Implanted Microchips: a Bridge too far

September 27, 2017

Blog

David Pollington, Technical Director, GSMA

Among the more striking items in technology news last month was the announcement by Three Square Market, a company in Wisconsin that is preparing to install RFID microchips into its employees. The firm expects to place devices about the size of a grain of rice into over 50 employees. These can then be used to access buildings, rooms, and computers, as well as to pay for items in company facilities.

As you might expect, concerns have been raised over privacy and if the whereabouts of an employee could be tracked remotely, or whether information on their activities could be stolen.  The CEO, Todd Westby, insists that this is impossible, stating: “This device is only readable if you’re within six inches of a proximity reader, the chances of the chip being hacked is nil to none.”

However, these assurances over security are overconfident. Hacking RFID devices is much easier than is often thought possible. While the move to higher-frequency RFID devices over the last three years has improved their security potential, the risks have not been eliminated. Successful identity theft from RFID chips is still possible by using covert readers, which can then be used to clone devices or steal identities.

There is also an unavoidable ethical element to consider here. Concerns over the social and psychological significance of allowing an employer literally to enter one’s body cannot easily be dismissed as Luddite.  As discussions continue in the tech world and beyond about the ‘always on’ work culture of modern society, might body modifications of this kind not prove a bridge too far?

The prospect of leaving the office, but taking a crucial part of it home with you in your own body, may remind some of the unnerving line from the Eagles’ song Hotel California, which warned that “you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.” The bearer may find, still more if such devices can be tracked or compromised, that they are unable to truly escape their professional environment – even while on holiday.

These concerns can be addressed while retaining the benefits of the technology.  By relying on a device everyone already has with them anyway: their mobile phone. New mobile technologies offer a convenient and secure way for a person to authenticate themselves without the need for additional physical implants. For example, Mobile Connect can be set up to authenticate an individual in a number of ways: from behavioural information such as location and usage history, to the use of simple PINs, and, crucially, biometric information. If the RFID chip’s strongest claim is that it cannot be lost, we can be assured that we are also unlikely to lose our fingertips or retinas.

In addition, with the consensus that biometric solutions will be ubiquitous in the years to come, the huge amount of investment going into them now will strengthen both their affordability and effectiveness. We should not forget that biometrics were designed in response to concerns over the adequacy of chips to adequately verify identity.

Finally, and perhaps most simply, there is the bottom line. When asked about the cost of such implants, Mr Westby considered them highly economical at $300 per piece. For companies seeking to minimise the costs of their security arrangements, this may not seem a modest sum. However, by using the phone employees already have, the cost base is much lower.

Maintenance costs are minimised too: where there is an issue to be resolved in mobile technology, a simple update will typically suffice. For chips implanted into the body, a physical recall process will need to be undertaken, to the greater cost and inconvenience of all concerned.  In any case, as with any technology, the degree of standardisation dictates much of the practicability – and thereby cost-effectiveness – of the solution in question.

There is simply no universally-agreed chipset to make such solutions workable on a mass scale. With the privacy concerns of human microchips along with the ease of access of mobile, there is no question: use mobile networks to put services securely in people’s hands, just not literally.

Back

Digital Identity: Trends and News in China and South East Asia We are living through an exciting time for digital commerce in Asia. According to the Asian Development Bank, e-commerce in Asia as a whole now makes up around a quarter of all a...

Read more | See all Identity Resources

MWCS18 Identity Innovation Labs Presentations The Identity Innovation Labs at Mobile World Congress Shanghai 2018 were a set of three stand-alone industry discussions on the latest developments in digital identity. Featuring...

Read more | See all Identity Resources

Turkcell: Taking the next step in Identity with Mobile Connect Turkcell are now leveraging Mobile Connect to actively develop services they believe will be the basis of a new revenue stream. In this case study find out what steps Turkcell ar...

Read more | See all Identity Resources

Mobile Connect live use cases The Mobile Connect live use cases are a list of examples of how the identity solution has been deployed with various services.  Each use case harnesses one or more Mobile Connec...

Read more | See all Identity Resources

Digital Identity: Realising Smart Cities As we look further ahead to the mid-century, intelligent public services will move beyond the mechanical: two decades from now, increasingly complex and sensitive aspects of our ...

Read more | See all Identity Resources

Industry Seminar Presentations from MWC18: Regulations and Attributes   Download presentations from the Mobile World Congress identity seminars Watch on-demand seminar videos from the Mobile World Congress identity seminars Security and Privac...

Read more | See all Identity Resources

Identity Innovation Labs Shanghai: Operators the Natural Gatekeepers o “And what do people need when their lives go online? Digital identity.” -Julian Gorman, Head of Strategic Engagement in Asia, GSMA  As delegates gathered for the Mo...

Read more | Visit Identity Blog

Realising Asia’s Potential: Identity Innovation Labs and the Future Digital identity services have an essential strategic role in the future of online commerce. The growth of e-commerce has been remarkable in Asia over the last year, where it now...

Read more | Visit Identity Blog

Mobile Connect Helping to Secure Online Commerce in India India’s economy is becoming increasingly mobile-centric. 39 million smartphones were sold on the subcontinent in Q3 2017 alone – up 20% on the previous year – and almost 70...

Read more | Visit Identity Blog

Industry Seminar Presentations from MWC18: Regulations and Attributes   Download presentations from the Mobile World Congress identity seminars Watch on-demand seminar videos from the Mobile World Congress identity seminars Security and Privac...

Read more | Visit Identity Blog

Digital Identity Demonstrates its Crucial Role in Transforming Healthc Across the world, healthcare continues to be one of the biggest sources of public expenditure. As such, there is increasing pressure to find more efficient means of delivery. Dig...

Read more | Visit Identity Blog

Identity Now Key to Statecraft Say Experts One of the chief concerns of those in the identity ecosystem is the formulation of policy befitting for the emerging digital age. With the recent completion of PSD2 and successiv...

Read more | Visit Identity Blog

Mobile Connect Workshop: Delivering commercial success through identit September 07, 2018 In this workshop, participants will have the opportunity to learn the value and commercial scalability of mobile-based identity services in the Asia-Pacific region. The event is ...

Read more | See all Identity Events

Mobile Connect at Mobile World Congress Americas 2018 September 12, 2018 Join the GSMA’s Identity programme at Mobile World Congress Americas 2018 to discover and shape the future of the digital identity. Through a series of seminars, exhibition...

Read more | See all Identity Events

Mobile Connect Seminar: Reducing Fraud through Secure Authentication a September 12, 2018 This seminar will focus on preventing fraud by providing strong digital authentication. Featuring a range of high level experts, this session is designed to help mobile operators...

Read more | See all Identity Events

Mobile Connect at Mobile 360 – Europe September 18, 2018 Orange´s Mobile Connect et Moi service will be featured at the Mobile 360 – Europe event showcase area. Experience how Orange subscribers can access their government data secu...

Read more | See all Identity Events

Contact GSMA Legal Email Preference Centre Copyright © 2018 GSMA. GSM and the GSM Logo are registered and owned by the GSMA.