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Improving PC Security: RFID Laptop Tags

written by: •edited by: Aaron R.•updated: 12/18/2010

Could RFID tags solve your laptop and PC security needs?

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    What Are RFID Tags?

    RFID tags have become more and more popular over recent years as a means of tagging and tracking items for shipping, individual items in stores and even pets and livestock.

    Standing for Radio-frequency identification, these tags contain small circuits that store information and can be detected by a reader or interrogator device. When in range, the tag will advise the reader of the contents of the item it is attached to, assuming it has been correctly configured.

    RFID offers a particularly useful means to identify a stolen laptop and can have an effect on physical PC security way beyond what seems to be a modern version of ultraviolet pens, depending upon which type of RFID tag is used.

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    Three Types of RFID

    A typical PC security RFID laptop tag RFID comes in three different types, which are used for different types of item tracking.

    Passive RFID – These tags have no power source and can only transmit stored information courtesy of an external electromagnetic field. This is typically applied by means of a reader (also known as an interrogator).

    Active RFID – This is a battery powered variant of passive RFID; with these tags the information contained is only transmitted once a reader has been identified as having permission to interrogate the tag.

    BAP RFID – Battery assisted passive RFID tags require activation from an external source in order to transmit information about the attached item, but have much greater range. Increased range can be used both for tracking in the wild and for quick stocktaking in a warehouse scenario.

    There are many other uses for RFID beyond tracking laptops.

    (Image via

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    Track a Laptop with RFID

    In order to keep tabs on a laptop or other computer hardware, an RFID tag should be programmed to contain information about the laptop make and model, the size of the hard disk drive and the serial number of the drive and the laptop itself. The name of the laptop owner should also be included, whether this is the individual in possession of the device or the organisation that purchased it.

    The ideal scenario would be to use a reader to “log” the laptop in or out of business premises, although this might not always be practical, so a less intrusive method might need to be found for users who require the laptop to be in their possession at all times.

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    Ethical Considerations

    RFID technology presents certain ethical considerations. In the context of PC security, RFID laptop tagging can potentially enable information to be leaked to someone in possession of a suitable reader.

    For instance an RFID tag with personal information about the laptop user (name, age, sex, employer) could be used for identity theft. This is a particular weakness in the system that may protect the laptop but leaves the user vulnerable.

    As a result, IT departments need to act responsibly concerning the information that is stored on RFID tags.