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RFID Covers

Now that not only passports but some credit cards are "chipped", I'd like to revisit the one and only question I've ever asked on this helpline, in a slightly different form. Do you use RFID covers, and why or why not? I see conflicting information regarding the need to use these blockers on the internet, so I'm curious why, on a less scientific and more personal level to determine if I will change my ways. Please be nice.

Posted by
8645 posts

I have an RFID debit card in my wallet most of the time, I'm not really concerned about hackers "reading" the card. Just as if someone physically stole my wallet, I'm not not responsible for fraudulent charges...that's my bank's problem:) FWIW supposedly the PayPass chip the same encryption as chip & pin cards, and the chip has some sort of security feature whereby the chip "self-destructs" if it detects any sort of improper monitoring; of course nothing is fool-proof;)

Posted by
1974 posts

Hi Wray. I don't use these blockers, either on my travels or at home, because I think it's a long shot that someone will scan my credit cards. Also, you aren't liable for anything over $50 if someone gets hold of your cards or numbers. And a few years ago someone hacked into the computers at my college and had access to my personal information, along with thousands of other people's personal information, so my college offered to pay for a credit card monitoring service. My credit card activity has been monitored for years now.

Posted by
18759 posts

It is a solution looking for a problem that plays on fear that doesn't exist. The passport "chip" is only a coded number that is of no value even if someone could read it.

Posted by
29465 posts

Wray, To begin with, it's important to clarify the difference between "chip & PIN" cards and those that use RFID technology (such as Paypass cards). The RFID cards usually have a small "signal strength" logo on the front. The new "chip & PIN" cards require physical contact and must be insserted into a Reader, so there's no way these can be "read" by proximity readers. I've seen demonstrations where the "Paypass" cards were read by someone close to the person carrying the card (ie: in a shopping mall). That's a situation where a RFID-blocking wallet may be an advantage. Magellans has a good selection, if you want to have a look. Some "conspiracy theorists" have speculated that covert readers could be installed in shopping malls, airports, theatres and other locations, and essentially track the movement of individuals. I don't have enough information on hand to know if that's true, but it's a thought provoking theory. You may find it interesting to have a look at: This Video This Video There's another payment technology on the way called Near Field Communications, so I'm not sure at this point what the vulnerabilities will be with that? NFC will apparently be one of the features of the new iPhone 5, which will allow users to pay for purchases with the phone rather than carrying a credit/debit card. This will probably require an update of POS terminals to accept this technology, so will take awhile to be fully implemented. Cheers!

Posted by
1860 posts

Thank you all. This is quite interesting. It seems there are two branches of thought here. For those who consider the RFID a financial exposure issue only, it does not seem to matter as apparently the creditor will have to take the loss. If you consider the RFID as a loss to the right of privacy issue or even the limited case where you would not want to be identified for one's own safety, that might be a different issue. In the latter case, one might lean toward an RFID blocker. It's interesting that no one who acknowledges having an RFID blocker wallet has stepped forward, yet. It would seem more and more are coming onto the market so there must be people in the latter category. I hope to hear from that segment of that population as well to assist in figuring this out.

Posted by
9350 posts

I agree with Frank. There's nothing to figure out. Sellers of such wallets or covers are playing on peoples' fears about something that hasn't proven to be a problem anywhere.

Posted by
20686 posts

Passport biometrics and "chip and pin" have nothing to do with RFID. Agree - such products protect against nothing. Only ones gaining enjoyment from said products are the manufacturer and their selling minions.

Posted by
8645 posts

"...If you consider the RFID as a loss to the right of privacy issue or even the limited case where you would not want to be identified for one's own safety, that might be a different issue...." I doubt the RFID chip has ones name, address, or any other kind of personal info stored on it. Odds are just a reference number the networks/bank uses to find your account in the "system". Also the in regards to the link to the youtube video Ken provided that shows the guy driving around with the antenna/laptop, looking for RIFD chips....there's a big difference between detecting the presence of RFID chips (which is what the hacker was doing), and actually being able to seal any kind of data. It's like looking up the various Wifi hotspots in your neighborhood. About half of them will be password protected...of course just because you know they are there, it isn't the same as "breaking in". To put things in perspective when it comes to privacy, cell phones are a bigger threat. If you're walking around with your phone on standby, the wireless companies are constantly logging you exact GPS coordinates, with a warrant law enforcement can look up that data with a few clicks of the mouse.

Posted by
18759 posts

I get the feeling Wray is trying to generate a discussion on a non-issue for an unknown reason. There is a whole industry devote to solving the -- if it just saves one life -- problem. A recent travel article discussed the "passport fear." All the RFID contains in a passport is an encode 64 digit number which has almost no value or meaning yet the passport protectors are being sold -- just in case.

Posted by
1860 posts

No, I just wonder every once in a while whether I'm missing something. I do not have an RFID blocker, but I keep seeing them more and more, so I wanted to revisit it. Someone must be buying these blockers, and if they knew something that I should know, I wanted to find out what it was. And often the person that argues a position might not be correct, so I wanted to see what the other side said. That is apparently not going to occur. I do not like to be tracked, so to speak, so was just wondering...

Posted by
3932 posts

I guess from what I see here, more info on the actual technology and the limitations of those technologies is needed. I work with RFID on occassion, and in regards to a credit card or passport, I see two issues. First, the RFID tag in any of these or similar items would be passive as opposed to active. This means they have no power source so rely on an external source to generate a signal, activate the device, then collect the signal. A tag would have to be in very close proximity (inches) or in a very strong field (a portal that completely surrounds the device) in order to collect the information. Secondly, once the data is collected, it needs to be deciphered in order to gain any value. I can only assume that both the US govt and credit cards utilize some types of safeguards to protect that information.

Posted by
2 posts

It is hard to say if this is a real threat. The problem is that a person cannot know if they have been scanned like they can know if they have been the victim of a pick pocket or strong arm robbery. I have been looking for a way to have some secure method of keeping my personal belongings as safe as possible. To that end I have looked for a solution that does include proven methods. I have recently purchased a anti-theft bag from Pacsafe for my next rip to Europe. It has slash proof shell, a cut resistant strap and secure zippers. As a bonus it also has a RFID pouch built in. Will I need that level of protection? Who knows but since it came bundled with a secure bag I will feel that much safer. I opted for a shoulder bag size so that I would not have to carry stuff in my vulnerable pockets and do not want a pouch around my neck. A good size for carrying my iPad with my favorite Rick Steve's tours on it, a light jacket, some snacks, wallet, camera. But Pacsafe offers a number of sizes. So the school is out on the necessity of RFID Tech but we all know the necessity for some security measures and of course good old common sense.

Posted by
4305 posts

Someone touched on this comparison - what is the point of having a RFID blocker if you are carrying around a cell phone? Most people's cell/smart phone has FAAAAR more private information on it, easily accessible for competent crooks, than chips in your wallet (and for the record, most smart phone thefts are for resetting and reselling the phone, not to steal private info). Identify thieves can easily steal cell phones and garbage. Credit card thieves can easily buy numbers from corrupt sales associates. Sophisticated theft networks can hack into retailer computer systems to steal your card or personal info. So why buy a RFID blocker? This is not unlike those that are paranoid about emailing their credit card info to a hotel. The chance of your email being intercepted is remote - FAR less than the chance that the hotel clerk is selling your number to a crook they know. And far less than handing your card to a waiter and watching them walk into a back room with it to run the number. If they want to, easy for them to copy down the number and sell it. RFID blockers are a solution looking for a problem, but someone is obviously making money on them. People sell things you don't need all the time, and they make a lot of money doing so. SORRY - I see this is an old thread. Whatever post bumped it back alive (that I responded to) has been deleted. Hopefully it can go dormant again...

Posted by
1665 posts

Does Douglas also get the prize for reviving an old thread? With all the others today he might be in second place.

US passports have a radio frequency shield in the cover, so they cannot be read without being opened. Also, according to the State Department, the data is encrypted. The chip stores the same information visually displayed on the photo page of the passport; a digital image of the passport photograph; a unique chip identification number; and a digital signature to protect the stored data from alteration.