[Part 1 offers an overview of RFID radio basics, security in general and RFID architecture. Part 2 looks at RFID tag data, how some of the more popular protocols communicate data to the reader, and physical formats. Part 3 examines how security is implemented in RFID, and the possible attacks that can occur on RFID systems and applications.]
24.9 Management of RFID Security
While sitting at your desk one morning, your boss walks in and announces that the company is switching to a new Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) setup for tracking products, which will add new equipment to the network and make it more secure. Your boss expects you to evaluate the new RFID equipment and devise an appropriate security plan.
The first thing you need to do is determine your security needs. You may be a position to influence the evaluations and purchasing of RFID applications and equipment; however, more than likely, you will be given a fixed set of parameters for applications and equipment.
In either case, the first thing you need to do is assess the vulnerabilities of the proposed RFID system. After you have assessed the RFID system it in detail, you can devise plans on how to manage system security.
24.9.1 Risk and Vulnerability Assessment
The assessment of risks and vulnerabilities go hand in hand. You have to make sure the obvious things are covered.
To begin evaluating your system, you need to ask questions regarding the assessment and tolerance of the risks: what types of information are you talking about at any given point in the system and what form is it in? How much of that information can potentially be lost? Will it be lost through the radio portion of the system, someplace in the middleware, or at the backend? Once these risks are evaluated, you can begin to plan how to secure it.
A good way to evaluate the risk is to ask the newspaper reporter's five classic investigative questions: "who?," "what?," "when?," "where?," and "how?"
- Who is going to conduct the attack or benefit from it? Will it be a competitor or an unknown group of criminals?
- What do they hope to gain from the attack? Are they trying to steal a competitor's trade secret? If it is a criminal enterprise, are they seeking customers' credit card numbers?
- When will the attack happen? When a business is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, it is easy to forget that attacks can occur when you are not there. If a business is not open 24 hours per day, some of the infrastructure (e.g., readers) may still be on during off-business hours and vulnerable to attack.
- Where will it take place? Will the attack occur at your company's headquarters or at an outlying satellite operation? Is the communications link provided by a third party vulnerable?
- How will they attack? If they attack the readers via an RF vulnerability, you need to limit how far the RF waves travel from the reader. If the attacker is going after a known vulnerability in the encryption used in the tag reader communications, you have to change the encryption type, and, therefore, also change all of the tags.
Asking these questions can help you focus and determine the risks of protecting your system and data.
The US military uses the phrase "hardening the target," which means designing a potential target such as a command bunker or missile silo to take hits from the enemy. The concept of hardening a target against an attack in the Information Technology (IT) sector is also valid, and further translates into the RFID area.
Basically, hardening the target means considering the types of specific attacks that can be brought against specific targets. When securing RFID systems, specific targets have specific attacks thrown at them.
Consider the following scenario. A warehouse has a palette tracking system where an RFID reader is mounted on a gantry over a conveyor belt. As pallets pass down the conveyor belt, they pass through the gantry, the reader's antennas activate the tags on each pallet, the tags are read, and the reader passes the information to the backend database.
In this situation, if you are concerned about potential attackers gleaning information from the radio waves emitted by the RFID reader station and the tags, you should harden it by limiting the RF waves from traveling beyond the immediate area of the reader. The easiest way is to lower the transmit power of the reader to the absolute minimum for triggering the tags.
If that solution does not work or is not available, other options may include changing the position or orientation of the reader's antennas on the gantry, or constructing a Faraday cage around the reader. (A Faraday cage is an enclosure designed to prevent RF signals from entering or exiting an area, usually made from brass screen or some other fine metallic mesh.)
Consider whether other issues with the tags might cause problems. Is there a repetition level for information hard coded into the tags? If you are using the codes for proximity entry control combined with a traditional key (e.g., in the Texas Instruments DST used with Ford car keys), a repeat of the serial numbers every 10,000 keys may be an acceptable risk. However, if it is being used as a pallet counting system, where 2000 pallets are processed daily, the same numbers will be repeated weekly, which may pose the risk of placing a rogue tag into a counting system. In this case, repeating a serial number every 10,000 times is probably not acceptable for that business model.
If you are concerned about attacks among the middleware and information being intercepted by an attacker, make sure that the reader's electronics or communications lines are not open to those who should not have access to them. In this case, hardening the target may be as simple as placing equipment (e.g., Ethernet switches) in locked communications closets, or performing a source code software review to ensure that an overloading buffer does not crash the reader.
Finally, hardening the target for the backend means preventing an attack on the database. In this regard, the security of a new RFID system should not cause anything new to a security professional, with the possible exception of a new attack vector in the form of a new communications channel.
A new channel may provide a challenge for securing previously unused Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) ports in the backend, by reexamining the database for the possibility of Structured Query Language (SQL) injection attacks. However, nothing at the backend is new to seasoned security professionals; therefore, standard risk evaluation practices for backend systems should prevail.
NOTES FROM THE UNDERGROUND...
Defaults Settings: Change Them!
Default passwords and other default security settings should be changed as soon as possible. This bears repeating, because many people do not make the effort to change their defaults.
You may think that your Acme Super RFID Reader 3000 is protected simply because no one else owns one; however, default settings are usually well known by the time new equipment is placed on the market. Most manufacturers place manuals on their Web sites in the form of either Web pages or Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) files. Other Web sites contain pages full of default settings, ranging from unofficial tech support sites to sites frequented by criminals intent on cracking other people's security.
To learn how much of this information is available, type the name and model of a given device into your favorite search engine, followed by the words "default" and "passwords."
When evaluating the risks and vulnerabilities, the bottom line is this: Once you have determined the point of an attack and how it happened, you can decide what options are available for mitigating the attack. When these options are identified, you can begin formulating the management and policies that will hopefully minimize your exposure to an attack.