Ahh, we love technology. It allows us to do so many things quickly and easily.
Tired of pulling out your credit card at the cash register? Try Android Pay, Apple Pay or Samsung Pay with your phone. Several years ago MasterCard and many businesses started a quick payment method called contactless payment. Tap and Pay and Pay Pass are common names you may have seen at local businesses.
Contactless payment is a pay method where a card or other device can simply be touched to a payment device without having to swipe your credit card. Quick, easy and you no longer have to worry about that magnetic strip on the back of your credit card wearing out. This new payment method uses variations of the wireless technology called RFID. To understand how this affects users of the technology, lets look at how RFID works.
RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) is a clever wireless technology that allows data stored on a device (card, chip or electronic device), to be sent by a wireless “reflected pulse” to a receiving reading device. How? Let’s look at an RFID tag. An RFID tag is simply an antenna (wire) connected to an electronic chip. The electronic chip does not have a battery. It s powered wirelessly by radio waves. Take a look at this photo of one of my actual RFID tags. Using a VERY BRIGHT flashlight I was able to shine a light through the card.
You may have seen these before in the back of a library book long ago. At the bottom of the photo is a chip connected to the black lines. The black lines are the antenna wrapped around the chip in a loop. The antenna is designed to capture power from radio waves. The radio waves are very low power and are usually only detectable from a few inches to a foot. The power needed is only a few volts, which is sent by the payment device.
Payment devices come in various forms, from SpeedPass modules on gas pumps to MasterCard Tap and Go receptacles on credit card machines. The payment devices “talk” to the RFID tag by sending a radio wave a specific frequency. Think of tuning your favorite FM radio channel. The card is only powered and responds when it “hears” certain radio frequencies. Once powered, the chip sends its data to the receiving device via another antenna loop embedded in the card or device. Another RFID technology called NFC (near field communication) Pretty clever.
Have you seen this logos on credit card machines?
The first common contactless payment devices were used at gas pumps via a keychain speedpass token. You can watch their “how it works” video here.
Some contactless methods don’t store your actual card information on the embedded electronic chip. A proxy card or other ID represents your credit card data. This can protect your data in some circumstances. However, there are some contactless system which transmit directly usable data. RFID and its associated technology NFC are simple and convenient data transfer methods for credit cards, hotel key cards, passports and any other electronic ID systems.
With the ease of use, it is also quick and easy for ANYONE to read RFID/NFC devices with a special RFID/NFC readers or even Android phones. Imagine walking in a store or a crowded area with your wallet, purse or cell phone (which many have NFC today). A person armed with an RFID/NFC reader can silently capture your credit card, hotel key card, passport or other RFID/NFC data. By simply placing the reader near your card or device for less than a second or two. This can be accomplished easily and I’m surprised it hasn’t become a big fraud/ security issue. You can purchase RFID/NFC readers from online stores or simply run a NFC tag reader application on an Android phone with NFC. This is a legitimate risk.
You can protect your data with shielding products from Silent Pocket. Silent Pocket is a California based company we met at CES 2016 who have solutions to protect your data. Silent Pocket has a line of products which shield the RFID and NFC when not in use. Simply insert your credit card, hotel key card or other thin device in one of their products to protect your data.
Check out Silent Pocket’s video for more detail.
Silent Pocket sent us a few of their products to test. We received a 5 pack of credit card sleeves, a medium sized shielding sleeve for electronic devices, a simple card wallet and an iPhone 6 radiation and card guard. We put them through some tests. Here is what we found.
Credit Card Sleeve
Our favorite product from silent pocket are the credit card sleeves. They are very versatile and work well with any card based RFID/NFC solution you want to shield.
Medium Plus Full Shielding Sleeve
If you have a need to protect a cell phone, small tablet or several small devices Silent Pocket has a medium sized sleeve. We found this device useful for making your phone disappear. This is useful when used in corporate, state and federal environments where use of electronic devices is forbidden. Trusting that the device is truly off and not transmitting or receiving isn’t a concern with this sleeve. We tested this by making a phone call, enabling the speaker phone and while talking to another person, placing the phone into the sleeve.
Call dropped. WIFI and cellular no longer could transmit or receive signal. The sleeve is well made and is made out of leather. Its also a good size for various devices.
Note: This sleeve can take you “off the grid“. There are companies implementing technologies which can track your cell phone in stores. By identifying your device trackers can note what areas of the store you visit. This tracking system doesn’t have to know who you are, just knowing that customers that look at certain products is a marketing and data research tool. Noting stops them from having one at the cashier when you make a purchase, where they could match you to your credit card or loyalty program. (Best Buy… Is that why you want us to wait so far back when standing in line? hmmmm?)
iPhone 6s case and Guard
Silent Pocket also has an iPhone 6s case and card guard. Our only reviewer complaint came from this item.
As with the other products the case offers a pocket to protect cards with RFID/NFC. The pocket can accommodate 1-3 cards with a VERY tight fit. Its a bit difficult to get your card out if you have 2 or three cards in the pocket on the back of the case. If you do plan to use 1 or 2 cards in the pocket, add one extra card to it for one day to allow it to stretch a bit and your cards will come out more easily. The case provides radiation protection when properly oriented. Check out the diagram below with a description.
We did find the radiation blocking a bit confusing. If you look at the diagram, it appears you must face the phone away from you once its in the case to avoid radiation. Its a little awkward but would work as indicated.
Simple Card Wallet
Another favorite shield made with premium leather is the simple card wallet. This is a useful wallet for several cards and can accommodate thin to medium sized RFID/NFC tokens. If you arent familiar with two factor authentication tokens, you will be soon. We will cover them in another article later this year. The simple card wallet is small enough to be inserted into a medium to large sized wallet. The wallet can hold 6 or more cards easily.
Silent Pocket isn’t the only company in this game. During our testing we discovered this product in a local store. It worked similarly, but didn’t have a premium look.
The interior of this product looked like aluminum foil from a chewing gum wrapper. The sleeves from their competitor had a faux leather look. Both of these products are made out of paper and in this case the competitors product seemed to be a tyvek material which is a bit more durable and difficult to tear. One suggestion we have for Silent Pocket in the future would be to keep the same quality premium look of the sleeve and make them with a tyvek like material. Instant winner.
During our tests we surveyed some non tech geeks about what kind of cards and RFID devices they had. We discovered many were unaware their credit cards had this capability. RFID/NFC is being used in more places. Be sure to check your cards and be aware of what you may be broadcasting.
Here are some places we encountered and tested RFID/NFC cards:
- SunRail Train pass (Orlando, FL)
- New York City Subway/ Metro (NY, NY)
- Cambria Hotels (Cleveland, Ohio)
- aLoft Hotels (Tallahassee, FL)
- Disney entrance bands (Orlando, FL)
Could you use aluminum foil? Maybe, we tested with regular aluminum and found it was not as durable as silent pockets products. Within a week or two plain aluminum foil kept in a wallet would crack or develop holes. After some time they foil could and will fail. Foil may also damage magnetic strips. I also felt odd pulling my aluminum foil sleeve out in public.
Silent Pocket offers premium protection products that appear like normal wallets, bags and pouches. These great looking products effectively make you cards and devices invisible when needed.
Central Florida Top 5 would like to thank Aaron Zar Co-Founder at Silent Pocket for sending us additional products for us to review. Find out more about them at http://silent-pocket.com/.
Silent Pocket provided us with their devices however, all opinions are our own.