on the less powerful tag has the e¬ect of “resurrecting”
the tag. Now the user is able to take advantage of the information stored in the
killed tag just as if the tag in the object had never been killed. This has the
added advantage that the identi¬er is now transmitted to the readers in a secure
manner (if the sticky tag is equipped with cryptographic functionality) or in a
more secure environment, since it is the user that decides where and when to
resurrect the killed tag. The sticky tag is also envisioned to be re-usable, i.e.,
users could have a bag of such sticky tags and attach them to objects whose
RFID tags have been killed. Once the object™s usable life has expired, the user
could simply detach the tag and store it for future use after discarding the
object. The manufacturer who would also like to check an object™s information

once the object is in the recycling phase, could similarly resurrect the originally
embedded RFID tag by using a sticky tag as well. Figure 1 depicts an illustration
of the system. In particular, a standard reader powers up both antennas, the
sticky tag™s antenna and the original RFID tag™s antenna. Since the RFID tag™s
antenna has been disabled, only if the sticky tag is present will the reader obtain a
response from the RFID tag. Notice that the sticky tag acts as a bridge between
the disabled RFID tag and the RFID reader. As such, the sticky tag, when
queried, forwards the information residing in the original RFID tag to the reader.
Also the sticky tag does not need to have an identi¬er (e.g. EPC) of its own.

Secondary contact-
based Interface
Enabled RF

Sticky tag

Sticky tag resurrects
killed tag and reads
its contents through
Reader contact-based interface

RFID tag

Disabled RF
Secondary contact-
based Interface

Fig. 1. Sticky tag in the presence of a reader with a secondary contact-based interface

In addition, the sticky tags do not necessarily have to be more powerful
devices. A sticky tag, could simply be a much cheaper device without memory
or functionality other than reviving the killed RF interface of the original tag.
This instantiation would have the advantage of extremely low cost. Finally, an
added advantage of sticky tags is that they could be used to resurrect RFID tags
with a defective RF interface.

4 Time-Released Secrets and RFID

The solution that we present in this section tries to hinder the ability of a
reader randomly placed in the street to read or identify a tag when a person
passes by. The basic idea consists in implementing an actual physical time delay
functionality in the RFID tag. This time delay forces the reading of sensible
data to require more time when the tag is in an unprotected environment than
when it is in a protected setting. Notice that in this case, the tag itself acts
as the agent that releases the secret at a given time in the future. The user or
user™s devices (e.g. smart home appliances) are the party requesting access to
the secret-key information. The unprotected environment may be, for instance,
the users path from shop to home. In this case, the chances that an unauthorized
reader is able to obtain any information from the tag are decreased thanks to
the time delay between a reader requesting information (powering up the tag)

and the time when the tag actually responds. On the other hand, when the tag
is in a protected environment, e.g. the shop or the users home, the tag responds
without delay, thus not hindering trusted applications. Notice that the delay can
be used to send the tag identi¬cation number (e.g. an EP C number), product
information stored on the tag, or a key used to encrypt the previously mentioned
data. One can think of many di¬erent con¬gurations for the delay. For example,
the delay could occur before any actual data is transmitted from the tag to the
reader (after which the message would be transmitted normally) or there could
be a permanent delay introduced between the bits (bytes, or any other part) of
a message being transmitted. In the latter case, a one-time switch can be used
to permanently change a fast-readable tag into a slow-readable tag. In what
follows, we describe a particular implementation of the above idea.
An RFID built to support these delays could contain three areas of ROM.
The ¬rst area stores the EP C and product information P I in Erasable ROM (E-
ROM), which is fast-readable. The second area stores the symmetric encryption
of the EP C and the P I, EncK (EP C||P I), which is also fast-readable, while the
third area stores the encryption key K, which is slowly-readable. Before purchase,
the shop can quickly read the EP C and the P I from the E-ROM. When the
product is sold, this fast reading path is destroyed or blocked, e.g. by erasing the
E-ROM. Thus in an unprotected environment only the value EncK (EP C||P I)
can be read fast by any reader. Notice that this could potentially allow the
tracking of the tag via the persistent identi¬er, EncK (EP C||P I), but it does
not reveal anything about the EP C or the P I, themselves. Finally, in the users
home, a trusted device can slowly read the key K, quickly read the encrypted
value EncK (EP C||P I), and store the pairs (EncK (EP C||P I), K) in a product
database. When product information is needed, the home devices can use the
quickly sent value EncK (EP C||P I) as an identi¬er to search the database for the
key K which can in turn be used to decrypt EncK (EP C||P I) to give the EP C
and the P I. A variation of the above scheme that does not require a switch is
shown in Fig. 2. The advantage here is that the EP C||P I value is never sent in
the clear (even in the shop). In addition, there is no need for erasing or destroying
the fast-reading path as in the previous system. Notice that in this scheme, the
shop is always able to decrypt the encrypted value EncK (EP C||P I) since the
key K does not change. This allows allows the shop to be able to track whether
the user entered their premises with an item for which they know the key (and
associated product information).
The tags™ tracking problem can be solved if the tags are assumed to have
more capabilities, namely, a random number generator and the capability to
evaluate hash values. The solution is as described above, except that the value
EncK (EP C, P I) is sent by the tag only after a challenge-response protocol en-
sures the tag that the reader knows the key K. This protocol is depicted in Fig. 3.
Following the protocol of Fig. 3, we guarantee that only a reader that has time to
slowly read the key K (less likely for an attacker) is able to correctly respond to
the challenge and learn the value EncK (EP C, P I). Notice that in any version of
the protocol, an attacker is successful if he is able to keep the attacked tags in its

1. Common Input: Dashed arrows indicate delayed transmission of value.
2. Tag Input: The tag has stored in memory EncKShop (K) and
EncK (EP C||P I) as well as the tag™s secret key K.
3. Honest Reader Input: An honest shop reader knows the secret key
4. Protocol in the shop:

Tag Reader
K ignored
EncKShop (K)- Dec
KShop (EncKShop (K))
EncK (EP C||P I) Dec (Enc (EP C||P I))
5. Protocol in safe environment:
Tag Reader
K -
EncKShop (K)- ignored
EncK (EP C||P I) Dec (Enc (EP C||P I))

Fig. 2. Delayed tag identi¬cation without physical switch

1. Common Input: Ability to compute hash functions. Dashed arrows in-
dicate delayed transmission of value. The tag has the ability to generate
cryptographically strong random numbers.
2. Tag Input: The tag™s secret key K.
3. Protocol: The protocol involves the exchange of the following messages:

Tag Reader
K -
c ∈R {0, 1} —
r r ← Hash(K||c)

If r = Hash(K||c) stop
EncK (EP C||P I)
Otherwise -

Fig. 3. Delayed tag identi¬cation with reader authentication

reader ¬eld long enough to obtain the secret key K. Adding the reader authen-
tication step to the protocol comes at the added cost of requiring hardware to
compute hashes, which tends to be expensive as shown in [14]. However, similar
authentication protocols are possible involving a symmetric-key primitive such
as the AES, which occupy less than half of the area required by a hash function
[13]. Finally, another simple variant would have the tag send the EP C and/or
the P I at normal speed at the shop and with a delay after the product is sold.

Remark 1. The idea of using a delay to enhance security is not new in cryptogra-
phy. In particular, [32] (see also [42]), timed-release cryptography is introduced
as a new primitive. The question that [32] asks is how someone can send an en-
crypted message into the future. The solution of [32] relies on escrow agents that
know shares of the message or the encryption key via a secret-sharing scheme
and agree to release the message (or the encryption key) some year(s) into the
future. The solution that we present here can be seen as a timed-release system
in a di¬erent time scale and with di¬erent granularity as the systems presented
in [32, 42].

5 Related Work

In the past couple of years, we have seen the appearance of algsics methodologies
in order to enhance the security and privacy friendliness of RFID tags. In this
section, we survey these techniques. The algsics methods found in the literature
can be divided as follows according to the ideas in which they are based:

Privacy sentinel and blocker tags. The concept of the privacy sentinel8 was
originally introduced in [16] while the blocker tag was originally introduced in
[25] and its variants in [22]. Similar approaches have also been introduced in [40,
26, 45]. The idea is to provide users with a more powerful trusted device (the
privacy sentinel device) that takes care of their privacy, manages their privacy
preferences and could, for example, be integrated into a user™s cell phone. The
watchdog tag™s (as it is called in [16]) main purpose is to manage the communi-
cation between the reader and the tags that the user is carrying. In addition, the
watchdog tag could show warnings to the user, prompt him for authorization,
and log all data transfers. Reference [40] extends the watchdog tag concept to
include key management, authentication operations, and tag simulation (i.e. the
privacy sentinel is able to mimic the operations of the less powerful tags that is
managing). Juels et al. [26] consider the problems of tag relabeling, acquisition
and ownership transfer. A somewhat di¬erent but related approach is the idea
of the blocker tag [25] which protects tags from unauthorized reading by inter-
fering with the normal singulation protocol used to identify tags by a reader.
Singulation is based on a binary tree algorithm. At each step in the algorithm
the reader requests all those tags with their next bit in their identi¬er equal to
one (for the sake of argument) to reply and all those with a zero to stay quite.
Eventually, the reader requests all bits and is also able to singulate the desired
tag. The blocker tag interferes with this algorithm by always responding with all
identi¬ers e¬ectively simulating all tags or those tags designated within a given
range of identi¬ers. The blocker tag is expected to be cheap and be of the same
This terminology was introduced by Sarma in [44]. In what follows, we will use the
term privacy sentinel and watchdog tag interchangeable. Notice that although the
particular implementations might di¬er in speci¬c features, the basic idea is the
same: a proxy device that manages the communication of the RFID tag with the
external world.

type as a regular RFID tag.
Channel disturbances. Recently, [9, 8] have taken advantage of the noise
present (or arti¬cially generated) in the communication channel between reader
and tag to enhance the security of their communication. Chabanne and Fumaroli
[9] take advantage of the noise in the channel to allow readers and tags to share
a secret without a passive adversary being able to learn it. Both the readers and
tags perform a protocol where information reconciliation and privacy ampli¬ca-
tion through the use of universal hash functions takes place. The scheme in [8] is
somewhat di¬erent. It assumes the existence of noisy tags owned by the system
which inject noise into the tag-reader communication channel. The noisy tags
also share a secret key with the reader, which is used to pseudo-randomly gener-
ate noise. Whenever the tag sends its secret key to the reader, an eavesdropper
will see a signal that is the sum of the signal corresponding to the tag™s secret
key and the noise injected by the noisy tags. On the other hand, the reader is
able to replicate the noise generated by the noisy tags and it is able to subtract
the noise signal from the received signal, thus recovering the tag™s secret key.
Distance bounding protocols. As noticed in [15] in the context of RFID
protocols9 proximity implies trust. Thus, there has been some work towards
developing distance-bounding protocols suited to the RFID environment. Refer-
ence [15] ¬nds that looking at the signal noise (in particular to the Fano factor,
which is used to approximate signal noise) and to the actual signal strength re-
ceived by an RFID tag correlates fairly well to the tag distance from the reader.
They can use this correlation to decide whether the energy received from the
reader antenna can be considered to be in the far ¬eld or in the near ¬eld. Then,
based on this decision, the RFID tag could have a policy of responding to the
interrogating reader or not. This distance bounding protocol is combined in [15]
with the idea of tiered revelation and authentication in which the tag reveals
more and more information according to the level of authentication used by the
reader. Reference [15] also noticed that the tiered level can also be associated
with the amount of energy emitted by the reader. Thus, for example, a reader
that requests more information will also be required to power the tag for a longer
period of time while using a longer key size. The work in [17] proposes a new dis-
tance bounding protocol based on ultra-wideband pulse communication where
the veri¬er is the reader and the prover the RFID tag, thus, it considers the
reverse problem, i.e., the reader wants to verify that it is talking to an honest
tag. The protocol makes use of a keyed hash function or symmetric-key primi-
tive to generate a sequence of pseudo-random bits which upon a challenge from
the veri¬er are returned by the prover. Only an honest prover can generate the
correct sequence as he also knows the secret key used to generate the sequence.
Changing-tag systems. By changing-tag systems, we mean systems in which
the tag or tags change physically. Examples are the works presented in [19, 28] as
well as [6]. The work in [19] is interesting in that they suggest to physically split

Cryptographically secure distance bounding protocols date back to 1993 as intro-
duced in [7], however, [15] seems to be the ¬rst to suggest a protocol speci¬cally
suited to the RFID setting.

the IDs of RFID tags. In particular, their approach envisions splitting global
RFID tag identi¬ers into a class ID (related to the class of objects) and a pure
ID (which identi¬es the speci¬c object, lot number, serial number, etc.). The
idea is then for the user to be able to physically remove the class ID from the
object and at a later stage attach a second tag with a di¬erent global ID, which
might be unique in the user environment but not globally. The authors in [19]
also notice that the same e¬ect (changing IDs) can be achieved by using re-
writable memory in an RFID tag. Reference [6] considers systems in which an
object is associated with multiple RFID tags. Then, cha¬ng and winnowing in
the sense of [41] can be used to disguise the true identity of the object10 . In
[28], the authors propose to physically disconnect the antenna and the chip in
an RFID tag. In addition to allowing for visual con¬rmation (on the part of the
consumer) that the tag communication capabilities have been disabled, it allows
for this functionality to be “pasted” back on if the user desires to resurrect the
RFID tag functionality once he/she is in a safe environment.
Tag switches. The work in [50] explores the idea of physically deactivating a
tag via a physical bit-dependent switch. If the bit is set to one, the RFID tag
answers as usual to a reader query whereas if the bit is set to zero, then the tag
is deactivated until the user activates it again. The idea is based on the assump-
tion that only someone with physical access (or close proximity) to the tag can
activate it again. Thus, consumer privacy is safeguarded and at the same time,
tag functionality is preserved for privacy-friendly environments. The author de-
scribes three possible implementations of the physically changeable bit (PCB).
The ¬rst implementation consists in physically (dis)connecting the antenna from
the chip, much in the same way as the clipped tags in [28]. Other methods in-
clude: including electrically erasable ROM memory in the tag, writing or erasing
the PCB depending on user wishes, and using “magnetic bits” in the tags to
represent (and set or unset) the PCB bits.

6 Concluding Remarks
In this paper, we have discussed and introduce solutions which show how the
physics present in RFID systems can be leveraged to enhance security and pri-
vacy solutions at a low cost. We believe that this approach is promising in the
sense that the cheapest RFID tags are constrained devices which will not allow
(due to pricing requirements) the implementation of expensive cryptographic
primitives. Thus, alternative methods to provide security need to be developed.
We point out, as it has been done also in previous works, that the security guar-
antees provided by algsics methods are not the same as those provided by crypto
protocols using sophisticated primitives (for example, most algsics solutions pro-
vide security in a weak model against passive adversaries). However, it is also
true that in many cases such guarantees might be enough. For example, it might
not be feasible to implement an active attack without easily being discovered.
Reference [48] is the ¬rst to notice that cha¬ng and winnowing can be used in the
RFID context but it assumes that the readers will be the ones generating the cha¬.

Finally, the future might show that algsics solutions turn out to be e¬ective ad-
ditional countermeasures against attacks. In other words, when combined with
other more sophisticated methods, the overall security (or privacy) guarantees
of the system are enhanced.


Thanks to the anonymous referees for comments that help improved the contents
and presentation of the paper. We also would like to thank Tim Kerins and
Klaus Kursawe for their comments on a preliminary version of the paper. The
observation that the protocol in Fig. 2 could pose a privacy problem to the user
since the shop is always able to obtain the EP C and P I of the tag is also due
to Klaus.


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