RFID Technology and Theft
New technology continues to make our lives easier but unfortunately in the case of RFID chips it is also making life easier for thieves. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips use radio waves to transmit data to data reading terminals. In turn this data can be scanned with a simple RFID reader by unscrupulous individuals who fancy hacking into our personal details. Many debit cards, credit cards and passports now feature RFID chips and mobile phones can use similar technology for certain applications so the dangers are clear but how exposed are we and what can we do about it?
Convenience or Catastrophe?
There is no doubt that applications like contactless payment are an appealing convenience and it is likely that more and more uses for RFID technology will be developed in the future. However, it is not quite so convenient when your bank account has been emptied by a criminal who has extracted the necessary information from your debit card without you even noticing. Experts warned of the dangers from the outset and there are a raft of accessories you can invest in to protect your possessions. RFID blocking wallets, mobile phone cases and passport holders are now all readily available but not all of these little helpers are 100% effective.
Perhaps paranoia has taken hold. To scan your RFID card someone must be close enough to you for 30 seconds. So what is close enough? Well chips have been read from 70 feet away but the presence of more than one chip within scanning distance would confuse the RFID reader. It isn't often that you find yourself completely alone and so if thieves are not to confine themselves to the Arctic tundra or the Australian Outback they are going to have to get up close and personal. In most situations you would probably notice such over familiarity but perhaps not if you were on a busy train or in a queue for something.
So there are certainly opportunities for thieves to access your data without detection, particularly in busy urban environments but do you need to splash your cash on a special wallet? Actually you can make a shield yourself out of card covered in aluminium foil. Homemade creations which have been tested have proved to be as effective as many RFID blocking wallets. You can also confuse an RFID reader if you keep two or more RFID chipped cards together as the signals get muddled.
You may have been wondering why we are talking about this issue here and what RFID technology has got to do with jeans. Inevitably new ways to shield your RFID chips are starting to appear and these include the first jeans with RFID protection.
Online clothing producer Betabrand are working in partnership with computer security experts Norton to launch jeans with RFID protected pockets. Actually it is hard to imagine what Norton have got to do with the price of fish as the jeans do not include any software. One front and one rear pocket will simply feature RFID blocking fabrics. Norton appear to be on board merely as a convincer. It kind of sounds good when you have PC security experts as part of the project even if they haven't actually done anything! The big question is will these jeans called "Ready Active" prove to be popular? Will people be causing a stampede as they rush to change their denim in order to protect their credit cards, if indeed they have any credit left after buying the jeans!
The truth is that the success of such clothing will hinge entirely on the styling. Few people build their wardrobes around functionality and most would not sacrifice style for convenience or anything else. The new jeans are going to have to look and feel good otherwise they will be dead in the proverbial water. The protection offered is limited too as only items that fit in the pockets will be protected and there could be issues there with the size of some mobiles as we have talked about before (click here for that discussion) and what about the other RFID enabled items that are carried?
Wearable insulin devices and in-chest monitors feature RFID technology now and these probably wouldn't reside in your jeans' pockets. There is also the fact that the jeans will only protect your possessions whilst they are in the pockets so what happens when you take out your wallet?
The Betabrand jeans are an interesting idea and one that is likely to spawn similar projects but jeans pockets will only ever offer limited protection. That protection has its benefits but these are probably not significant enough to tempt people to buy the clothes. It could be that RFID protected pockets become an addition to popular jeans in the future if wearers are prepared to fund the additional expense. RFID protection in jeans could be a good selling point or it could be a white elephant because there is a sizeable elephant in the room here (I am having an elephant day). History will show that we all like new technology and ideas but not when we already have a viable alternative and certainly not as much as we covert our personal style. The following video gives you an idea of what to expect from Ready Active jeans.
Jeans are such a fundamental element of our lives that there will now always be a relationship between denim fashions and technology but perhaps protective pockets are just not quite useful enough to spark a revolution. Could someone please invent jeans that do the ironing or cook the dinner because that is technology that I would be happy to buy into! For the time being I think I will just stick to my usual skinnies which serve no useful purpose at all other than pleasing me!