How to Test RFID Blocking

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RFID chips are built into countless credit and debit cards, passports, identity cards, access control hardware and many other privacy technologies. A radio identification chipset is integrated into an object which can be either self-powered or run off a battery. RFID tagging remains idle and as soon as an RFID reader comes near, the reader supplies enough power via wireless induction for the tag to be read.

With an RFID chip reader, testing  RFID blocking is easy, but most of us don’t have access to that technology. That’s why we’ll be showing you all the ways that you can test RFID blocking, as well as which features to look for when shopping for technology that blocks the 13.56Mhz band.

A Basic Overview of RFID

RFID stands for radio frequency identification which operates at very low radio frequencies. RFID’s main range of operation is at a low frequency of 125Khz, a high of 13.56Mhz, and in certain operations an ultra-high radio frequency of 900Mhz. Near-field communication (NFC), which is built into many mobile phones and cards, also operates at the ultra-high radio frequency of 13.56Mhz. This is why you can test the short-range transmission blocking capabilities of a wallet using an NFC-enabled handset.

RFID chips need to receive power from the RFID reader in order for them to switch on. When the wireless charge is blocked using a layer of metal, the RFID chip cannot be read as it doesn’t receive power. Passports use a different type of RFID known as RFID Basic Access Control, or RFID BAC. While weaker than a password, this technology needs specific data from the document before the rest of the information can be read.

The scanner must provide the passport number, expiry date and the date of birth of the individual up front otherwise the passport and its data remains concealed. This is why scanning passports is pretty much pointless in airport terminals.

Test RFID Blocking at a Pay Point

The easiest way to test the RFID blocking of your wallet, card holder or other device is to head to a pay point that lets you scan your card instead of swiping. You’re looking for a PayPass terminal in the US. Simply scan your wallet with your card in, perhaps asking for permission to try it first. Most stores won’t mind at all. If you want to be completely sure, then take everything out your wallet and try with your credit, debit or bank card only. If it normally scans and detects, the RFID blocking technology in your wallet will stop it from detecting.

Another place that you can test RFID blocking is at an access control station. Find an access control reader at a workplace or office block, your local airport, or even some parking complexes. Scan your card which will be indicated by a beep or the illumination of an LED. Now that you know that it reads RFID, pack your card into your card holder or RFID blocking wallet and try scanning it again.

Test RFID Blocking with Your Phone

If you own an NFC-enabled smartphone, you’re capable of scanning your own credit or debit cards. Without RFID blocking, you should be able to scan the card number and expiry date straight out your wallet. You’ll probably need to almost touch the wallet, but it’ll scan. While this doesn’t exactly make you vulnerable at a train station or airport due to the impracticality — the would-be criminal would have to scan from inside your pocket, and they probably have better scanners than cellphones anyway — it does let you test your wallet’s RFID blocking.

If the lining that guards your cards against RFID scanning is working, then you won’t be able to read the number no matter how close you scan from. Even if you touch your phone to the card within its wallet, it shouldn’t read. There you go. First-hand evidence that your RFID blocking is working. However, if you’re looking for a slightly trickier and more technical solution, read on.

Building an RFID Scanner

Building an RFID reader that tests the 13.56Mhz frequency is a fun electronics project that’ll give you complete peace of mind when testing your own RFID blocking wallets, cardholders, and other accessories. There are lots of ways to build your own RFID reader, but you’ll generally need basic electronics knowledge including circuitry and how to design and wire a basic breadboard.

Most people find that it’s far easier to buy an RFID kit rather than creating the circuit by hand.

Buy an RFID Scanner

A much easier way to get guaranteed test results without going through the hassle of a lengthy electronics project is to buy an RFID scanner or RFID chip reader. You can find countless options on Amazon ranging from devices that just detect the presence of an RFID chipset, to others which interface with it. Unless you’re specifically developing using RFID technology, most won’t find the expense worth it. It’s much easier to buy RFID blocking wallets, holders or other equipment which comes with certification for its shielding by an independent laboratory.

Making Sure That Your Cards and Info are Safe

Regardless of the specific method used to shield your cards, RFID blocking will always incorporate a metal seal. A light layer of aluminum or other metal is often used as an inner lining which effectively stops deflects all radio signals. If you opt for a leather wallet or any other design using material with an inner signal blocking liner, pay close attention to the type of stitching used. It needs to be a complete seal with the whole of your cards and documents encased.

Complete metal casings are also available as card holders, although some luxury designs opt for carbon fiber instead. RFID scanning is of limited value to a select type of criminal. Once you’ve got a good RFID blocking wallet or another unit that lets you store your cards and documents safely, there’s never a need to worry.

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