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The ghost in the machine

Apparently, I’m not alone in my paranoia. Back in Japan, where public-use RFID devices have been mainstream for longer than here, there’s an episode of the bonkers Japanese teen anime Sayonara, Zetsubo Sensei in which the eponymous main character expresses concern that passing his wallet over an RFID reader at the automated exit gates of his train station might allow hi-tech yakuza to scam all the credit cards in his wallet at the same time. This episode dates from 2007 - Japan’s been biting its fingernails over this for at least five years already.

Talking of anime, fans of the Ghost in the Shell sci-fi films and TV series will be familiar with the process by which the characters with cyberbrains can hold conversations remotely over the air but, when security is important, they connect brains by old-fashioned cable. Otherwise, as the clip above suggests, you metaphorically risk punching yourself in the face.

It’s not just me, Major Motoko and suidical Japanese schoolteachers, either: there appears to be a rapidly growing market in the West for metallic ‘RFID-shielded’ (so the claim goes) credit card wallets. The manufacturers would like you to believe that touchless cards can be hacked through your trouser pocket by digital thieves brushing past you in the street or when crushed against you on public transport. Is this really any more unlikely than the elaborate scams involving cash dispenser machines?

Flipside RFID-shielded wallet

It all seemed such a good idea at the time... er, Flipside Wallet RFID shielding, anyone?

Look, the entire system of currency and exchange is based on trust, and we seem to be hell-bent on handing that trust to organisations who have been proven time and time again to be thoroughly untrustworthy. It’s bad enough that we have to deal with serial offenders such as the banks, but now we’re about to entrust our personal finances to mobile phone operators too. Come on, these guys can barely keep their own phone networks up and running, let alone secure from hacking by tabloid journalists, and you want to give them unchecked access to your current account?

Once your phone data and bank details are hacked simultaneously, you’ll be shafted by everyone from Russian gangsters to Nigerian scammers before lunchtime. If we’re going to drop our digital trousers, bend over and spread our digital butt-cheeks to the world, we shouldn’t be surprised to find ourselves being ruthlessly rogered. ®

Alistair DabbsAlistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling IT journalism, editorial training and digital publishing. He would like to live in a carefree world of wireless but, unfortunately, there are bad people around. Some of them have even been known not to work for banks or mobile phone companies.

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