Broadcom’s Secure RFID Chips Take Flight

Radio frequency identity (RFID)  tags are becoming a common convenience, popping up in places such as luggage, luxury goods, passports and pharmaceutical products.

But security protocols about that data remain a work in progress for working groups and industry sectors.

Hoping to get in on the action with security, chipmaker Broadcom  has announced what it called the first secure processor with embedded RFID capabilities. It’s also the latest company to join RSA Security’s  SecurID Ready for Authenticators program.

Derek Brink, RSA’s vice president for corporate development, told that RFID security comes in third behind convenience and cost for consumers.

The agreement to embed RSA’s SecurID technology along with integrated RFID in Broadcom’s BCM5890 processor helps enterprises balance convenience with security, according to John Worrall, senior vice president of marketing at RSA.

Broadcom is now the eighth company to join RSA’s SecurID Ready Partner program, which seeks to encourage companies to embed RSA’s two-step SecurID algorithm in devices.

Last February during its annual security conference, RSA announced M-Systems, Motorola, RedCannon, Renasas Technology and SanDisk as partners in the program, which also counts RIM  and Microsoft.

The first device to use the RFID processor with embedded RSA security technology will be the plusID, a watch fob-size wireless biometric product from Privaris that uses fingerprints to authenticate users for access to buildings, computers or online finances.

Microsoft  said it is planning to provide third-party support for the SecurID program in the upcoming Vista operating system release.

Wallace told integrating RSA’s security algorithm gathers differing RFID applications and provides increased user authentication. “Otherwise, it is a bag full of chips running around,” he said.

(The RFID deal was announced prior to EMC’s $2.1 billion acquisition of RSA Security last week. As reported, the combination of EMC provides the marketing muscle and customer base that will enable RSA to become a security technology provider for storage customers. In addition, EMC gains a foothold in the RFID security sector.)

While the integrated RFID security product likely won’t be tracking pallets of Pepsi, the chip is very applicable to tracking pharmaceuticals. Consumers stopping at the neighbor pharmacy would swipe their finger at an RFID device and be authenticated, said Wallace.

Pharmaceutical companies are seen as big adopters in their battles with drug counterfeiters.

Systems vendors are keen to help.

For example, in 2005 Sun Microsystems  unveiled its RFID Industry Solution for Drug Authentication, offering manufacturers a custom-tailored software and hardware package which claimed to help keep fake drugs off pharmacy shelves.

IBM , which offers a WebSphere support for RFID systems, expanded its privacy practice last year in order to help businesses address privacy concerns about the use of RFID data.

Big Blue began ramping up its RFID business with an investment of about a quarter of a billion dollars within its Pervasive Computing division in 2004.

HP  and BEA Systems are teaming up to offer manufacturing, consulting, integration and support services that target supply-chain problems across multiple industry segments.

Database software maker Sybase  has upgraded its RFID Enterprise suite with templates that are compatible with existing service-oriented architectures .

Microsoft’s next release of BizTalk Server in the first half of 2007 is expected to offer a business process management (BPM) server that helps businesses build RFID integration.

RFID’s popularity is expected to explode from 1.5 billion tags in 2004 to 33 billion by 2010, according to In-Stat. However, efforts by Wal-Mart, the U.S. Defense Department and others could be derailed by security concerns, according to Alan Nogee, analyst with In-Stat.

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