RFID hacking or skimming occurs when a hacker uses a device to rewrite or copy the information stored on a radio frequency identification (RFID) chip or tag. Cyber criminals might target RFID chips to steal credit card numbers, security badge credentials for building access, passport information, drivers licenses, and more.
Since many credit and debit cards now use RFID tags, the average consumer should be most concerned about having their card information stolen. While RFID hacking isn’t a common threat most people face, it is possible, and you should take steps to protect yourself against a potential attack.
How does RFID hacking work?
The only piece of equipment a hacker needs to hack an RFID chip is an RFID scanner. These are relatively inexpensive to make, and you can even purchase them from retailers like Amazon.
Depending on whether the target RFID tag is a passive or an active tag, a hacker may not need to come into close physical contact with the tag in order to perform the attack. Because they are battery-powered and transmit their signal over a greater distance, RFID active tags can pose greater security risks for would-be hacking attempts. Likewise, RFID passive tags could be safer since they rely on radio frequency (RF) readers for operating power and do not have a wide communication range.
How to protect yourself against RFID hacking
Since credit or debit card theft is the greatest threat to most people in terms of RFID hacking, the easiest step you can take to protect yourself against RFID hacking is to use an RFID-blocking wallet. You can make your own RFID-blocking wallet by inserting a strip of aluminum foil into your wallet, but this may not work as a long-term solution.
The best RFID-blocking wallets should be made as Faraday cages, which block or interrupt radio waves. This will guard you against potential hackers who might try to steal your credit card numbers by, for example, standing behind you in line at the supermarket. You can also buy RFID-blocking passport wallets to protect you while traveling.
Beyond investing in an RFID-blocking wallet, you should also take precautions when paying with a card. Criminals can easily install RFID readers on ATM machines and at gas pumps, so it might be safer to use a credit card in these situations.