ITL Bulletin for May 2007

ITL Bulletin for May 2007
ITL Bulletin for May 2007

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Forwarded from: Elizabeth Lennon 



Karen Scarfone, Editor
Computer Security Division
Information Technology Laboratory
National Institute of Standards and Technology
Technology Administration
U.S. Department of Commerce

RFID is a form of automatic identification and data capture technology 
that uses electric or magnetic fields at radio frequencies to transmit 
information. An RFID system can be used to identify many types of 
objects, such as manufactured goods and animals. RFID technologies 
support a wide range of applications=C3=82=C2=ADeverything from asset management 
and tracking to access control and automated payment. Each object that 
needs to be identified has a small electronic device known as an RFID 
tag affixed to it or embedded within it. Each tag has a unique 
identifier and may also have other features such as memory to store 
additional information about the object, environmental sensors, and 
security mechanisms. Devices known as RFID readers wirelessly 
communicate with the tags to identify the item connected to each tag and 
possibly read or update additional information stored on the tag. This 
communication can occur without optical line of sight.

Every RFID system includes a radio frequency (RF) subsystem, which is 
composed of tags and readers. The RF subsystem performs identification 
and related transactions. In many RFID systems, the RF subsystem is 
supported by an enterprise subsystem, which contains computers running 
specialized software that can store, process, and analyze data acquired 
from RF subsystem transactions. RFID systems that share information 
across organizational boundaries, such as supply chain applications, 
also have an inter-enterprise subsystem. Each RFID system has different 
components and customizations so that it can support a particular 
business process for an organization; as a result, the security risks 
for RFID systems and the controls available to address them are highly 
varied. The enterprise and inter-enterprise subsystems involve common IT 
components such as servers, databases, and networks and therefore can 
benefit from typical IT security controls for those components.

New Guidelines on RFID System Security

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Information 
Technology Laboratory recently published new guidelines on protecting 
RFID systems. NIST Special Publication (SP) 800-98, Guidelines for 
Securing RFID Systems: Recommendations of the National Institute of 
Standards and Technology, was written by Tom Karygiannis of NIST, and by 
Bernard Eydt, Greg Barber, Lynn Bunn, and Ted Phillips of Booz Allen 
Hamilton. The publication recommends practices for initiating, 
designing, implementing, and operating RFID systems in a manner that 
mitigates security and privacy risks.

The guide explains the components and architectures of RFID systems and 
the standards for RFID components, such as tags and readers. One section 
is devoted to an overview of types of RFID applications and which RFID 
technologies are most effective for particular applications. Other 
topics covered in the publication include the major business risks 
associated with implementing RFID technology, the various RFID security 
controls, and an overview of privacy regulations and controls that 
pertain to RFID systems in federal agencies. Additional sections of the 
publication provide recommendations that organizations using RFID 
systems can follow throughout the system life cycle, from initiation 
through operations to disposition, and present hypothetical case studies 
that illustrate how the concepts and recommendations introduced earlier 
in the document could work in practice.

The appendices in NIST SP 800-98 provide extensive supplemental 
information on the terms used in the guide, and supply listings of 
in-print and online resources for further exploration. Other useful 
listings offer additional information on common RFID standards and their 
security mechanisms, as well as information on permissible radio 
exposure limits.

NIST SP 800-98 is available from NIST=C3=82=C2=92s website at 

RFID Applications and Security Controls

RFID technologies are being deployed by many organizations because they 
have the potential to improve mission performance and reduce operational 
costs. To achieve these goals, RFID systems must be engineered to 
support the specific business processes that the organization is 
automating. Applications for RFID technologies are diverse because of 
the wide range of business processes that exist. Examples of application 
types are asset management, tracking, authenticity verification, item 
matching, process control, access control, and automated payment. 
Important business drivers that shape RFID application requirements and 
the resulting characteristics of RFID systems include:

* The general functional objective of the RFID technology (i.e., the 
  application type);

* The nature of the information that the RFID system processes or 

* The physical and technical environment at the time RFID transactions 

* The physical and technical environment before and after RFID 
  transactions take place; and

* The economics of the business process and RFID system.

Because of the variety of RFID applications, RFID security risks and the 
controls available to mitigate them are highly varied. Section 7 of the 
guide contains recommendations for security practices to be applied 
during each phase of the RFID system=C3=82=C2=92s life cycle, from policy 
development to operations. Examples of security controls for RFID 
systems are having an RFID usage policy, minimizing the storage of 
sensitive data on tags, restricting physical access to RFID equipment, 
and protecting RF interfaces and tag data. Typically, only a subset of 
the full range of technologies, risks, and controls is applicable to any 
given RFID implementation.

Organizations need to assess the risks they face and choose an 
appropriate mix of controls for their environments, taking into account 
factors such as regulatory requirements, the magnitude of the threat, 
cost, and performance. Federal agencies should refer to Federal 
Information Processing Standard (FIPS) 199, Standards for Security 
Categorization of Federal Information and Information Systems, which 
establishes three security categories=C3=82=C2=ADlow, moderate, and high=C3=82=C2=ADbased on 
the potential impact of a security breach involving a particular system. 
NIST SP 800-53 (as amended), Recommended Security Controls for Federal 
Information Systems, provides minimum management, operational, and 
technical security controls for information systems based on the FIPS 
199 impact categories. The information in NIST SP 800-53 should be 
helpful to organizations in identifying controls that are needed to 
protect networks and systems, which should be used in addition to the 
specific practices for RFID systems listed in this document. Federal 
agencies should also use NIST SP 800-37, Guide for the Security 
Certification and Accreditation of Federal Information Systems, to 
evaluate their RFID system and select appropriate security controls.

NIST=C3=82=C2=92s Recommendations for RFID System Security

NIST recommends that organizations follow these guidelines in planning, 
implementing, and maintaining secure RFID systems:

-- When designing an RFID system, understand what type of application it 
will support so that the appropriate security controls can be selected.

Each type of application uses a different combination of components and 
has a different set of risks. For example, protecting the information 
used to conduct financial transactions in an automated payment system 
requires different security controls than those used for protecting the 
information needed to track livestock. Some of the factors to be 
considered include:

* The general functional objective of the RFID technology. For example, 
  does the system need to determine the location of an object or the 
  presence of an object, authenticate a person, perform a financial 
  transaction, or ensure that certain items are not separated?

* The nature of the information that the RFID system processes or 
  generates. One application may only need to have a unique, static 
  identifier value for each tagged object, while another application may 
  need to store additional information about each tagged object over 
  time. The sensitivity of the information is also an important 

* The physical and technical environment at the time RFID transactions 
  occur. This includes the distance between the readers and the tags, 
  and the amount of time in which each transaction must be performed.

* The physical and technical environment before and after RFID 
  transactions take place. For example, human and environmental threats 
  may pose risks to tags=C3=82=C2=92 integrity while the tagged objects are in 
  storage or in transit. Some applications require the use of tags with 
  sensors that can track environmental conditions over time, such as 
  temperature and humidity.

* The economics of the business process and RFID system. The economic 
  factors for RFID systems are different than those for traditional IT 
  systems. For example, many RFID tags offer few or no security 
  features; selecting tags that incorporate basic security functionality 
  significantly increases the cost of tags, especially if encryption 
  features are needed. Also, the operational cost of some basic IT 
  security controls, such as setting unique passwords and changing them 
  regularly, may be higher for RFID systems because of the logistical 
  challenges in managing security for thousands or millions of tags.

-- Effectively manage risk so that the RFID implementation will be 

Like other technologies, RFID technology enables organizations to 
significantly change their business processes to increase efficiency and 
effectiveness. This technology is complex and combines a number of 
different computing and communications technologies. Both the changes to 
business process and the complexity of the technology generate risk. The 
major risks associated with RFID systems are as follows:

* Business process risk. Direct attacks on RFID system components 
  potentially could undermine the business processes the RFID system was 
  designed to enable. For example, a warehouse that relies solely on 
  RFID to track items in its inventory may not be able to process orders 
  in a timely fashion if the RFID system fails.

* Business intelligence risk. An adversary or competitor potentially 
  could gain unauthorized access to RFID-generated information and use 
  it to harm the interests of the organization implementing the RFID 
  system. For example, an adversary might use an RFID reader to 
  determine whether a shipping container holds expensive electronic 
  equipment, and then target the container for theft when it gets a 
  positive reading.

* Privacy risk. Personal privacy rights or expectations may be 
  compromised if an RFID system uses what is considered personally 
  identifiable information for a purpose other than originally intended 
  or understood. As people possess more tagged items and networked RFID 
  readers become ever more prevalent, organizations may have the ability 
  to combine and correlate data across applications to infer personal 
  identity and location and build personal profiles in ways that 
  increase the privacy risk.

* Externality risk. RFID technology potentially could represent a threat 
  to non-RFID networked or collocated systems, assets, and people. For 
  example, an adversary could gain unauthorized access to computers on 
  an enterprise network through Internet Protocol (IP)-enabled RFID 
  readers if the readers are not designed and configured properly.

Organizations need to assess the risks they face and choose an 
appropriate mix of management, operational, and technical security 
controls for their environments. These organizational assessments should 
take into account many factors, such as regulatory requirements, the 
magnitude of each threat, and cost and performance implications of the 
technology or operational practice.

Privacy regulations and guidance are often complex and change over time. 
Organizations planning, implementing, or managing an RFID system should 
consult with the organization=C3=82=C2=92s privacy officer, legal counsel, and 
chief information officer.

-- When securing an RFID system, select security controls that are 
compatible with the RFID technologies the organization currently deploys 
or purchase new RFID technologies that support the necessary controls.

To be most effective, RFID security controls should be incorporated 
throughout the entire life cycle of RFID systems=C3=82=C2=ADfrom policy 
development and design to operations and retirement. However, many RFID 
products support only a fraction of the possible protection mechanisms. 
Tags, in particular, have very limited computing capabilities. Most tags 
supporting asset management applications do not support authentication, 
access control, or encryption techniques commonly found in other 
business IT systems. RFID standards specify security features including 
passwords to protect access to certain tag commands and memory, but the 
level of security offered differs across these standards. Vendors also 
offer proprietary security features, including proprietary extensions to 
standards-based technologies, but they are not always compatible with 
other components of the system. Careful planning and procurement is 
necessary to ensure an organization=C3=82=C2=92s RFID system meets its security 

More Information

NIST SP 800-98 recommends that organizations follow effective practices 
for planning, implementing, and managing secure RFID systems as part of 
a comprehensive approach to information security. Many NIST publications 
assist organizations in developing that comprehensive approach. For 
information about the following publications that are linked to RFID 
security and to other security-related standards and guidelines issued 
by NIST, see the web page 

FIPS 140-2, Security Requirements for Cryptographic Modules.

FIPS 180-2, Secure Hash Standard (SHS).

FIPS 198, The Keyed-Hash Message Authentication Code (HMAC).

FIPS 199, Standards for Security Categorization of Federal Information 
and Information Systems.

FIPS 200, Minimum Security Requirements for Federal Information and 
Information Systems.

NIST SP 800-30, Risk Management Guide for Information Technology 

NIST SP 800-34, Contingency Planning Guide for Information Technology 

NIST SP 800-37, Guide for the Security Certification and Accreditation 
of Federal Information Systems.

NIST SP 800-40, Version 2, Creating a Patch and Vulnerability Management 

NIST SP 800-41, Guideline on Firewalls and Firewall Policy.

NIST SP 800-47, Security Guide for Interconnecting Information 
Technology Systems.

NIST SP 800-48, Wireless Network Security: 802.11, Bluetooth and 
Handheld Devices.

NIST SP 800-50, Building an Information Technology Security Awareness 
and Training Program.

NIST SP 800-53 Revision 1, Recommended Security Controls for Federal 
Information Systems.

NIST SP 800-57, Recommendation on Key Management, Part 1.

NIST SP 800-63, Electronic Authentication Guideline.

NIST SP 800-64, Security Considerations in the Information System 
Development Life Cycle.

NIST SP 800-83, Guide to Malware Incident Prevention and Handling.

NIST SP 800-90, Recommendation for Random Number Generation Using 
Deterministic Random Bit Generators.

NIST SP 800-92, Guide to Computer Security Log Management.

NIST SP 800-94, Guide to Intrusion Detection and Prevention Systems.

NIST SP 800-97, Establishing Wireless Robust Security Networks: 
A Guide to IEEE 802.11i.

Any mention of commercial products or reference to commercial organizations is
for information only; it does not imply recommendation or endorsement by NIST
nor does it imply that the products mentioned are necessarily the best available
for the purpose.

Elizabeth B. Lennon
Information Technology Laboratory
National Institute of Standards and Technology
100 Bureau Drive, Stop 8900
Gaithersburg, MD 20899-8900
Telephone (301) 975-2832
Fax (301) 975-2378

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