Stop cattle rustling with cloud computing and RFIDs

Photo. Idaho Statesman article on current cattle rustling

With the economy tanking, cattle rustling is back. ReadWriteWeb presents a way to use RFIDs to track cattle and the cloud to store the data securely.

The guiding motto of our strategy is this: THE RANCHER OWNS HIS OWN DATA.

There is no exception to this. Each rancher owns his, and only his (or her) own data. Government authorities are not and never will be involved in, or have access to, a given rancher’s data of their own volition. In fact, no one but the rancher has access.

The data and RFID frequency are stored in the cloud. It’s never just in one place. Protocols keep it scattered on purpose.

This will make it impossible for a rancher’s information to be seized or intercepted by anyone.

If the rancher thinks cattle are missing, he sends the frequencies and RFID data to law enforcement. Here’s the kicker. After recovering the cattle, the rancher changes the frequency. The data is safe again.

This system ensures a number of things.

  • No one but the rancher owns and can manipulate cattle data
  • The data cannot be seized
  • Cooperation with anyone else is at the discretion of the rancher
  • The information the rancher records is decentralized
  • The rancher can keep track of his cattle and use that information to catch rustlers

The protocols that scatter the data in the cloud are the key to it all. If they are secure and unhackable, then this could work.


  1. Anyone who carries a pistol, and a rig, like that out onto the range deserves to shoot themselves in the ass, Or knee. Or foot. I’ve spent a few years in the saddle, and I carry a pistol but to be perfectly honest I never did get that whole “well if your horse gets spooked and runs away with you you just shoot ’em” thing. Seriously, your boot’s in the stirrup and you’re floppin’ around on the ground underneath and amongst the failing hooves of a run-away horse and you’re gonna’ draw a pistol and shoot the horse.

    Like in The Cloud it is impossible for information to be seized or intercpted… riiggghhhhttttt

  2. Please be VERY careful when writing about technical topics – in particular, when writing about anything related even remotely to anything claiming to be “untraceable” when Internet communications are involved.

    I only have a minute, but let’s try to refactor the problem to see why these claims are more like dreams and descriptions of technical capabilities (yes, I am a qualified computer scientist, but feel free to rework my numbers)

    – The data are “scattered in the cloud”
    – The rancher is able to see his data, using a secret viewer
    – Therefore, through the secret viewer, it’s the same as if the data were local to the rancher
    – Therefore, there’s no difference between storing encrypted data locally, and storing it “in the cloud”
    – Anyone who can impersonate the rancher can see the data

    – Digital information can always be “seized” and “intercepted”. It’s happening right now with this comment.
    – RFID chips can be removed
    – The rancher can “change the frequency” of the chips – why can’t a rustler also do this?

    the whole “Cloud” component of this is pointless distraction and conveys only that this fantasia was written by someone without the necessary understanding of many topics that are called into play.

    • If the cloud data is encrypted strongly enough, it can’t be cracked. Unless you get the key, of course. The author said in comments he thought it would be beyond a rustler in the wild to have the chops to change the frequency.

      Removing the RFID is another story, good point.

  3. Being a computer-science major, and very active with RFID for close to a decade, I can tell you this article is more random fluff and wishing than anything else. First off, let me tell you a little about how RFID works:

    RFID is a system which has defined frequency and protocol for communications between at least one “smart” terminal and one or more other terminals or tags. Commercially available RFID operates in one or more of about 8 frequency ranges, and none of them support changing the frequency of ether the terminal or the tags. They work by sending and/or receiving small bursts of data over a fixed frequency range, generally in a non-encrypted format.

    Class 0 RFID (used in simple access and recognition systems like gas fobs and pet tags) has two parts. A “reader” and a “tag”. The tag has no power source of it’s own, and is generally encased in a radio-permeable material like glass or plastic. The reader generates a small electromagnetic field and occasionally asks for broadcasts. The tag, when powered, repeatedly transmits a serial number, hard coded into it at creation, which can never be changed. Class 0 RFID is simple, cheep, and easily manipulated, since anyone purchasing a reader and a slightly smarter tag/coder can duplicate any tag they want just by scanning a tag and programming a new one.

    Class 1 RFID can use the old class 0 tags, but can also has a protocol to use a challenge/response system. Tags can be self powered or powered by the reader, but the reader still talks first (which is the case for all current RFID, Class3 may changed that though). In this case, the reader and tag have a way to talk back and forth, can do some basic challenge/response negotiation. The response is usually time-based to generate a non-repeatable stream. This makes sniffing/repeating the conversation less useful, since the conversation changes each time. (This is used by credit cards and/or most corporate door lock systems.) But since the tags are still limited power wise, what little encryption they can do is weak (if they attempt it at all). If you can figure out how to decode the conversation, you can get the info you need still and with smart enough hardware can again use the info to emulate the tag with a rouge reader.

    Class 2 RFID does everything above, but also has the potential to add “memory” to tags. This allows tags to have addressable memory slots (usually only 16 bytes or so per slot) that can be read and in some cases written. Some of the self powered tags are smart enough to setup an encrypted session (via Class 1 protocol) before transferring said data, though for reader-powered that’s still usually not possible. Some portions of the tag “memory” is usually read-only and contains unique id info about the tag, while some can be used to store info passed to it, like owner info or data to be used for access on a later authentication session. Most have some type of low-powered flash memory, though self-powered ones may in fact have battery backed memory. This class of RFID is commonly used for toll tags, passports, and more security-minded companies.

    The problem with all of them is that they are limited by how smart the tag can be, given it’s size and power constraints. Encrypt all you want up stream, but if someone can snoop on your radio conversation long enough, it won’t help much. Even some of the better protocols out today, with coin-cell powered micros, are still rather crackable given enough time, proximity and computing power. There was a nice youtube demo a year ago showing how to grab credit card numbers out of peoples wallets just by walking past them, using an augmented class 1 reader in a briefcase while up to 5 meters away.

    Some of what they’re proposing is doable in class 2, but not in the way they’re depicting it. But with most RFID chips being susceptible to over-powering, all it would take is a small portable HF power generator (think mini-microwave gun), and a simple class 0/1 scanner to locate/zap the chip. Literally a busted microwave and a $20 reader off of e-bay and you’ve got everything you need. So while RFID may be a good way to count/catalog animals, but I wouldn’t rely on it to claim them back once rustlers know it’s in use. It may work for Fido, because he’s not sell-able on the market as food (yet). But for livestock, this is not your magic bullet.

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