Watch: Insecure RFID an excellent avenue for destroying privacy


By: John Mack Freeman

A video released by Motherboard this week shows how RFID devices sitting around an office (or say, a library) could be used to listen in on conversations from a distance because of the lack of security these devices have. While this video exploits a pretty high-level hack, it does show how a phone can be turned into a bug through a message sent from a wireless printer on the same network.

When I woke up this morning and first saw this video, what made me click on it was how similar it sounded to the library I work in. Phone system with microphones in the speaker phone? Check. Wireless printers scattered around the building for convenience? Check. And the RFID component even pinged me because the first library I ever worked in had the entire collection chipped with RFID tags for inventory and security.

As we always say on this blog, libraries stand for privacy. But videos like this serve as a reminder that privacy is so much more than making sure people aren’t observed over their shoulder when they are on the computer. It’s more than not releasing patron browsing records. It’s an understanding that privacy in the modern world is tenuous and is subject to exploitation at almost every technological turn. When it comes to watching people, the distance between science fiction and the capabilities of the current Internet of Things continues to shrink at an alarming rate. But as GI Joe used to say and countless librarians bear out in their work every day, knowing is half the battle.


John “Mack” Freeman is the Marketing and Programming Coordinator for the West Georgia Regional Library. He is a past recipient of the Freedom to Read Foundation’s Conable Scholarship, and a 2015 ALA Emerging Leader.

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