'Inspired by a car wash': Researchers unveil quasi-universal tag that's virtually unhackable thanks to glue — terahertz antitampering tag could help save billions of dollars in counterfeiting costs

Cryptographic ID tag
(Image credit: MIT)

Traditional radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags, commonly used for product authentication, have several limitations including size, cost, energy requirements, and security vulnerabilities.

Researchers at MIT have developed a revolutionary cryptographic ID tag that overcomes these hurdles and could help combat the billion-dollar problem of supply chain counterfeiting.

This minuscule, battery-free tag, dubbed the 'tag of everything,' can authenticate almost any product, making it a powerful tool against imitation parts and fraudulent goods.

Inspired by a car wash

The tag's innovative design was partly inspired by a car wash. Researchers noted how the car wash used a fragile RFID tag to authenticate membership, which would be destroyed if tampered with. They took this concept further, focusing on authenticating the item itself rather than the tag.

The team achieved this by mixing microscopic metal particles into the glue that attaches the tag to the product. These particles create a unique pattern on the item's surface, akin to a fingerprint, which can be detected using terahertz waves. If a counterfeiter attempts to remove and reattach the tag, the pattern is destroyed, making the tag virtually unhackable.

This ground-breaking technology also incorporates a machine-learning model that can identify similar glue pattern fingerprints with over 99% accuracy, further enhancing its anticounterfeiting capabilities.

It's tiny enough to fit on almost any product, from industrial components to medical devices, and operates on low power levels supplied by photovoltaic diodes. Crucially, it offers robust security measures, including a popular cryptography scheme that guarantees secure communications.

There are limitations, however. The tag's sensor must be within 4cm to get an accurate reading, and the angle between the sensor and tag must be less than 10 degrees. However, the researchers are optimistic about overcoming these challenges in future work.

Via TechXplore

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Wayne Williams

Wayne Williams is a freelancer writing news for TechRadar Pro. He has been writing about computers, technology, and the web for 30 years. In that time he wrote for most of the UK’s PC magazines, and launched, edited and published a number of them too.