From ancient times, the use of a seal was used to secure and authenticate items and documents. From kings to religious leaders to merchants, seals carried an added authority to the document or shipment that it came from the true source. Broken seals meant some one had seen the contents, or possibly tampered with them. (Spies and intrigues.)
Lately there has been a flurry of activities associated with e-seals. Concerns about product integrity are on the rise! Authentication of brands, country of origins, quality and purity issues are all making headlines.
RFID's partnership with e-seals is also on the rise. Not just methods of locking, but methods of sensing and tracking while goods are in motion has become a global requirement for firms who are truly concerned with brand and product integrity. With the revival of ISO standards activities associated with e-seals and RFID in general, it encourages us to take another look at this important set of technologies.
Post 9/11, the idea was that the Department of Home Land Security and other security oriented organizations would mandate or somehow encourage the use of RFID, e-seals and other methods to secure global shipments. That has not been the case. We talked to leaders in Customs about this issue and why the long delay. It is not that they have not been trying, but without decisive conclusions on the technology, a global standard, an attractive price point, so all shippers could afford the technology, as well as drive acceptance by business community to apply the additional expenses involved, DHS has not been wanting to go to the legislators and regulate this use. What they have been doing, though, is evaluating many approaches to tracking goods, securing borders, as well as broadening their understanding of the nation's vulnerabilities.
E-seals are becoming an attractive element in business applications that require security. From the high end retail products to massive global track and trace applications and shipments, the variety of e-seals entering the market should be interesting to companies who are worried about product integrity, authentication or loss prevention--in other words, Damage or Loss; Counterfeiting, Piracy, Tampering, and Theft.
Counterfeit products aren't bound by industry safety standards and can be dangerous, like this melting electrical cord. There are various products and techniques available in the market. Some are not RFID--some are. And the range of prices and capabilities is huge. So, if you are thinking about this capability, read on. E-seals can have real value from authentication, security, tracking, and auto data capture, to name a few. But there are things to learn before buying.
What this report covers:
1. What are e-seals--variety and range of products?
2. How do e-seals work?
3. Standards for Active RFID and e-seals.
4. Who are the players? Some key companies and capabilities to consider.
5. Conclusions and considerations for using e-seals.
6. What are E-Seals?
The "e" in e-seals stands for electronic. So we are talking about not just passive seals or markers, which are somewhat humorously displayed here if you are a security conscious shipper, such as notifications on letters, or mechanical control devices, but those that possess electronic features such as numerical controls, counters, secure locks, alarming, etc., as well as Information Technology elements such as firmware, software and wireless.
Sophisticated elements include RFID, sensors, locating capability, local reader or long range satellite communications and software communications backbone, to create global end user subscriber communications and visibility. Short range alerting can be flashing lights or alarms; long range can be emails or special signaling to personnel on their secure devices.
E-seals can be categorized in two simple capabilities today--short-range and long-range.
Short-range applications generally provide for seals directly on the item, for example:
1. Tag on merchandise in retail settings. Many offerings are being introduced with RFID hang tags or secure cables.
2. Tags on packages
Short range may demonstrate tampering. If the seal is breeched, one can assume maleficence. Short range RF can send some alert to a system or employee close by.
Longer-range application examples are:
1. Automobiles in sales yard
2. Shipping containers
3. Over the road--trucks and rail.
Passive or non-RFID seals provide little security and no real locating or tracking capabilities. They have value for authentication and non-tampers for the items and cartons when combined with other technologies that can leave residues or use other methods to demonstrate tampering. Counterfeiters can replace or just create a passive or manual e-seal and replace your seal on a shipment. However, if the users combine the seal with other solutions and pre-notifications such as ASNs, then users are alerted to look for the right codes or other identifications for these seals. Combining a double or even triple matching system for verification can take a no to low value seal and turn it into a practical solution.
Improvements in the mechanics/ tungsten and sheer of metal, joints, etc. does help to improve bolt strength. And these get combined with various locking mechanisms to provide some deterrent. However, determination in the dead of night, plus one crowbar, and the thief is in. So, added to these tags there are the electronics, alarms, RFID and sensors--from passive to onboard intelligence to wireless/global surveillance/track and trace, from GPS and Satellite, each alerting that something is amiss.
The markets for e-seals include:
1. Document tracking and Management uses in Insurance, Banking, Funds Management, Notaries
2. Law Enforcement: Chain of Custody, Evidence storage and management
3. High value goods authentication: From PC's to Gucci's
4. Transport of shipments/ Shipping containers
5. Pharmaceuticals: Authentication and Product Integrity/ColdChain
6. Perishables: Food, Cosmetics, etc.
7. Hazardous Chemicals
8. "Clean Equipment" shipments
High value items or specialty products like preassembled clean-rooms, Mash Units and lab equipment, clean rooms for pharmaceutical or for food manufacturing, jet engine parts, weapons systems components, Medical treatments and supplies, like blood, etc., can be shipped in specialized containers that can be airtight, or pressurized, or refrigerated. E-seals, then, can not only prevent unauthorized entry, but also includes sensors to ensure that the delivered item still retains product integrity. E-seals provide that extra barrier of resistance for hazardous shipments, keeping out unauthorized personnel from dangerous situations.
They also add authentication, a signature, an approach for so many types of processes and products. We expect to see these increase in presence in many solutions in many markets and applications.
The diversity for seals and sensors to long-range devices will become part of the arsenal for product integrity now.
E-Seals: What's Included:
The "e" in e-seal is really for electronic, as we mentioned before, so now we will depart from the mechanical issues of the device and talk about how the objective of the e-seal is achieved. Two critical objectives exist for e-seals:
1. Tamper prevention or product integrity and
2. Track and Trace.
These are somewhat intertwined when it comes to value-add as raw material moves thru the chain to finished product and on to consumption. Product Integrity of the shipment or product has several nuances that need to be addressed in an effective system:
Chain of Custody--The custodian in the process needs to be considered, not just the initiator (shipper) of the process and the receiver (customer). Many custodians are value-add to the process and, therefore, not only do they need access to the goods, but also their role needs to be recorded. So, seals that are designed for recording, reuse, etc. are important considerations.
What is Product Integrity?-- What methods need to be put in place to protect that integrity?
For example, although the seal might not be broken, there could be information intrusion (reading a non- encrypted tag), x-ray scans, or other information leaks that expose the shipments contents to intruders. Although the product might be fine, the 'system' was intruded. Then there are environmental issues and exposures--here again, the seal won't be broken, but the product could be spoiled. So, sensors on seals are part of today's game.
Element of the Solution:
1. Onboard electronics: E-seals can have various capabilities that can generate keys, auto-collect data, and document events, so that each time a seal is opened, a new random code can be created, as well as data recorded about the event. These codes are then recorded by the initiator/sender/shipper, then the recipient/receiver looks for these codes. Obviously, doing this wirelessly provides a more advanced approach and allows more intelligence to be built into the secure codes, allowing software based algorithms to define the digital handshake as well as publish the data about the shipment and other security data to a backbone database. E-seals do not provide total security. The existence of a seal may provide some level of authentication, but the original seal can easily be duplicated and replaced. Counterfeiters can, quite simply, purchase seals themselves and replicate the approach the manufacturer uses. E-seals offer improvements in authentication, since they have electronic coding that can be recorded by the shipper and sent under separate cover to the customer. If the keys do not match, then goods might not be authentic.
2. Sensors: E-seals with sensors provide other product integrity value, such as recording environmental and goods condition data. So the customer knows that the proper conditions were met to preserve the product. Devices can provide on-board sensors and data collection capabilities that record events that occur to the device and the goods they are affixed to. For example, authorized opening and closing (in the case of reusable seals), and attached sensors that record anything from vibration to directionality and speed of movement.
3. Local surveillance (chokepoints): Designing and selecting technology for chokepoints is a critical element of a secure system, setting up the processes and equipment for collecting data, ensuring proper access etc. However, I have actually witnessed theft in action as tagged goods passed thru chokepoints and the personnel did nothing. So, no technology system is complete without personnel in line. Proper training and incentives need to be put in place.
4. Global Track and Trace: RFID, GPS, Cellular Wireless: Local monitoring is not enough, since goods travel very long distances to their destinations, and once they are on the open road, diversion becomes much easier. Therefore, long range solutions become really important. To mitigate risk, you can add long-range RFID and GPS/satellite solutions for diversion and theft prevention over sea or land.
5. Device Encryption: Interest and investments in encryption is on the increase. High value shipments may be worth this addition process/technology element. There are various approaches towards data security. This also relies on a combination of software backbone and middleware.
6. Software Backbone: Software backbones provide several key functions in an RFID/ security system.
Communications between initiator and receiver, such as pre-notification of shipment, track and trace, digital documents, etc., set up the swing for secure methods for various other validation techniques to include:
1. Parallel systems for authentication, such as pre notification data, matched to RFID tags
2. Operational instructions on use, handling
3. Communications Management
4. Subscriber Management (who needs to be alerted/ based on business events, etc.)
Software backbones come in two flavors:
1. Local Application for Access Control, Yard Management and Realtime Locating
2. Track and Trace--Internet based hubs that can be accessed by cellular, satellite, and On-Demand, system to system integration.
Business applications like Chain of Custody, Consignment/shipment tracking, epedigree, vehicle tracking, full life-time item tracking, and many more, can be supported by these Network based solutions.
All these elements are important to consider in a full solution. But securing the item is only one component of creating a secure process. Setting up an effective system, we need to consider not only the deliberate path, but also, more importantly, the undesired path--both physical and digital--that the product might go through. In today's mobile world, appropriately long-range communications systems are important considerations, as well as designing physical designs of 'gating' adequate field coverage, etc.
Key elements include:
1. Personnel systems: Great technology is wonderful, but who packed and sealed that carton? Are adequate personnel screening systems put in place? Are proper rewards systems in place to encourage the right behavior?
2. Parallel information systems: True validation will come from matching between these systems
3. Data Encryption techniques
4. Physical layout of work environments/sites--indoor or outdoor--to ensure effective visibility
5. Long range mobile systems
6. Autonomous operation in out of range situations
7. Beyond e-seal hardware, human readable elements can also be secured to avoid tampering, erasing, or changing in some way, to circumvent the process.
8. Tamper prevention and surveillance require a higher level of capability (and cost), as well as more sophisticated processes that get the operations personnel connected in real-time, as events unfold on the ground. This is a solution, not just a mechanical, cable or label type product.
As the devices get more powerful, cheaper and smaller, unobtrusive devices can add another layer of protection, since the pirate may not know such a device exists. Next generation devices should address the form factors (as well as range improvements), so that another level of intelligence exists in the system. Expect much cheaper, smaller and more powerful devises on the market very soon.
Standards based solutions present strong value propositions for global processes--a higher level of assurance that a device can be read, that data can be interpreted as goods and work flows from custodian to custodian, enterprise to enterprise, across the globe.
Cost effective and secure Supply Chains require standards-based approaches to reduce cycle time and provide visibility. The RFID stakeholder community--end users, government and technology firms--has been working toward creating standards and thus assurance that viable and seamless processes can be created.
For e-seals, the journey has been long. However, for Active RFID 433 MHz and 2.4 GHz purchasers, the addition of the standard based e-seal protects your investment in your decision to go with a particular approach. Many shipping containers stay in the family, so to speak; so organizations with closed loop processes could consider proprietary solutions. E-seal ISO standards for e-seals called ISO 18185 has certain elements that are important to consider. So, a thoughtful buyer should weigh carefully before going it alone.
ISO 18185 for e-seals includes:
1. Consistency in mechanics (for locking and unlocking). Helps with personnel who handle these devices.
2. Consistent communications protocol. This ensures that tags can be read wherever they are in the world with a variety of readers.
3. Data consistency and protection. These need to be read by a variety of users. The data also needs to be secure. Devices are there not only to authenticate a shipment, but the device itself needs its own authenticability.
ISO 17712 is also part of the game. This is a standard for the mechanical seal. US Customs requires this minimal (not 'e') seal. This is physical strength for bolts and cables, which should keep the riffraff away and make it a bit more difficult to break into containers. However, as we mentioned before, for determined thieves, once in the yard (access control is trÃƒÂ¨s important), then breaking into a shipping container is not a big deal for them.
Another consideration is standards in Intrinsically Safe. This is the assurance that electrical sparks will not fly from the device around flammable or explosive type substances.The US DoD also has what they call HERO (Hazards of electromagnetic radiation ordinance), which is an ordinance that addresses "The danger of accidental actuation of electro-explosive devices...because of RF electromagnetic fields." This is obviously very important in weapons systems and areas where weapons systems are stored, moved or used. So, firms selling into the 'hazardous' market need to address all of the above to have a viable device for sale. RFID technology has evolved rapidly in the last few years. More capability, low prices, and combinations of techniques, such as sensors, sophisticated encryption techniques, new types of monitoring technologies, various anti tamper technologies and markers at the nano level, will all be part of the arsenal to protect our precious shipments.
Seals come in all types and sizes. There are lots of players who prove non-RFID and RFID based solutions. As we mentioned earlier, counterfeiters can bypass tags and install their own tags, and pirates can just break the mechanical seals without generally being detected. So, for high value shipments--and what isn't--RFID and its accompanying backbone data base looks like just the way to go, given that you follow our earlier advice on how to set up these types of processes.
Provider views for e-seals are more mechanical oriented, as we have included in the vendor chart at the end of the article. For a real solution, focus is on the RFID oriented firms. Not all e-seals are RFID, and of course the pricing reflects this. For a detailed description of the RFID vendors that provide e-seals, you can consult the reports Active RFID or RFID Hardware-What You Must Know by ChainLink Research. Providers offer a variety of solutions, from just hardware through to complete solutions.
RFID technology has evolved rapidly in the last few years. More capability, low prices and combinations of techniques, such as sensors, sophisticated encryption techniques, new types of monitoring technologies, various anti tamper technologies, tamper indicating markers at the nano level, will all be part of the arsenal to protect our precious shipments.
1. Loss prevention advocates, which include the consumer, Retailers, Supply Chain Orchestrators and Custodians, will be considering RFID and e-seal elements.
2. Strong focus on Intellectual Property, safe imports, port security, drug safety, Rohs/WEEE standards and tracking, etc, all reflect a growing movement.
Raw cost, as with all purchases, seems to be the focus, but careful evaluation will, in general, reveal strong benefits. A shipper who has a container full of pharmaceuticals worth eight million dollars, or a container of shoes at $1.6M retail value should be able to spring for a $200 tag. No doubt there is considerable process work that needs to be done, since the RFID tag is not a standalone, end all and be all solution. But in combination with other elements like ASN, audited business processes and workforce training, millions of dollars in losses can be prevented with these solutions.
In discussions with employees from the Department of Home Land Security, manufacturers of high value brands and products, port operators and shippers, managers of secure facilities, etc. and now with consumers at large, there are huge concerns with not only product integrity, but the visibility and assurity of true and trusted sources. No doubt seals cannot prevent tampering, by those who are truly determined to alter or steal products, but they do offer a barrier and warning. Longer range seals can certainly notify stakeholders of a breach, so that proper action can be taken.
People in the know in DHS, global shipping entities, etc., talk about methods to focus on the sources of the illicit chain as the real payback. But the experience in global markets and personnel to monitor processes are in short supply. Certainly there is no dearth of study on these issues. Witness the most recent Executive Order to create a study group on import safety, as well as on-going work in Border Protection and Critical Infrastructure protection.
But these issues are broader than this humble discussion. With the concerns of consumers growing higher, by payback from risk protection and loss prevention, processes and methods, as well as value from Tracking, e-seals becomes part of the arsenal to address these issues.
The next step for those who are responsible for product integrity and human safety and security, is learning about RFID and e-seals. That is the next logical step in the process to secure our Global Supply chains.
Timely, incisive articles delivered directly to your inbox.