UCODE for automotive: Protecting the driver’s safety with secure RAIN RFID tags

UCODE for automotive: Protecting the driver’s safety with secure RAIN RFID tags

Counterfeit components are a concern in a number of industries, but they’re especially worrisome in the world of automotive, where fake parts can lead to serious safety concerns. The problem has gotten worse in recent years, and is now considered a global phenomenon.

The Center for Responsible Enterprise and Trade (CREATe), a non-governmental organization (NGO) that helps companies around the world prevent piracy, counterfeiting, trade-secret theft, and corruption, has researched the issue of counterfeit auto parts and published some chilling facts. According to CREATe:

  • In India, the use of counterfeit auto parts is believed to have resulted in 25,400 deaths and more than 93,000 injuries in 2009. The most frequently counterfeited parts included bearings, brake pads, rubber rings, axle boots and suspension parts – all of which impact safety.
  • An adviser to Saudi Customs estimates that half of all fatalities due to accidents on Saudi roads are caused by fake spare automobile parts.
  • Authorities in Northern Ireland have seized fake brake pads branded as genuine Volkswagen, SEAT, Skoda, and Audi parts. The unsafe brake pads were held together by glue and could disintegrate when braking at high speeds. Officers from the UK Anti-Counterfeiting Group also found brake pads made from compressed grass, which burst into flame when the brakes were applied.
  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration warned, in 2012, that counterfeit bags were available for about 250,000 cars in the U.S. vehicle fleet and that these counterfeit bags posed an “extreme safety risk.”

What can be done

One of the ways to combat counterfeiting is to shore up vulnerabilities in the automotive supply chain, so it’s harder to introduce fakes into legitimate channels and harder to divert authentic products into grey-market channels.

Many manufacturers already use RFID tags to track and trace parts through the automotive supply chain, and this helps reduce vulnerability. But a new generation of tags, equipped with functions for secure authentication, offer extra features specifically aimed at combating counterfeits.

Next-generation RAIN RFID tags

The new tags are part of NXP’s widely used UCODE family of passive RAIN RFID tags operating in the UHF frequency range. They use a unique, factory-locked transponder ID (TID) number, for easy product serialization. They also include memory for storing the Electronic Product Code (EPC), to make inventory and warehouse management faster, more efficient, and more accurate. In addition to the EPC memory, they also include user memory for storing valuable product data, such as manufacturer and lot number. The user memory can even be loaded with work-in-progress data, down to the specific operator and machine that built the part.

The new RAIN RFID tags add several features for increased security. They include a digital signature which offers enhanced electronic protection and can be used as a first alert for counterfeit products.

Additionally, RAIN RFID tags now also support cryptographic security, including cryptographic product authentication. This represents the highest level of protection because the transactions between the tag and the reader are dynamic and unique every time, always based on cryptographic computations done with the help of secret keys which never leave protected security vault embedded inside the microchip. All of this gives original parts manufacturers high level of certainty that they can effectively and quickly identify fake products which enter into their supply chain.

Beyond automotive

The need for increased security in the automotive industry was one of the reasons why NXP developed the new UCODE products, but the tags can, of course, be used to protect products in other supply chains, too, such as fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), luxury items, consumer electronics, and more.

Join the conversation

Do you have direct experience with counterfeit products entering the supply chain? What other methods, beyond item tagging and authentication, might manufacturers consider in the fight against fakes?

Related links

NXP UCODE products


NXP application page for inventory and supply-chain management


Mahdi Mekic
Mahdi Mekic
Mahdi Mekic has been in the RFID industry for almost 15 years and has had a broad range of roles involving product development, application support, solution management and marketing. Currently Marketing Director at NXP Semiconductors, Mahdi explores the use of innovative RFID products and services in new application markets such as automatic vehicle identification, smart manufacturing, food retail, airline baggage tagging and blockchain.

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