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Life at UB…Hands Free?

Article and Photo By Robert Poleszak

Published April 15, 2014

Swiping your card is so 1990s. Students responding to the UB’s 2013 Student IT Experience Survey asked for an upgrade, hoping to see their UB Cards replaced with smart card technology, such as RFID.

“Like any technology, there is the possibility of misuse, but the benefits certainly outweigh the risks.”
Michael Behun, Computer Discipline Officer
UB Information Security Office

Robert Poleszak (UB Student, Class of 2014) is a senior marketing student who hails from Brooklyn, NY. In his free time, he enjoys reading, swimming and binge watching sitcoms on Netflix. Upon graduating in May, he hopes to write for advertising agencies in New York City.

R-F-I…What?

RFID stands for radio-frequency identification. It’s a form of wireless data transfer where a small amount of data can be stored on a tag that can then be activated and accessed at short ranges. It’s most commonly used for identity verification: just one example is gaining access to a building or door instead of having to swipe a card. RFID is just one form of technology used in "smart cards," or a pocket-sized card with embedded integrated circuits.

Nicky Chen, a senior Business student at UB, suggests that this technology could be used to secure buildings on campus late at night. “After say 10 p.m., students would need to have a smart card on them to enter a building, so random people can’t just wander into residence halls late at night.”

Veronica Percello, a junior Media Studies student, added, “Logging onto computers and making purchases on campus could be made faster.”

In keeping with many of the comments from the 2013 Student IT Experience Survey, senior Engineering student Jimmy Lam recommended that smart cards would be very beneficial to use with UB Stampede buses. “Having to swipe your UB Card every time you get on the Stampede bus really slows things down,” Jimmy said. “With updated cards, you could just walk right on.”

RFID chips are already used by the near-by Sweethome Villages to access their facilities. A number of campuses across the country have already adopted smart card technology as well. At North Arizona University, RFID technology is embedded into student’s ID cards, which streamlines attendance taking for classes with over 50 students. Wayne State University has also implemented the system to open parking lot gates for students, faculty and staff.

Is There a Downside?

Currently, students who lose their UB Card pay $20 for a replacement. Since the technology behind smart cards is much more advanced than a standard swipe card, the cost of getting a new or replacement UB Card would likely increase significantly.  

Safe and Secure

Security is a common concern when RFID and smart cards are involved, but according to UB’s Information Security Office, there’s little to worry about.  “Anyone reading the chip would need to connect to a secure database to obtain personal information,” said Michael Behun, UB’s Computer Discipline Officer. “Additional layers of security and encryption can certainly be added. Like any technology, there is the possibility of misuse, but the benefits certainly outweigh the risks.”