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But Will It Match My Tinfoil Hat?

A new line of wallets has metal-infused RF shielding built in to prevent thieves from remotely scanning RFID-embedded credit cards. This is just silly....

A new line of wallets has metal-infused RF shielding built in to prevent thieves from remotely scanning RFID-embedded credit cards. This is just silly. The idea is to thwart high-tech pickpockets, who theoretically only need to brush past you with a wireless device to potentially "skim" data from a credit card with an RFID chip.

Credit cards with RFID chips aren't yet widespread in the U.S., but they're coming. Called "contactless cards" in industry parlance, they're already popular in Japan and their use is growing in Europe. In the states, Visa, MasterCard and American Express have piloted contactless payment systems that let consumers wave a credit card with an embedded RFID tag over a receiver to pay for transactions.

Don't get me wrong: I believe RFID chips are a potential threat to privacy and aren't nearly as secure as the RFID industry wants us to believe. For instance, security researchers have demonstrated the ability to read and copy data in RFID-embedded passports. And if contactless cards take off in the U.S., criminals will find ways to exploit them.

But as protection against credit card fraud, these wallets are laughable. You're a thousand times more likely to have your card number stolen by waiter in a restaurant, or by criminal hackers lifting data in bulk from retailers and credit card processors. In either case the wallet will be useless.

That hasn't stopped Kena Kai, the company making the wallets, which believes there's a market of paranoids willing to pay from $40 t0 $120 for one of these things.

Drew is formerly editor of Network Computing and currently director of content and community for Interop. View Full Bio
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