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Tiny switches respond to security cards' risks

Posted: 10 Sep 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:RFID tag? security card? touch sensor?

Peratech Ltd has developed switches made from an ultrathin pressure sensitive material, which the company claims can overcome the risks of "contactless skimming" in security cards.

It is believed to be compatible in an application within a host of other sectors like in mobile phone and PC keyboards, as well as improving automotive safety.

Based on its patented Quantum Tunnelling Composites (QTCs) material, Peratech maintains that by embedding these tiny switches into RFID chips used in contactless cards and passports, it ensures that they can only be read in a secure manner by the user pressing on the switch.

The attack of hackers
"People, neither consumers, credit card issuers nor government agencies, do not realize the huge security dangers and implications involved," said Philip Taysom, CEO, Peratech.

He was referring to the spate of security alerts that have been reported recently in which experts and hackers have proven how easily security cards can be cloned and decrypted.

The problem is that such RFID tags produce signals and thus sensitive data constantly, and can be read surreptitiously by a compatible reader carried by anyone passing near to pick up the signals.

"When will people take notice? Will it get a major security incident or an epidemic of ID theft before people solve the problem?" asked Taysom.

He added small, portable readers are easily available for purchase by anyone and the security codes that protect the information have already been hacked in some cases where details have been published on several websites for some time.

"Peratech has been working on the QTC composite and the polymer based variable resistor switch for some time, and has now made switches 30?m thick, thin enough to be laminated inside the current generation of RFIDs used in access or security cards and passports," said Taysom.

Innovative application
He said the polymer material, which when loaded in the proper way can change its electrical behavior from being a resistor to a conductor when pressure is applied, is already used in a wide array of applications. However he is hesitant to elaborate details due to nondisclosure agreements and security considerations when it comes to defense-related applications.

One intriguing application is for mobile phone and computer keyboards, where it could make the device tamper proof, as well as offer an element of water resistance. Taysom noted QTC technology developed by the company's founder and co-CEO, David Lussey has no moving parts and requires no air gap between contacts and is robust enough to survive many years of switching on and off. This makes it extremely reliable and suitable for integration into the thinnest electronic designs and with industry leading operational life.

He added the material is very easy to produce and it is currently made in a facility at the company's Yorkshire headquarters, but Peratec already has a larger plant that will be built in Singapore in time for volume production and has potential uses in the consumer electronics, automotive, defense and communications sectors.

- John Walko
EE Times Europe

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