RFID Tagging for Document Security

In the olden days, secret documents and important papers and envelopes were sealed with hot wax that had been embossed with the author's signature or signet ring. This seal not only authenticated the sender's mail, but if the wax had been broken in transit, the document could no longer be considered secure. The owner of the ring usually did not remove the ring allowing free access, but if the ring was removed to be used by another person, it was a statement of absolute trust and a means for recognizing the delegated authority.

The rule in force was that the letter or document was to be hand-delivered directly to the person intended and that once the seal was broken, the seal could not be reused. One could imagine someone reclaiming the remnants of a broken wax seal and constructing a matching signet much like creating a wax impression of a key. So, in the end, it was not really that secure.

Document security and authenticity is a major concern. Disinformation via phony documents is one of the main intelligence tools used today. How does the recipient know that the document he has in his hands was the one sent by the designer, the contractor, the lawyer, or any other person having the originating authority? How does a company know that the certifications of compliance are genuine, and not counterfeit? The answer is RFID tagging.

The RFID tag need not be visible, as it can be printed in between pressed pages that at first glance look like a single sheet of paper. If anyone tries to tamper with the tag, the document is destroyed. This hearkens back to the wax seal on secret documents, but this seal is made in such a way that no two are ever alike. Also, the tag can be encrypted and locked so that only authorized recipients can read them. RFID tags are not costly, and they provide document authentication for packages, contractual agreements, official schedules, or any other critical materials that require certification of genuine origin.

Counterfeiters do not just counterfeit products. They forge packaging, logo, labels, compliance certificate, shipping documents, transit, and customs documents. Covert RFID tagging may be the best answer to resolving this problem. If my package has the authorized tag data embedded in the shipping document, label, package contents, and other official documents, then I can be 99.99 percent sure that what I received what ordered. Now when the RFID cloud is up and running, I will be able to keep a historical archive of everything I ordered and received from all vendors that use the RFID technology.

I can foresee a day when I hold up my document to a RFID-enabled display that recognizes the presence of an RFID tag. In less than a second, the smart display will access the cloud and authenticate the document. It is just a matter of software, optics, and computer power. Why not? If the application becomes ubiquitous, then my mobile phone, laptop, and tablet will detect a spam document and filter it out before my email receives it.

I am talking about a personal, digital signet ring that will provide the authentication that any email I send has come from me and not from a source using my email address. The RFID tagging of documents has earned my seal of approval. Let's see if our next-gen laptops will include RFID readers and software.

21 comments on “RFID Tagging for Document Security

  1. Barbara Jorgensen
    August 24, 2012

    RFID in the cloud–what a great idea. (Clearly, I havene't been using my brain recently.) One of the things holding RFID back, I believe, is the investment in equipment. The cloud would minimize that…and a scanning app on a smartphone…solves a lot of issues. I wonder if the costs are reduced enough, electronics compnaies will start using RFID on components? Or is that still a non-starter?

  2. dalexander
    August 24, 2012

    @Barbara, when you consider convergence as a key product feature determination, then matching up wireless with Internet and mobile and software and all the other rapidly emerging technologies, pretty much is fueling our acceleration towards an all digital future. By that I mean, as our knowledge becomes more additive from a multi vectoring point of view, then our velocity towards a realized sci-fy like existance increases at an exponential pace. Technology is determining us as we will conform to whatever it takes to get the most out of our technologies. Ask yourself how much different are we from 10 years ago? How much of that is due to technology, and what technologies we have become completely dependent upon? The more dependent we become on anything, the less freedom we have and the fewer are the choices we can make.

  3. _hm
    August 24, 2012

    Looks quite complex and inconvenient solution. Perhaps we need to find simpler solution.


  4. mfbertozzi
    August 25, 2012

    Well, not to say I am absolutely right, but the feeling, in general, is RFID deployment has faced some issues and reduction with the advent of 2D-code and features inside smartphones which have replaced, sometimes, RFID reader terminals. Of course, between techs, there is still a gap.

  5. Cryptoman
    August 25, 2012

    I cannot really understand how an encrypted RFID tag will prevent a person from reading the information written on a piece of paper.

    I presume when the information on a tag is secured, its content cannot be read back and copied onto another tag. That is the only way RFID tags can be used as a secure medium for authentication.

    Going back to the hardcopy protection, let's think that each page of a 200 page document was protected by the “RFID paper”. In that case, in order to ensure the authenticity of each page, the reader would have to read the tag on each page to verify the author, which to me sounds like a big overhead. There is also the cost associated with the RFID paper and the programming of the secure tags when the document is produced. I am not sure if this method will be practical enough to be used by everyone.

  6. Mr. Roques
    August 26, 2012

    I was about to ask the same thing. Are we talking about physical documents or eDocs? Will it be smart ink?

  7. bolaji ojo
    August 26, 2012

    Douglas, RFID has promised more than it has delivered and I am not sure this idea has legs. I am waiting for the evolution you speak off.

  8. prabhakar_deosthali
    August 27, 2012

    In my opinion RFID tagging is good for all things physical -small or large. Intel has even embedded RFID tags in their new processors as a check against counterfeiting.

    But for electronic documents something like PKI is an appropriate security . RFID will create an unnecessary overhead for such documents as email attachments.

  9. Taimoor Zubar
    August 27, 2012

    “I cannot really understand how an encrypted RFID tag will prevent a person from reading the information written on a piece of paper.”

    @Cryptoman: I don't think the RFID tags are designed to prevent someone from reading the documents. The idea is to ensure that the original document cannot be forged and a fake copy cannot be made from it. As far as the cost is involved, yes I agree that there will be a significant cost as every page will need to have it's own tag.

  10. Taimoor Zubar
    August 27, 2012

    @Mr Roques: The RFID tags will be used to secure physical copies of the document. As Doughlas said, the tags will be embedded within two sheets of paper and will be read through an RFID reader.

  11. SP
    August 27, 2012

    RFID tagging for document security. That would be just great. Many times our letter are sent to wrong addresses and few people wont mind opening the letters and reading it. I guess RFID tagging would make it safer.

  12. ahdand
    August 27, 2012

    Yes true and with RFID you can be assured that what you sent will be delivered to the right person on good condition.

  13. dalexander
    August 28, 2012

    @TaimoorZ, Exactly right! RFID does not stop anyone from reading a secure document. It only authenticates the sender and when the RFID chip has onboard memory, can track the stations and that the document passed through and when. This is called “Rules based management”. It is perfect for the supply chain where in-transit checks are required.

  14. Cryptoman
    August 30, 2012

    I recently came across an interesting application of the RFID technology which is about tracking money. Researchers at the Functional Nanomaterials and Devices Laboratory at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology are trying to implement RFID on banknotes.

    In the link I provided above, you will find an interesting interview on this fascinating and very useful application of RFID.

  15. Ashu001
    August 30, 2012


    Philosphically I am opposed to this.People should have the freedom to use Competing currencies whichever suits themselves.

    This is not a good move if you believe in Freedom and Liberty[How you anonymize/ensure that the Government does not abuse the tracking features on the Note for their own nefarious needs???]

    But Technically,I was like WoW!The Engineering Skills involved are just mind-boggling here.

    Awesome ,Awesome stuff!




  16. Cryptoman
    August 30, 2012

    Hi tech4people,

    I do see your concerns and I agree with them. Whilst this technology can help detect fraud and money laundering, it also provides a means to track the amount of cash people have in their pockets, which I do find way intrusive and a breach of privacy.

    As the article has mentioned, it provides a fantastic tool for the government to check whether people pay their income tax properly. I am sure this possibility alone will cause huge objections to this technology.

    This particular application has many controversial issues associated with it and whilst it may easily be put into practice in Saudi Arabia, I cannot say the same for the Western world.

    Technologically, I was equally impressed as you though.

  17. Ashu001
    August 30, 2012


    This is one such rule,the other is the increased move to a Cash less Society(like in Sweden,etc);both are very-very dangerous for individual freedoms.

    For examples of how bad things can and will get(if this move gains traction);Watch this


    Most Western Governments are bankrupt today.So Harassment of Citizens(to pay their so-called fair share in Taxes) is gonna increase;especially if you are not politically connected.

    Compare and contrast this behavior to that meted out to Known  Cheats like Timothy Geithner and Jon Corzine & you will know what I mean.



  18. Ashu001
    August 30, 2012


    Saudi Arabia does not have Income Taxes and its not like the Saudi Riyal is widely used outside of Saudi Arabia(so market for Currency forgery is less);so I don't see why there should resistance to utililzation of this Technology there.





  19. Cryptoman
    August 30, 2012



    Thank you for sharing these links. This is a perfect example of how the government can use its power to play unfairly and without limits. It is very scary indeed. Such acts do gradually deteriorate the trust of people in the government which is irreversible and therefore it is a very risky practice though.

    When seamless technology and access (such as the one offered by RFID) is brought into the above picture, only god knows how 'creatively' the governments can make use of the information they have access to.

    I am just thinking of a scenario where the RFID powered banknotes changing hands from a criminal to an innocent citizen (called Bob) and the horrific situation this 'unmeasurable and undetectable' scenario could lead to. Poor Bob could be questioned for days on end to prove that he got the cash from somebody else!

  20. Ashu001
    August 30, 2012


    My points precisely!

    Can you imagine a situation where a Criminal feels pity on a Beggar by the roadside and gives him one of these rigged notes?

    The poor Beggar won't know what hit him as the Authorities hound him entirely over that rigged Note!!!

    Privacy and Personal Freedom will become extinct in such a sceanario.

    At that stage,it will be time to abandon that country.



  21. Taimoor Zubar
    August 31, 2012

    “It only authenticates the sender and when the RFID chip has onboard memory, can track the stations and that the document passed through and when”

    @Doughlas: I wasn't aware of this feature that the chip can also store the reader's information once it's read. Seems like a really useful technique to ensure that the document has not fallen in the wrong hands and that it's still confidential.

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