Computing Columnist: Near field communication
What do you call it when you bring two radio frequency devices (or one RF device and one "target") in close proximity to one another? NFC, or "near field communication."
It's definitely going to be one of the NBT (next big things) in technology in the NDF (near distant future).
Basically, it works like this: When in close proximity (say, a few centimeters) two smartphones can establish RF contact. They are then able to exchange data via this RF connection, such as photos, files or even enable phone owners to play games without accessing a data network. Not too long ago, an app called "Bump" premiered in which two iPhone users could tap the knuckles of the hand holding their iPhone, with the Bump app launched, and their contact information would be automatically exchanged between phones.
Or let's say you're in a store and you want to find out more about an item. The item has a tag, or chip on or about it. Your smartphone is aimed at the object and the tag communicates and launches a set of information files that might include text, video, audio or all of the above, telling you more about the item, how it was made, where it came from, what it can be used for, accessory items and so on.
Or perhaps you want to buy the item. Your properly equipped smartphone can, via RF communication with the store's RF device, debit your checking account or charge your credit card, at the same time communicating all the important inventory information to its own databases, as well as your purchase verification to your own device.
While all of this is quite convenient and has a coolness factor, there are risks. These include:
Man in the middle attacks: In which a hacker convinces each parties in a two party communication that he is in contact with the legitimate other party, when in fact the hacker is controlling the entire communication.
Eavesdropping: The RF signal for the wireless data transfer can be picked up with antennas. The distance from which an attacker is able to eavesdrop the RF signal depends on numerous parameters, but is typically a small number of meters.
Data modification: It is easy to destroy data by using an RFID jammer. There is no way currently to prevent such an attack. However, if NFC devices check the RF field while they are sending, it is possible to detect attacks.
Lost property: Losing the NFC RFID card or the mobile phone will open access to any finder and act as a single-factor authenticating entity. Mobile phones protected by a PIN code acts as a single authenticating factor.
Walk-off: Lawfully opened access to a secure NFC function or data is protected by time-out closing after a period of inactivity. 100%, only certain bits can be modified.
Still, for all the dangers, we Americans, and even more so the rest of the world as they are ahead of us on this, love our convenience, and as we become more and more used to relying on our smartphones for moment to moment communications rather than simply phone calls and text messaging, NFC is right in your pocket!