What Material Blocks RFID?
Figuring out what material blocks RFID could keep you safe from digital theft. It is easy enough to find RFID-blocking luggage and tools for your cards and passport, but what makes them so safe? Knowing what creates a barrier between your data and thieves can give you the comfort you need.
The Truth About RFID Safety
When RFID chips were first introduced into passports between 2006 and 2007, people started to question whether the technology was safe or not. Many believed that storing such valuable information on a digital platform opened more doors for thieves to get their hands on your personal data. However, this may not be the case.
According to the Bureau of Consular Affairs in the United States, RFID skimming should be one of the least essential concerns to have while traveling. Even though the information stored in the microchips is precisely what is on the photo page of your passport, it’s relatively inaccessible. Within the chip, there is data that will include a digital version of your photo, your date of birth, and more, but the information is supposedly thoroughly encrypted.
To access any of the information in a readable form, the data will need to be filtered through the Department of State’s system. This process means digital thieves will not only need to scan the microchip in your passport but also hack into the government’s network to retrieve the data. The sheer amount of human resources and allotted time makes this type of theft not worth the investment.
With that said, it can still be beneficial to keep your data safe, as nothing is ever 100% secure. Instead of being one of the people that fall victim to digital thieves, RFID-blocking materials are great to have while traveling abroad.
How Does RFID Skimming Work?
The only way that your personal information stored in the chip in your passport and cards can be compromised is by using an RFID scanner. These devices are easily accessible in several forms, especially smartphones. This reason is why more people are beginning to invest in RFID-blocking accessories.
When a thief possesses an RFID scanner, they can stand within a few feet of you and collect the information that is stored in your identification. The data is then saved and can be downloaded remotely. With that said, all of the information should be encrypted, especially when it comes to travel documents.
Depending on the extractable information, thieves can then use the data for nefarious purposes, such as selling it to the highest bidder. Though, this is very unlikely, as it takes a lot of skill and effort to extract information from protected devices.
What Do RFID-Blocking Materials Do?
The primary purpose behind the materials designed to block RFID signals is to ensure that no one can access your personal information from microchips. These materials create a strong barrier that stops electrical signals from being passed through a wallet or purse to the scanner. This process prevents any digital information from being stolen. This is why it’s such a popular feature to have in your luggage.
When a card or your passport is in an RFID-blocking accessory, it goes through magnetic shielding. This process is when the signal travels around the accessory instead of through it. This alternative path is then bounced back to the reader and doesn’t contain any information.
However, not all of the materials are the same. Some are stronger than others, which can help to prevent certain types of data from being stolen. For example, radio frequencies associated with hotel keys and work keycards are typically not blocked by the more affordable materials.
What Material Blocks RFID?
When you start to ask, what material blocks RFID, there are a few that manufacturers use the most often. In most cases, they are a metal that interferes with the signal between a scanner and the microchip. The most frequently used materials include:
There are plenty of people who decide to create their own RFID-blocking products using a household item—aluminum foil. It offers a reasonable amount of protection, especially when it is wrapped directly around your cards or your passport. Compared to other materials, however, it is incredibly substandard and isn’t designed to last a long time.
Though it’s very affordable, aluminum foil is prone to creasing and tearing. Any penetration in the protective layer means that data can be transferred through the breach. Also, having to remove your cards from aluminum foil every time you want to use them can be quite the hassle.
With that said, these issues only arise with homemade RFID blockers. There are plenty of manufacturers that also use aluminum in their RFID-blocking wallets and passport holders, as it’s very affordable. This type of aluminum is much thicker than the storebought counterpart and can be quite sufficient at protecting your personal information.
By far, the most popular type of material used in these specialty accessories is mu-metal, which is a human-made alloy that contains iron, copper, chromium, molybdenum, and up to 80% nickel.
It is known to be one of the few metals with incredibly high permeability and was developed in the early 20th century. Initially used for telegraph cables, this metal is frequently found in RFID-blocking items.
The main concern to have with mu-metal is that it only protects your data against low-frequency magnetic fields. These fields will have to be around 100 kHz or less when the average hotel keycard has more than 200 kHz.
Carbon Fiber Faraday Shields
When you start shopping for RFID-blocking accessories, you will find a lot of the more modern designs that will feature carbon fiber. Not only is it sleek, minimalistic, and current, but carbon fiber is also quite effective at blocking magnetic fields. This fact is especially actual when the metal is arranged in a Faraday shield, also known as a Faraday cage.
Named after the renowned Michael Faraday, an English scientist who invented the cage in 1836, this invention is incredibly useful. Manufacturers will take strips of carbon fiber wires and weave them together to make a flexible fabric. Typically, this “fabric” will be inserted in between two aesthetic materials, such as leather in a wallet.
When the wires are weaved together, any magnetic waves that are sent to the wallet will bend. The cage will absorb any energy produced by RFID readers, which will create a reliable barrier. You’ll find this technology is used in a wide variety of other products such as laptop bags, phone cases, and more.
An added benefit of having a carbon fiber RFID-blocking wallet is that it has an ample amount of durability. As the metal is quite heavy-duty, it gives you the ability to prevent scratches and dents over time. However, it is likely to scratch other sensitive items you carry on you, such as your smartphone. This reason is why it’s ideal for you to invest in a wallet with a Faraday shield lining rather than a full carbon fiber exterior.
Copper Faraday Shields
Similar to carbon fiber, copper is one of the higher-quality materials used to make RFID-blocking accessories. It is frequently used because it is fantastic for disrupting signals and keeping your data safe. When arranged in a Faraday shield, copper is relatively impenetrable, especially against higher frequencies.
Many suggest that if you’re looking for a defense against high-powered RFID readers, copper is your best bet, and it also includes high-powered active antennas. Due to its resilience and reliability, copper is also one of the more expensive materials to use. For some, investing the extra money into a copper RFID-blocking piece of luggage is well worth the investment.
What to Look for in RFID-Blocking Materials
You can guarantee that you can find various other materials that are useful for blocking RFID scanners. It is important to note that all of the best ones will have a few common characteristics that make them as efficient as they are. The following traits are the most important to look out for:
Malleable and Ductile
As explained, the most efficient way to protect your data from RFID scanners is to use a Faraday cage, which involves the weaving of materials. You will want to ensure the material is both ductile and malleable so that it can be weaved together to create a fabric. Though at the same time, it will need to be flexible enough to be pulled and stretched.
Mu-metal and aluminum are the two metals that have the highest level of malleability, and they are incredibly easy to work with. This reason could likely be why they are in most of the more affordable RFID-blocking accessories on the market. Copper is another excellent alternative, as well.
With the ability to produce a magnetic field around your credit and debit cards, as well as your passport, RFID readers won’t be able to steal any of your data. Metals with high permeability are the best to choose when it comes to protecting your digital information. They naturally deter electric charges, which means that they won’t need any human-made intervention.
Imagine having to carry around a backpack, purse, or wallet that is lined with heavy material, such as lead. It would be incredibly inconvenient, especially if you keep most of your belongings in your pockets. A lightweight metal, on the other hand, is a far better alternative as it shouldn’t add too much weight to your accessories.
As you will likely be traveling with your RFID-blocking wallet or bag, you’ll want a metal like aluminum, as it’s one of the lightest. Carbon fiber is much more cumbersome, but when it is adequately milled, it can be lightweight as well.
One of the most significant downfalls to most metals is they may tend to corrode or rust when exposed to moisture over time. When you’re investing in an RFID-blocking wallet, you’re not going to want it to be irreparably damaged if it gets wet one time. Instead, you’ll want a metal that can be used in all weather conditions and will last over the years.
As soon as the protective metal lining between your cards and an RFID scanner is damaged, your personal data can be compromised. The coating will have to remain in its pristine condition to work as advertised.
There is a wide variety of metals that could be classified as toxic, and you’ll want to keep them away from your body. This point is especially important to make a note of when it comes to a purse or wallet, as it will be less than an inch away from your skin. Non-toxic metals are your best bet when you want to keep your personal data away from thieves.
When you choose an accessory from a reputable retailer, you can guarantee the metals used are not hazardous to your health. Manufacturers are required to meet specific standards when it comes to using metals in their design process.
Recyclable and Affordable
The last two things you’ll want to make sure of when you opt for an RFID-blocking accessory is that the materials are affordable and recyclable. This way, you’ll be saving money on a wallet and protecting the environment at the same time. You’ll also be able to know that the metals were sustainably cultivated from natural resources, if applicable.
The more affordable the RFID-blocking materials are, the less expensive the accessory will be. Since there is some conflicting information as to whether these blockers are necessary, it is better not to invest hundreds of dollars into a wallet.
When you start looking for items that block RFID signals, you shouldn’t focus on a single material. Even though aluminum and mu-metal are two of the most popular, they are certainly not the best options. When you can take advantage of copper and carbon fiber, you can have a higher level of protection from stronger scanners.
For your peace of mind, while you’re traveling, it is a good idea to put your money into a wallet or bag that has higher quality materials. In this way, you can ensure your credit cards and passport are sufficiently shielded from potential digital theft.