RFID is a sleepy security guard

In a previous blog, I took the position that fixed portal RFID has not yet reached a point where it can be implemented cost effectively into medium to large enterprises – at least when used as the sole method of asset tracking. (Instead, I advocate a hybrid solution combining the best of fixed and handheld readers.)

Here I’m going to point out another weakness of fixed portal RFID, namely, theft prevention.

RFID, of course, has great benefits in certain situations. I simply think it’s important to fully understand the system’s capabilities and avoid unrealistic expectations before making an investment.

Here’s what people want RFID to do:  The instant someone attempts to leave a monitored building with a laptop they’re not authorized to have (in other words…stealing it), the fixed RFID readers positioned at the building portals immediately detect it send out a security breach alert.

…simply holding a hand over the tag is usually
enough to prevent the reader from detecting it

Alas, a thief doesn’t have to be very clever to prevent detection by the RFID system. For example, he or she could have gone online and purchased a sleeve (such as those sold here) specifically designed to block RFID and used it to cover the laptop’s RFID tag. In fact, in most cases it’s not even necessary to use such a blocker – simply holding a hand over the tag is usually enough to prevent the reader from detecting it.

So, if RFID is not yet robust enough to provide the desired level of security, what are the technological options available to deter, detect and react to theft? Fortunately for us honest folks, the piece of inventory that is most highly valued may also be the easiest to track. I’m referring, of course, to the laptop computer – the inventory most likely to contain sensitive or confidential data.

Software (such as this) is available that can be loaded on a laptop to provide remote tracking and operation. When a theft is detected, the software can provide a location of the laptop and authorities can be notified. In addition, the hard drive on the laptop can be remotely locked or even wiped clean.

The problem still remaining is the timeliness of detecting theft. If you don’t know a laptop is missing, you have no reason to activate software to find and remotely operate it. Regular inventory scanning is one tool, but it is far from instantaneous. Other methods of theft detection are beyond my pay grade. The only point I hope to make here is that RFID, in its present form, should not be relied upon to immediately detect theft.

Thomas Watson - CEO of AMIAuthor: Tom Watson

Tom Watson is AMI’s President and CEO. He began his career in high tech in 1996, as a software engineer for his own software company. After a subsequent stint at IT Asset Management firm Micropath as senior architect for that company’s asset tracking system, he founded AMI to develop hardware asset tracking technology solutions for enterprise IT Asset Management customers.