Tagged! Man uses RFID implants in his hands to control hardware

A man who implanted himself with a radio frequency identification tag has managed to convert at least one other early adopter: his Vancouver-based girlfriend.

Amal Graafstra, a 29-year-old entrepreneur who is starting of Web hosting and managed computing products firm called Morpheus Inc. in Bellingham, Wash., gained international exposure earlier this week when he and his girlfriend were interviewed on CNN about their RFID implants. Graafstra, who said he spends much of his time in Vancouver, discussed how he can use the RFID chips in his hands to automatically open his front door, his car or to log onto his computer.

Next month, Graafstra said he will be publishing a book, called RFID Toys, that will outline how to build RFID projects using cheap and easy to find hardware. He implanted his first chip last March in his left hand, and a second one in his right hand last August. A cosmetic surgeon performed the implant procedure, Graafstra added. In both cases, the operation was quite short and he was able to use his hands later the same day, he said. 

“There’s really nothing to it – there’s just a Band-Aid on the wound,” he said. “The only risk of infection is in that process of healing.”

Since Graafstra started gaining notoriety for his implants, the company from whom he procured one of the tags and readers, PhidgetsUSA, has put up a disclaimer on its Web site in order to clear up any misconceptions, according to its president, Matt Trossen.

“We’re a hobby company, not a medical parts company,” he said. “The tag he used is meant for animals or livestock. We offer an array of RFID tags because it helps sell the readers.”

While RFID implants aren’t common in human beings, there is already a Web forum for people who are interested in similar procedures. Graafstra said there is considerable potential for the tags as biosensors in medical patients, or as data storage devices. 

“I think it’s highly possible – many of us already carry around RFID access cards,” he said. “You could implement some kind of universal control system that uses crypto features as well as data storage features to facilitate secure communication between the chip and reader and a provide a one-time key to the data portion.”

Graafstra acknowledged the security issues associated with RFID implants, but suggested that they need to be put in the proper context.

“While someone could read my tag ID or clone it and emulate it, getting close enough to me and dragging all this equipment around to break into my house — that’s a lot of effort than just breaking my window,” he said. “It’s possible, but because these aren’t mass deployed systems for the public market, it doesn’t really concern me.”

Even Trossen admitted the long-term utility of the tags, likening it to pass used to get into a local health club.

“It’s an electronic key, and he’s putting it in a place where he can’t lose it,” he said.

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