In a nutshell, no. RFID readers can’t read or receive IR signals. They are both completely separate things and they work quite differently. RFID relates to radio waves whereas IR signal or ‘Infrared’ signals pertain to transmission via light. While they are both used to transmit data, the mechanism is not quite the same.
In this post, we are going to take a look at what RFID is and how it works. Similarly, we will also learn about IR signals so that you can understand more easily whether or not there is any compatibility between these two types of communications.
What is RFID?
RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification. Using RFID, data can be transmitted and received via radio waves. The use of RFID can be seen in things like passports, keycards and bus passes etc.
In RFID, a signal is sent from the sender to the receiver. The ‘sender’ in this system is usually an RFID chip (or RFID tag) which is embedded into the object that is being read or scanned. The receiver on other hand is an electronic device that detects the data sent by the RFID chip.
Since the data is sent and received over radio waves, it is not necessary for the chip and receiver to have any physical contact. This remote functionality is what makes RFID desirable but at the same time, dangerous. Since the RFID signal being emitted from the chip can be read by anyone with an RFID reader, unethical and malicious theft of data can occur. This risk is aggravated by the fact that the person with the scanner doesn’t even need to be close to the chip/tag. Due to this risk, people use dedicated RFID wallets to protect their cards from hackers.
Infrared signals also employ the concept of remote transmission of data but they are different to RFID. As mentioned before, the latter relies on radio waves while the former works with light signals.
IR is usually found in air conditioner remotes, motion detectors and smart fans etc. Nowadays, smartphones come with IR blasters that allow users to control any compatible device that has an IR receiver.
Can an RFID Reader Read an IR Signal?
Data that is transmitted using IR signals has a different mechanism than RFID. For an IR data transfer, a sender and receiver would be required; both of which must be compulsorily compatible with IR signals. You can’t mix-and-match the senders/receivers. For example, it is not possible for you to send an RFID signal and then receive it with an IR reader or vice versa.
Adhering to this logic, we understand that RFID readers cannot read an IR signal. The latter will only be read by a reader that is compatible with IR.
Understanding the risks of RFID
Let us now come to the reason why anyone would be worried about RFID signals being read by IR readers and vice versa. As mentioned earlier, RFID-enabled objects can have their data scanned at a distance and there is no need for any physical contact. This can be positively used to reduce the time taken for transactions to complete and data to be scanned. However, this remote workability can also be used by hackers. For example, if you have a bank card that is RFID-enabled, and you are carrying it without any sort of protection whatsoever, a hacker can easily take a receiver and scan it at a distance.
This risk is not restricted to bank cards. Even if you are carrying your passport or any other document containing your personal data, it can be targeted by hackers. In order to prevent this from happening, you can use RFID blocking wallets and sleeves.
How can you block RFID signals?
RFID signals can be blocked by any thick conductive material. If, for example, you wrap your cards in a couple layers of aluminum foil, no hacker will be able to steal your data. Since aluminum is conductive, it can serve to block RFID signals.
You can also use RFID blocking wallets to keep your cards safe and protected. These wallets typically use metallic layers to make sure your card’s RFID signals are not detected by hackers. You could use tactical wallets or front pocket wallets made of other thick material but metal is usually better and preferable.
RFID and IR are two different method of data transmission. An RFID reader cannot read an IR signal. Although they are both methods for remotely exchanging data, the nature of communication is quite different.
If you happen to have an RFID enabled card with you, be sure to always keep it in an RFID steel wallet or sleeve. While you shouldn’t be concerned about IR readers, you should be concerned about hackers and cyber-thieves.