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​photo from MSK Inc. press release

Italian Guns to be Manufactured with RFID Technology

Italian gun manufacturers will begin putting RFIDs on their weapons starting next year, according to a U.S. gun distributor who sells them. The new technology is set to become standard for inventory and tracking weapons manufactured in Italy. RFID tags can be small tags or chips programmed with identifying information that can be read by a scanner. Gun enthusiasts have raised privacy concerns about the practice, saying that it would make it possible for people to detect who was carrying a weapon and what type it was.

“Recently several Italian gun makers decided to utilize RFID technology to improve manufacturing and provide more accurate inventory control,” according to a press release Thursday from MSK Supply, Inc. a distributor of Italian-owned and manufactured Chiappa Firearms.

In Chiappa guns, the RFID will be hot glued inside the grip area and scannable from two to three inches away. Passive RFID technology like the one planned for use in Chiappa guns is the same type of technology used to prevent theft in retail stores and return lost pets to their owners. One of its early primary uses was to track cattle. These RFIDs will most likely have identifying information about the gun, it’s proofing certification (proofing certification is required by the Italian Government for all firearms made in Italy), and the name of the manufacturer, or a serial number that links back to the preceding information in a database.

The U.S. Government usesRFID in guns to track when diplomatic security personnel check weapons in and out of the armory. However, the technology is not used to track the whereabouts of a weapon purchased by a person in normal commercial transactions.

MSK Supply Inc. says the RFIDs will be used for inventory purposes only. “It’s inventory control for companies, and that’s it,” MSK spokesman Jim Shults told Security Management. Italian proofing inspectors have "to open the box and stamp it, and approve it, and then seal it back in a box so the company can export them all. And through the process, they have to keep track of it. Now they won’t have to open hundreds of boxes by hand prior to packing them in export containers. All this RFID is going to do is say what’s actually in the box” he said.

But some gun advocates fear the technology could turn into a way to track and identify gun owners. Chiappa says RFIDs can only be read from inches away, but others say emerging technologies allow RFID units to be detected at long ranges.

A hacker at Defcon’s 2010 hacking conference demonstrated a device he made that could recognize an RFID on the groundfrom 29 stories up. The range was too far to read the information on the RFID, but it let him know it was there. He says he did the experiment to prove that RFID was unsafe for storing sensitive or identifying information. And attached to a weapon, that’s all it would take to identify that someone was armed.

“Most gun owners are probably a lot less concerned about people reading the serial number [than] they are about people covertly identifying that they are carrying. This will worry many consumers,” The Firearm Blogwrote after reviewing MSK’s press release.

Another concern is that if you can get close enough to read a tag, you’re close enough to re-write it ( See:Theft From Afar: Hacking into RFID from the 2005 issue of Security Management). RFIDs from a pallet of guns could be swapped with the information on a pallet of CD players, for example.

See guidelines for securing RFID systems here.