Technology has always focused on improving communication and connectivity. From smoke signals to telegraphs and morse code, all the way to the internet and modern smartphones, the flow of information has been a top priority.
Nowadays, tech is so highly specialized and powerful that we have access to incredible innovations wherever we go, and we often take these systems for granted.
For instance, RFID and NFC are two wireless communication technologies with countless use cases and applications in today’s world, yet many of us don’t even know what they are or how they work.
Let’s explore the details of RFID and NFC and clarify the key differences between the two. We’ll get into various uses, security measures, and how you can benefit from these technologies in your daily life.
What Is RFID?
RFID, or radio frequency identification, is a method used to identify unique items using tags, readers, and an antenna. You’d likely recognize an RFID tag if you saw one—they are square-shaped with concentric bands and a solid block in the middle.
Some tags more closely resemble barcodes, but most RFID technology sticks to the typical format. The process is the same, regardless. The reader sends out an “interrogating” signal through the air, which is then interpreted by the tag and responds with the proper readout.
RFID systems are used in a wide range of real-world settings, from industrial manufacturing to military operations, supply chain logistics, retail services, and more. You’ve probably used some sort of RFID technology recently without even knowing it.
Here are a few advantages of RFID that make life easier for everyone:
- Fast and accurate item identification.
- Simple hardware and software anyone can understand.
- Generally high level of security.
- Tags are flexible, versatile, and inexpensive to produce.
- Available in passive and active transmission formats.
- Direct line of sight unnecessary for scanning.
There are also many types of RFID, and systems can operate at different frequencies to accomplish unique tasks in various environments. The higher the frequency, the further a signal will travel to scan and identify tags, which can vary in the power source.
Active RFID tags, for example, can be read at a range of up to 100 meters—a significant distance. These tags require their own power sources to operate.
Passive tags, on the other hand, max out at a read range of about 25 meters, making them a bit less versatile in fast-paced applications like highway tolling.
How do you use RFID in your life? Do your credit and debit cards have tags? This technology is commonplace, and you will see it everywhere once you open your eyes.
What Is NFC?
NFC, or near-field communication, is considered a subset of RFID technology, but some key differences set it apart.
While RFID systems operate as a “one-way street,” NFC can complete more complex and secure interactions via two-way conversations between readers, tags, and other touchpoints. Devices operate in the high-frequency range, yet because more information is transferred with more significant security needs, NFC has a short read range of just a few centimeters.
What distinct advantages do we get from the two-way communication of NFC? First of all, it allows us to securely share information between smartphones, whether it’s contact information, photographs, or something more valuable, like a financial transaction.
You’ve probably used NFC technology recently without realizing it. Digital wallet services like Google Pay, Apple Pay, and PayPal all rely on NFC systems to quickly connect your bank to the payment processor at a retailer and securely complete the exchange.
The convenience is undeniable: just authenticate your card with a password or face recognition program and hover your phone over the point of sale unit to make your payment. It’s faster, more secure, and far easier than fumbling around for cash in your pocket.
Now that most mobile devices are NFC-enabled, why wouldn’t you use the technology as often as possible? Don’t toss your physical cards out just yet, but recognize the direction things are moving and give yourself a wide range of resources to draw from when you pay.
There is also plenty of evidence to suggest that NFC is the future of security clearance and identification, which will help us navigate the world more quickly and conveniently.
Want to board a flight? Just swipe your NFC application on your phone and find your seat with a digital map displayed on-screen. Need to access important tax information or social security? These will likely be digitized in the near future as well.
Get used to using NFC technology more often than not as the world heads in this direction.
Security Best Practices
Both RFID and NFC are praised for their security features, and there’s no question that these technologies have made major improvements on the methods of the past.
However, to protect your digital identity and maintain a high level of security around your financial information, you need to be aware of potential threat vectors as far as theft and fraud are concerned, as you would with any new innovation.
Unfortunately, RFID skimming is a reality that we need to come to terms with if we want to protect our valued digital assets. This is a technique employed by hackers to swipe credit card information using RFID scanning and has resulted in billions of dollars of fraud in the past decade, despite our best efforts to combat the trend.
The truth is that RFID skimming can happen to anyone, at any time. Hackers can steal your information right out of your pocket with fairly rudimentary scanning technology and don’t need to be within very close proximity to do so.
To properly defend your data against this form of fraud, the best upgrade you can make to your everyday carry is an RFID blocking wallet, whether it’s a classic bifold or next-gen smart wallet with various features and modular capabilities.
Keep your wallet in your front pocket for an added layer of security, and exercise greater caution when navigating crowded public spaces like shopping centers and public transportation.
NFC is undoubtedly more secure since it tends to be protected with multiple layers of authentication and cannot be “skimmed” in the same way as RFID cards.
Still, NFC theft is more common than you may think, and it’s important to follow best practices when using this technology at ATMs and retailers. Regularly update passwords, be cautious of your surroundings, and monitor your bank statements to avoid falling victim to fraud, no matter what tech you employ in your daily life.
We live in the best time in history for safe and secure transactions thanks to technology such as RFID and NFC. These systems are incredibly capable and have a wide array of applications that add to our daily convenience and safety.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you should simply walk around waving your cards and hope for the best. You still need to shore up your security by investing in a protective wallet from Ekster and keeping your wits about you when performing any type of transaction out in the open.
Take advantage of these amazing technologies, stay vigilant with your security practices, and enjoy living with the peace of mind you deserve.