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RFID: Radio Frequency Identification

RFID enables contactless authentication that is easy, secure and flexible.

What is RFID?

RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification. The technology enables contactless identification via alternating magnetic fields. The RFID readers/writers from ELATEC support both the low-frequency range (LF) at 125 or 134.2 kHz and the high-frequency range (HF) at 13.56 MHz. For RFID, you need an information carrier, called the transponder (card, tag or paper label), and a reader/writer (RFID reader). When the transponder is within the (near) field of a reader, they can communicate with each other.

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What are the benefits of RFID?

Compared to other identification methods such as barcodes or magnetic strips, RFID offers many advantages.

Rapid identification of moving objects.

Several information carriers (transponders) can be read simultaneously.

Secure technology with almost no possibility of remote spying.

Maximum security when used with contactless smartcards.

Easy to install and integrate.

No special optics or positioning needed for the transponder.

Passive transponders do not need a battery.

Transponders are compact and inexpensive.

What are the fields of application for RFID devices?

The potential uses for contactless authentication are virtually unlimited. RFID can significantly improve security and convenience in the following areas, among others:

Range

What range do RFID devices have?

The range depends on the RFID reader/writer, the transponder used and the ambient conditions. As a rule, it will be between 2 and 10 cm. In special applications, it can extend to 25 cm.

Software

Does ELATEC also supply software for RFID devices?

ELATEC offers the following software packages for its RFID readers/writers.

AppBlaster

Comprehensive tool for creating and managing customized configurations that can be conveniently uploaded to the RFID reader.

NFCDemo

An easy-to-use tool for sending NFC messages: e.g., from a TWN4 series RFID reader/writer to an NFC-compatible mobile phone (and vice versa).

AntennaTuner

A calculation tool that helps when dimensioning the antenna matching circuit for the TWN4 MultiTech Nano module.

Director

A program designed for professional users of TWN4 that allows individual API calls to be processed one by one.

Mobile Badge

An app for Android and iOS devices that enables NFC, HCE, and BLE functionalities.

„RS232“

What makes “RS232” special?

RS232 is also known as the “serial interface.“ It has largely disappeared from PCs, notebooks and other consumer devices and been replaced by USB. In many commercial applications, however – such as process and automation technology as well as embedded applications – RS232 is still used as a standard interface. Its simplicity means that devices can be started up quickly and easily.

ELATEC equips its RFID readers/writers with USB and a modified RS232 plug-in connector that allows direct feed-in of the supply voltage.

Transponder

What different types of RFID transponders are available?

RFID transponders (information carriers) can be exposed or mounted and installed inside other objects (bonded, bolted or molded). The most common forms are plastic cards (e.g., employee IDs, customer cards), tags (e.g., key fobs) or paper labels. When used in animal identification, transponders are also implanted under the skin.

Transponders vary in size according to their intended purpose. They can range from the size of a pinhead to a credit card.

A distinction is made between active and passive RFID transponders. Active transponders have their own energy source (battery), while passive transponders are supplied with energy through the electromagnetic field of the RFID reader.

Devices with/without an antenna

Why does ELATEC offer RFID devices with and without antennas?

The decision to use an RFID reader/writer with or without an antenna depends on the intended area of use. To ensure that you have every available option, ELATEC offers its RFID readers in both versions. RFID readers with antennas offer plug-and-play capability – you just set them up and they’re ready to go. Transponders can be read right out of the box. They are immediately ready for use and are especially suited for the following scenarios:

 

  • The reader is operated as a desktop device.
  • There are no special requirements for the designated space (no lack of space for the RFID device).
  • The authentication solution needs to be launched as soon as possible.

 

RFID reader/writer modules without antennas are much smaller in size. However, they require a motherboard to ensure energy supply and data communication. The antenna must be separately provid. The antenna can either be installed directly on the motherboard or connected with a cable from its detached position. This combination is suggested in the following instances:

 

  • There are special requirements for the designated space: e.g., lack of space resulting from the integration of the reader as a component in a different device.
  • The RFID reader must be individually adjusted or optimized for the transponder geometry.
  • There is metal in the vicinity of the reader antenna that might interfere with reception.
  • To enhance protection from eavesdropping/interception during data exchange: e.g., with encrypted communication between transponder and RFID reader. In this scenario, a detached antenna is located in a non-secure area. In contrast, the reading module in which decryption takes place is installed in a secure area that is inaccessible to attackers.
RFID devices with UHF

Does ELATEC offer RFID devices with UHF technology?

ELATEC currently offers RFID readers/writers for low frequency (LF) at 125 or 134.2 kHz and high frequency (HF) at 13.56 MHz.

Alongside LF and HF, UHF technology (ultra-high frequency) is another RFID frequency used around 860 or 950 MHz (depending on the region). However, the technical process involved in the RFID devices and transponders is completely different. While we are closely monitoring activities in the market, we do not currently have a reader for the UHF range in our portfolio.

You have questions. We have answers.

How does mutual authentication with Secure Access Modules (SAM) and RFID media work?

A Secure Access Module is a type of smart card that follows a contact-based communication standard to interact with an RFID card reader. These modules ensure the safety of security keys and facilitate cryptographic operations. Typically, SAMs are used to generate application keys based on a specific master key or to generate session keys. They also enable secure messaging between the RFID media, the reader and the host system.

Many contactless credentials hold memory segments/applications that are encrypted with cryptographic keys. These keys are often stored in SAMs and supplied to card reader manufacturers. This not only ensures the security of the keys but adds a step in the authentication process. The card reader in this case should first perform authentication operations with the SAM and then carry out a series of cryptographic and bit manipulation operations between the contactless card and the SAM. This can be further secured by adding a key diversification step. The card reader must be able to support such a scenario both in the hardware as well as in the software. Many end-users require the card reader to natively support such a scenario and have high-level APIs to help in their implementation. In addition to this, high security applications demand transfer of data in an encrypted format. One can ensure end-to-end encryption/security with the help of SAMs. In such an architecture, the reader facilitates mutual authentication with the RFID media and the SAM, thus transferring protected data over a radio link and also ensuring the safety of encryption keys. The reader can also transfer data encrypted by the SAM to the host system, maintaining a high level of security across the system. ELATEC TWN4 RFID readers support mutual authentication with SAMs.

Note: The safety of distributing SAMs, as well as administering the installation process within the reader, should be treated as a separate issue and tackled accordingly. There is also an issue of the readers being stolen or the SAM modules being dismounted from the reader. The security considerations here do not delve into these topics; appropriate physical security precautions must be put in place to improve the overall security of the system.

How secure is the Wiegand communication interface for RFID, and are there more secure alternatives?

The Wiegand card, as well as the Wiegand interface for data transmission, is a 40-year-old technology that originates from the Wiegand effect discovered by John R. Wiegand in the early 1970s. While the Wiegand cards are still in production for RFID applications, they have been largely replaced by newer and cheaper forms of RFID access cards. However, these cards are still based on the Wiegand data format that is susceptible to interception, as the data are available in plain text. Also, the Wiegand interface introduced in the 1980s remains prevalent across both the logical access and the physical access control industries despite various security vulnerabilities. This technology no longer conforms to the current security standards. It is therefore important for integrators to choose a communication interface that can offer higher security from interception and support encrypted data exchange. ELATEC readers support modern, secure communication interfaces such as RS485 and RS232 to enable encrypted data exchange and minimize data interception risks.

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