Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) – Easy and Secure Access to Your Printer

Posted On December 20, 2011 By Kevin O'Brien

Businesses are always looking for new ways to increase productivity, track costs, and secure their data. There are many methods available but none are as transparent to end users as card authentication, specifically RFID (radio frequency identification) which are better known as proximity cards. While RFID technology is fantastic, and I’m a huge proponent, there is one downside that users need to be aware of, especially around the holidays…

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The ability to use some advanced security features likely already exists on your multifunctional device (MFD) and in most cases can be utilized by enabling authentication features. Once enabled not only will it make it easier for you to setup and maintain device users, but it may also make it easier for employees to use on a daily basis too.

Conventional methods of restricting copier, print, and scan functions include user codes, job IDs, and locked printing. Managing these types of authentication methods is done at the panel of the device, via a Web interface, or a secondary management application. In most cases there is no integration with Active Directory or other LDAP servers therefore all data must be updated manually on the device itself. This may not be a big deal for smaller organizations with a few users, but companies with large fleets and multiple users will find that managing devices in this manner requires duplication of information on each device. The last thing an IT department wants to do is manually duplicate user information across multiple multifunctional devices (MFD’s) so many are inquiring about the card authentication technology and what is required to put it in place.

Just about all manufacturers offer some form of card authentication whether magnetic stripe or RFID (proximity card) authentication. Chances are you have used RFID technology at some point in your life whether at your place of business, traveling, or shopping. It’s even becoming common practice to embed these chips in our pets to help with identification if lost or stolen. RFID chips are present in most passports not to mention many credit card companies have been embedding this technology in cards for years. Now, when checking out or pulling up to the pump we are sometimes only required to waive our card (ie., ExxonMobil’s Speedpass for example) and voila, we are authenticated and the purchase is complete.

While RFID technology is fantastic, and I’m a huge fan, there is one downside that users need to be aware of, especially around this time of year. Since RFID chips are sometimes embedded in credit cards it allows the user to get in “proximity” to the card reader and authenticate their payment, not actually swipe their card. While this is a huge convenience to the user it is also convenient to thieves running around with RFID readers. It is possible for someone with such a reader to get close enough to a purse or wallet and lift your credit card information.

This is why government entities require certain sleeves or card guards that prevent such illegal methods of information gathering. So before going out to make that next holiday purchase, be informed and take a look at your card to see if RFID is present on your card. While most businesses actively market RFID technology when they use it (ie., Exxon Mobil’s SpeedPass), there are currently no regulations requiring manufacturers to tell you when they’ve included RFID chip. For now, the safest bet is to be aware of the technology and be on the lookout for cards and gadgets that don’t just have the traditional magnetic stripe or have a RFID icon on them.

Using RFID technology on your MFD works in the same exact manner and can authenticate the user against a device with the information obtained from the card. In most cases the MFD will be running embedded software on the Java platform that authenticates users against a local database or preferably an LDAP server on the network. IT personnel only have to worry about adding a user to the proper security group rather than updating each device individually with a user code. The card in most cases will be the same used to allow the user building access therefore keeping consistency on how users authenticate regardless if it’s the MFD or various building locations.