If you knew that someone could read your credit cards, passport, and even driver’s license without actually having to swipe them or look at them, would you take steps to guard against it? I know I would. Unfortunately, RFID (Radio Frequency IDentification) technology used to track sensitive data in many of today’s portable identifiers (e.g. cards) can be easily scanned without you ever knowing.
It’s a scary thought to entertain and if it bothers you, keep reading to find out what you can do about it.
Why Use An RFID-Blocking Wallet?
As it stands right now, most credit cards and debit cards issued within the past decade have RFID technology embedded in them. All US passports issued in 2006 and later have RFID chips that track your data and photo. RFID chips are a convenient way to store and read data – instead of having to swipe your card through a reader, you can simply wave your card in front of an RFID scanner without even taking it out of your wallet. It’s convenience at its best.
Unfortunately, the danger is that someone could build a counterfeit reader – which wouldn’t be too difficult for anyone who has experience in that field – and pick up your RFID information against your will. It’s similar to one of the risks in an NFC device, which requires a close-up “bump” to trigger a transaction. Counterfeit card readers existed before RFID, but they require you to physically swipe your card through a slot; counterfeit RFID readers can pull or delete data without so much as you walking by.
Angela listed some tips on how to stay safe against hacked RFID chips, and she mentioned RFID-blocking sleeves, pouches, and wallets. A proper RFID blocker will utilize something called a “Faraday cage” and the specification you want to look for is “electromagnetically opaque”. These RFID blockers will prevent illegitimate reading of your RFID-embedded objects.
Not all RFID-blocking wallets are made equal; some are more effective than others. In addition, even the most effective RFID-blocking wallets can fail, whether due to wear and tear or user error. These products will help keep you safe, but they are no replacement for safe habits and exercising caution.
The Most Affordable
As Guy mentioned in his post on blocking RFID chips, an Altoids can is actually somewhat effective as a Faraday cage. Lifehacker expanded on the idea, claiming that an Altoids can was successful in blocking the scanning of an RFID-embedded security badge. The length of time didn’t matter; it didn’t scan. But once the can was opened, the scan worked from inches away.
For those looking for an actual wallet, you’ll need to be careful when balancing price and effectiveness. There are lots of cheap wallets that claim to block RFID but don’t. The cheapest one I found that still works is the DIFRwear RFID Blocking Flip Side Wallet in black leather for about $23. At that price, it won’t be the highest quality or the most stylish, but it’ll get you by.
The Most Utilitarian
When it comes to utilitarian design, I don’t think there’s any more utility-based than the Flipside Strata Wallet, which will set you back about $30. The reason I say that is because the entire wallet is built out of high-strength polymer, not the usual leather and nylon that you might expect from a modern wallet. The hard-case design does protect your cards, though, from both RFID scanners and physical damage.
Other utilitarian wallets include the Flipside 3X Wallet for $40 (which Jackson reviewed in 2011) and the Identity Stronghold Secure Wallet for $35. The former is the larger and higher quality version of the Strata Wallet, while the latter is a simple bi-fold with space for bills and ten cards.
One downside is that these utilitarian wallets can sometimes be a bit too bulky depending on the situation. However, for protection, they are better than average.
The Most Stylish
Now, obviously the definition of “stylish” will differ from person to person. You may like nylon while another finds it horribly outdated, while someone else might prefer crocodile leather which you might think is too loud. With that said, spiffy-looking RFID-blocking wallets can be hard to find in general, so here’s what I could dig up for you.
The Bi-Fold Leather Wallet by Access Denied for $42 is one that fits the sleeker side of the stylish spectrum. It’s the only wallet I’ve found that has a pleasant saddle tan color while actually being effective at blocking RFID signals. However, if that isn’t your preferred color, it also comes in black, dark chocolate brown, and brown/tan.
If you want something on the truly minimalistic side of design, the HuMn Wallet Mini and the HuMn Wallet 2 will be right up your alley. They’re customizable, versatile, easy to assemble, and particularly effective at blocking RFID. They’re a bit expensive though, starting at $76 and going over $100 depending on your customization options.
The $80 DataSafe Bi-Fold Croc Leather Wallet by Kena Kai is a potential choice for those who want to make a statement. A big, loud statement at that. According to their product information, Kena Kai’s DataSafe technology meets the new FIPS-201 security standards and comes with 7 layers of RFID shielding material. The crocodile leather is just icing on the cake.
RFID-blocking wallets will increase the security of your RFID-embedded cards, but they aren’t foolproof solutions. The best way to stay protected against rogue RFID scanners is to minimize your reliance on RFID-enabled tools; abstinence really is the only guaranteed protection. But if you can’t find a way around it, then you can safeguard your cards with the wallets listed above.
Do you use an RFID-blocking wallet? If so, which one? If not, why not? Share your experiences with us in the comments!