Nearly five years ago, Peratech, the innovators in touch technology, warned of the possible fraud problems of data, money and identity theft from the use of RFID for Near Field Communications (NFC) in contactless access control, passports and credit cards. Known as skimming, thieves can use easily available electronics or a smartphone to read the data on such devices without the owner even knowing that it is happening as it can be done from a distance of several feet. The problem has recently been highlighted in a report on contactless card flaws by the Newcastle University's Centre for Cybercrime and computer Security.
These contactless devices work by being waved over a reader and data is exchanged between the reader and the device. The problem comes from the fact that the devices are always on and ready to interact even when in a wallet or deep in a bag. Peratech has developed a simple, inexpensive solution that overcomes this by incorporating an ultra-thin switch into the credit card or passport so that it is always off unless the owner is actually pressing the switch to activate the device for the fraction of a second needed. This ensures that the owner has full control of when the data is accessed and by whom.
"We could see that NFC had this fundamental flaw," explained David Lussey, Peratech's CTO. "Unfortunately our timing was too early, as most people had never heard of it, but we felt it was appropriate to warn early so that the solution could be built in before such contactless devices became widespread. Unfortunately, a number of card companies are now deploying contactless credit cards without protection that can have their details skimmed and used fraudulently, so we expect problems to start becoming widespread."
Peratech's solution is a very thin, pressure-sensitive switch using its unique, multi-award-winning Quantum Tunnelling Composites (QTCs) technology. This acts as an on/off switch in the circuitry of the device and is robust enough to be laminated into the credit cards as they are made. Only when the switch is deliberately squeezed by the owner will the device become active and it immediately turns off afterwards when the pressure is removed.
At only 70 microns thick, the QTC switch is the world's thinnest switch and is even thinner than the RFID chip in the card, enabling it to be easily embedded into a credit card, passport or access pass. QTC technology has no moving parts, requires no air gap between contacts and is robust enough to survive many years of switching on and off. Its industry-leading operational life makes it reliable and suitable for integration into the thinnest electronic designs. QTC technology is being used by companies around the world, such as NASA and Nissha, for applications ranging from smartphones to automotive and from robotic finger tips to next generation touch screens.