Store Your RFID Transit Card Inside Your Cellphone

Check it out, this is a Boston transit pass — or at least the parts of it that matters. [Becky Stern] got rid of the rest in a bid to embed the RFID tag inside her cellphone.

The transit pass, called a CharlieCard, started out as a normal credit card shaped tag which you might use for access in the workplace. She unsheathed the chip and its antennae by giving it a generous soak in acetone. In about thirty minutes the plastic card looks more like paper pulp, and you can gently fish out the electronics. These are now small enough to fit in the back cover of a cellphone much like those inductive charging hacks.

[Becky] put hers in an iPhone. But the idea comes from [Dhani Sutanto] who used the same technique to extract the coil from a London transit pass. He then embedded the hardware in a resin cast ring.

54 thoughts on “Store Your RFID Transit Card Inside Your Cellphone

  1. I had done this with my rfid badge from work. Depending on the phone, you may have a harder time getting it to read. It won’t fail every time but when it does you end up having to yank the back off your phone. Same thing even if you put it between the phone and a rubber case. Not guaranteed to block the signal but if you have trouble getting it to read, that’s why.

    1. I wanted to do this as well before our company switched badging technologies. My problem is that the RFID is embedded into a badge with a photo that must be displayed at all times. :(

      1. Scan front of card. Set it up as your lock screen while at work. And turn off silly things like auto screen off, after all, you have power outlets all around you while there.

    2. Why do you have to put it inside if that is what causes the interference? Why not on the back side of the case with a thin layer of sealer? I think a layer of clear coat or fingernail polish would probably work.

    1. but then, how else she will have an excuse to smell all that volatile ammonia?

      If you want a decent hack, then use the NFC most phones already have, and program it to emulate the badge/metro card. …and glue a copy of the printing of the card on the back of the phone in case anyone asks.

      1. Maybe you should watch the video first. They said the card as a whole wouldn’t fit in the back of the iPhone. Also, regarding using NFC, do you think these things don’t have security? Also, why do that when this is a lot easier?

  2. Or you could get a phone with NFC and then hack the kernel to support emulation mode. This would broadcast the RFID string that you recorded from another card, basically cloning that card. You could easily have multiple cards on a single phone, without any chips at all.

    1. That is so incredibily genious.
      I’ve got a phone with NFC, and a whole collection of those damn RFID cards (transit card, couple for uni and a few more) that I have to carry around.
      Definitely gonna look into that.

      1. I believe that article is fairly old, I know there is a way to do it (look for my reply above in this thread for a link), I just don’t have the skill it takes to do it myself.

    1. I realize my previous comment wasn’t very informative.

      From Wikipedia:

      “The CharlieCard is a MIFARE-based, contactless, stored value smart card used for electronic ticketing as part of the Automated Fare Collection (AFC) system installed by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) at its stations and on its vehicles.

      “The CharlieCard is named after the title character in the 1948 protest folk music song, “Charlie on the MTA”. The song was written to protest a fare increase in the form of an extra five cent exit fare for longer rides and was later made popular by the Kingston Trio in 1959.”

  3. Keep in mind you shouldn’t be reforming the coil. It needs to keep that same diameter and number of winds, or you’re changing it’s characteristics as an antenna.

    1. We do this all the time with ham radio . Yagi and quad antennas are just dipoles folded or attached a different way . If you bend the wire back on itself it will affect it but as long as the length stays the same and its not bent back on itself the characteristics won’t change much. The pattern it emits will however if it transmits but power will mostly stay the same

  4. I did exactly the same with my RFID card at work. Luckily that was a two piece affair held together with glue. Judicial use of a hair dryer released the antenna and chip, and I used a craft knife to carefully excavate a recess into the back of the battery cover of my phone, and used a piece of sticky backed vinyl to seal it all in place. Job done. It always makes people do a double take when I swipe my phone to get into the building.

    One drawback however is that it makes it harder to take your card out with you on a lunchtime run. You dont want your phone banging about in your pocket. Thankfully as my tag is held in the battery cover, I can just detach the cover and take that with me.

  5. Really cool hack. RFID really is like a little modern magic. I keep meaning to buy a reader to I can play around with it. Some day I suppose.

    In the mean time I resolve this problem by keeping my work card in my wallet. Though I’d rather hide it in my watch and have a little ATTiny acting as a key chain. It’s hard to justify though as I only actuall have 1 RFID card ;-(

  6. Aren’t there any people doing ticket controls? what do they say when you’ve destroyed the card? Here in Sweden they walk around in the trains checking everybodys tickets quite often.

    1. When the ticket inspector comes along all they want is the data from the card to say you have paid. If the card is inside a wallet they can just scan the wallet.

      There is not benefit to them of looking at the front of the card as it has no information on it, unless it does like student etc.

      They might give a strange look if you offer them a phone to scan and may be worried if you have cloned the card. The defense is to say you just made the card translucent and light, but it’s still the same card.

  7. In college my dorm had an rfid reader on the front door. Not only did I not bother taking my ID card out of my wallet, I didn’t even take my wallet out of my pants. I’d just wave my butt at the sensor and the door would unlock. Half the people who saw me do this looked at me like I was insane. The other half said “wow, I didn’t realize that would work. :D”

  8. This wouldn’t work for my transit system, firstly you need to insert the card into a slot to recharge and secondly the transit guards would probably fine me if they couldn’t inspect the card.
    Nice hack though if you can get away with it :)

  9. Don’t do this with the London Oyster card. TFL and the actual tube staff get annoyed with you if they catch you.

    Wikipedia says TFL may fine you but I just got told to get a replacement card which they gave me for free *shrug* The staff at the actual stations didn’t seem to care but a ticket inspector on the train itself didn’t appreciate it.

  10. I ended up sewing a flap of fabric to the front of my slacks that holds the card when not in use. I am also working on a multi-pocket leather carrying case for all of my various cards and even paper money! The future is here my friends. One of my friends tried to convince me to build a large pocket on a strap that was big enough to carry a book! I told him that was pure hilarity and I couldn’t imagine a world where people would carry such large things and walk on the moon :)

  11. If you are asking can in emulate or clone a card then generally. With a rooted phone and some mods it may be able to do this, but generally android does not want people reading, cloning and emulating a card without approved apps doing it. It would be indeed possible in theory. If you just want to read the basic info there is apps for that. It is more difficult to emulate the entire chip in a card as they have secret keys that are not handed out, but basic card number could be emulated fairly easily on a rooted phone.

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