Electronic pick-pocketing possible with smart cards, patent warns

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by JASON WHITELY

Bio | Email | Follow: @jasonwhitely

WFAA

Posted on June 30, 2011 at 11:08 PM

Updated Friday, Jul 1 at 11:24 AM

DALLAS – The inventors of the so-called smart cards, the credit cards and passports with radio frequency chips known as RFID inside, warned that they are susceptible to electronic pick-pocketing in the patent filed with the U.S. Government.

"This is perfect for thieves,” said Walt Augustinowicz, owner of Identity Stronghold.
 
For two years, he has warned credit card and passport holders with RFID chips that they could unknowingly be ripped off if a thief waves computer equipment near their wallet or purse to remotely read their data.
 
Since News 8'sr first report in November 2009, Augustinowicz said thieves can now use mobile phones to remotely intercept your information from the chips that never turn off on your credit card and passport.
 
But, the patent application, Augustinowicz said, is even more revealing. He uncovered the details buried in the 2005 document that confirmed what he had been saying.
 
The 2005 patent for Visa’s smart card reads: "It is entirely possible that a contactless reader may be used for surreptitious interrogation (e.g., data skimming)… What is needed is a device and method that prevents the contactless portable electronic devices from unauthorized interrogation that is simple to use and is cost effective."
 
That's what Augustinowicz's company, Identity Stronghold, sells - sleeves with metallic interiors to shield cards and passports.
 
"We make these sleeves and these wallets and useful things for people,” Augustinowicz said. “But, they can just wrap them in tin foil.”
 
The smart card industry downplays the threat and accuses Augustinowicz of trying to profit from fear.
 
Even if the technology exists, one trade group said there aren't any reported cases of smart card users getting electronically pick-pocketed.
 
"The U.S. Secret Service who investigates payment fraud, has gone on record saying that there's no evidence of any kind of fraud based on scanning on contactless credit cards," said Randy Vanderhoof, executive director of the Smart Card Alliance in a prepared video statement.
 
He did not return a voice mail or e-mail from News 8.
 
Despite such statements from the smart card industry, Nevada's attorney general sounded the alarm and issued a consumer alert last year.
 
"While the makers of RFID cards say they are safe, consumers need to learn how to prevent this electronic theft from occurring," the attorney general said.
 
"When they say this is not a threat, they're just trying to cover up the fact that the cards have problems," Augustinowicz said.
 
Few question that the threat exists, but just how serious it remains debatable.
 
E-mail: jwhitely@wfaa.com

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