handy guide to RFID type chip implants

(handy. do you see what i did there)

this is a short overview of what i've learned over time about the various identification and/or data-carrying implantable chips: regular RFID ones, rewritable ones, NFC chips etc etc. these chips are all very similar: the basic idea is you have a little microchip encased in some outer object (like a card or keyring), alongside a little copper coil of antenna that lets a powered reader cause the chip to power up and burp up its ID, or its data, or start up an authentication process or whatever. the chip itself has no power source, but it works on the principle that when a copper coil comes into contact with an electrical field, the coil will resonate with electricity of its own. it's that electricity which powers the chip and allows it to give out its ID as long as it remains within the field. there are many, many different types of tags both NFC and RFID, long-range variants, different frequencies and outer forms, some come with onboard sensors that they can report the data from, etc. i'm going to concentrate on the ones we can use as implants, which are the glass ampoules. they're very useful in my opinion, but most require a little bit of further programming and/or hardware setup before they can really be used for something.

{this is a Dangerous Things NFC implant in its sterile container, picture from just before it was installed in my right hand by the lovely Jenova Rain}

these are the three types you'll be most likely to encounter:

plain RFID chips
these are exactly what i described above. they're fairly old as a technology, generally cheap, and very simple - they're just a chip with a coiled copper antenna, encased in a variety of coverings that enable the chips to be used in various different settings: stickers, identity cards, wristbands. just about anything can contain one of these so long as the object isn't dense enough to block the electrical signals, and there are long-range versions for use in things that are too thick for the standard ones. some come in bioproof glass; these are called ampoules, they're generally suitable for implantation (though you should always test it first) even if they have to put a disclaimer on the packaging that tells you not to implant them. all of these types require a powered reader to detect them, as the chip isn't powered except by its coil and therefore doesn't do anything when no reader is present. i like the Phidgets reader, which works for older and newer tags and just plugs in to your machine via USB.

this basic, oldest type contains no other data than its unique ID number. they're guaranteed to be unique and they're set in the factory, so you can't change the number or use the chip to carry any other data - more on this further down. they're simple and very easy to start working with in your projects. you can get them from many robotics, hobby and electronics shops online - a shop called Atlas stocks loads of them & ships worldwide, and there's hundreds of them on Amazon. if you wanted an entire starter kit, Codegate sells some in the UK.

there are various subtypes of these, using various different radio frequencies and able to read across varying distances, and also some which can send sensor data (like temperature, or movement) alongside their ID, but for implant stuff you are basically only going to want the short-range little glass ampoule tags like these. other, longer-range tags exist but are too large to consider putting under your flesh in my experience.

these ampoules have some downsides: they're old, and therefore they are vulnerable security wise. they have no defences whatsoever and will ping their ID number whenever any reader comes into range of them. that means if you were using the ID as a key for something important, anyone can walk past you with a reader in their pocket and grab that key even if the chip is embedded into your hand; all they'd have to do is get close enough, snatch the ID number and copy it onto a rewritable RFID tag for access to whatever you were using your tag to secure. the plain chips are also limited in terms of what you can do with them, since they can't carry any extra data and can't be altered.

rewritable RFID
later chips' ID values are re-writable, so you can do stupid things like grab the ID from your access card for a building using your own reader, rewrite that ID onto the chip in your hand, and then go to work and ~magically telekinetically open doors with your miiiind~ or whatever. (it will amuse the security guy if nothing else.) they're also what you'd use to duplicate existing RFID tags' numbers so you can back them up, or as part of an attack on someone else's tag-secured system. other than this they're the same as the regular RFID tags: they still can't carry extra data (it's limited to just changing the tag's ID value usually), they're still relatively simple and easy to learn your way around, and they're still grabbable by rogue readers.

you get these from the same places as the regular ones; here's some from JM Prime. i used to get mine from Core RFID, too.

NFC (Near Field Communication) chips
these are the next generation of implanted chip technology after RFID. they work in a different way but the basis is still the same: whenever they come into contact with a reader, the chips are passively powered up and can interact with it. they're a lot more complex than RFID - this allows for things like passcode protection (example: you can't access anything stored on the NFC chip in my hand without my 4-digit code) and proper data storage (like contacts for your phone, vcard data, custom hex or binary or whatever for your projects, etc).

the biggest advantage with these in my opinion is that you don't need a separate hardware reader in order to interact with the tags. you just use your smartphone, provided it's NFC capable (most are nowadays i think, but you can check your model online to see if it is.) you just install an app like tagInfo / tagWriter which then acts as a reader and can write info to tags, etc.

these can also be bought from the places i suggested up there, but the easiest thing to do if you are wanting one of these for implant purposes is just to buy an entire kit from Dangerous Things. Amal crowdfunded these kits for biohackers, they contain everything you'd need to install the chip as well as the tag itself preloaded into a syringe for injection (i'd definitely agree that needle installation is superior to scalpel use if the thing you're installing is that small). you can even buy a patch with topical anaesthetic to numb the site if you're worried about pain (but don't be, it's less painful even than having blood taken for tests or getting immunisation jabs.) the Android app Dangerous NFC is made to secure these tags once you have them installed, but currently doesn't function as a reader/writer (you'd need tagInfo and tagWriter for that as usual).

other cool Dangerous Things developed tags
Dangerous Things are actively developing new kinds of tags for implantation all the time. you can see their kind of "beta testing" stuff and possibly buy some here. their regular shop contains stuff they've already done, and there is some really nice gear in there: i personally am coveting the temperature sensing one (due to medication side effects i still have trouble sensing how cold my body is or isn't, and i no longer have the implant i cooked up to do the job) and i also love these little NFC light-up sticker guys except i would stick those suckers in some hot glue and put them on top of the long bones in my fingers i think.

installation of ampoules
if you didn't get a preloaded syringe kit for your tag, the easiest way to put them in is with a sterile piercer's needle. it's a very minor wound and the process is pretty simple:

1. find the best place to put the tag. this is generally the triangle shaped part of your hand made by the thumb and index finger bones. use your non-dominant hand if you can and place tags far apart from each other if they use the same frequency (e.g you can put your NFC tag right next to an RFID one, but don't put two of the same kind close to each other or they will confuse the reader.) mark the place with a biro dot or tattoo pen.

2. sanitise everything, your hands, the work surface, fuckin everything. bleach for your surfaces, Milton for your tools, Hibiscrub for your hands (because you can't wear sterile gloves when you're working on your own hands, tho i do sometimes put one on the hand i'm not installing anything on).

3. numb it up with whatever (ice, lidocaine cream) if you like, although the process is so easy that i honestly don't consider it necessary at all.

4. make a hole where you marked it using a fresh needle. get that sucker like at least 3 or 4cm in, it needs to pierce right through the skin and into the gap below. you don't want to actually pierce the stuff underneath, though, so be careful with it and push the needle in at an angle of like 45 degrees. it takes a surprising amount of force to do these things btw so again, be extremely careful and go slowly if it's your first few times.

5. retract needle, push tag into the hole. make sure the tag is all the way underneath the skin.

6. hold clean cotton wool over the hole and press down gently until bleeding slows, which it will do quickly because you only made a tiny teeny baby's first biohack hole. put a wee dressing of some sort on the little hole, maybe a steristrip under that to hold it closed if you're worried. a plaster will do, anything as long as it came from a sterile package. keep it clean and change dressings each day over the next week or so and it should be healed and ready to go.

remember always to be as over-the-top careful with this shit as you can be. infections suck, they ruin your projects, and it's better to spend a little bit of extra money on sterile dressings, wound cleaning spray with chlorhexidine, etc and use up a little bit of extra time sterilising everything and cleaning up all the wounds, than it is to spend a fuckload of money sorting out a raging infection. as usual, i also ask you not to do this if you're under 18, or you're not completely responsible for yourself legally; i don't want to mess anyone up and i don't want to get anyone (including me) in a mess with the law.

the bigger question once you have your tags and reader set up is usually what to do with them. the book Amal wrote, RFID Toys, is an old but good guide to the sorts of things you can do, but in general you can use implanted tags to make your machines only log on when you're present, you can connect them to home security systems as disarm tags, you can use NFC ones to carry important data or unlock your phone only when your tag is nearby. you could use a secured Dangerous Things tag to hold your private PGP/GPG key. Maplins also carries a few different pre-made RFID home security and other implementations you can have a look at replicating or adapting.

the tags are endlessly useful and probably will get more so as time goes on. you lot are also endlessly smart, and i know you'll come up with some interesting shit and/or already have. i hope this screed was slightly useful to any of you considering installing one, or working with them. let me know in the comments or on twatter if you have questions, or additions/clarifications you think i should make to this article. and tell me about your own tags, i love hearing what others have done!

carpe corporem



Anonymous said...

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Robert Nash said...

Care about less, care about freedom. Great post as usual! Also I'd add my two cents on accessories. Think about a minimalist slim wallet. Nothing ruins the lines of a suit or blazer and makes you look more like a doofus than when your pockets are crammed with stuff - a wallet, a cell phone, keys, a calculator, a calendar, pens, etc. I favor Kisetsu wallets, the classic bifold reinvented a feature-packed Premium minimalist wallet made with Full Grain Nappa Leather and RFID protection. How about you?


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