Super EAS Tags? Wave WG ReviewedBy Brian Rhodes, Published on Jun 27, 2012
Electronic Article Surveillance (EAS) tags are big business. No other security measure is more widely used in retail than those ubiquitous anti-theft tags clipped to product. However, despite their widespread acceptance, one only needs to spend a few minutes on YouTube to learn how to exploit them. See how in less than 20 seconds:
What happens when criminals catch up and figure out how to defeat the technology? Can improvements be made? In this note, we examine a 'next generation' EAS tag from WG [link no longer available] called the 'Wave' and describe what makes it different compared to similar tags.
Most EAS tags feature some form of mechanical or magnetic clasp that can be defeated with commonly available magnetic removal tools, or given enough time, brute force. The 'Wave' claims to be fundamentally different than typical EAS tags because it features multiple layers of alarming. Not only are Wave tags magnetically secured, they require an additional IR impulse to successfully disarm. Uncommon to most other EAS tags, Wave also features an onboard piezo alarm which can be independently triggered apart from the EAS pedestals.
Wave offers 'Four Stages of Alarming', where other types of tags offer one or two:
- Tampering causes tag to self-alarm: Trying to mechanically break or separate tag causes tag to sound alarm
- Tag self-alarms if opened with non-Wave detacher: Using a magnet to separate tag, without IR decoder causes tag to sound alarm
- Tag self-alarms at EAS pedestal: Trying to pass tag through EAS detector causes tag to sound alarm
- Pedestal alarms when Wave tag is in its range: In addition to tag alarm, pedestal also sounds alarm
Wave EAS tag specifications:
- Tags available in several form factors, including pebble [link no longer available], shell [link no longer available], and lanyard [link no longer available] types for best merchandise fit
- Onboard RFID sensor: 58KHz RF band
- Onboard IR sensor: 940nm IR Wavelength
- Tags feature onboard 95dB piezo siren
- Manufacturer cites 5 year tag battery life
- Pricing for Wave Tags are roughly 3 - 5 times the cost of 'standard' EAS tags, somewhere between $5 - $10 per piece, but final pricing is significantly negotiable depending on purchased volumes
While the product's official promotional video is strange, it gives a short pitch on why they believe their system is superior to standard EAS products:
While we have not tested the claims of the Wave system, it appears that the product has an advantage in nested layers of protection that other EAS tag products do not. The Wave mitigates the risk of tampering in a way that other tags are vulnerable. Even with the additional layers of security present in these tags, no additional retraining of cashiers on tag removal is necessary. Cashiers are not 'slowed down' compared to normal transaction throughputs when removing the Wave EAS tag system.
However, tag cost is significantly higher for Wave compared to other EAS tags. While the Wave tags can be reused multiple times, and the onboard battery cites a 5 year service life, between 3 to 5 'standard' EAS tags can be purchased for the cost of a single Wave unit. Widespread deployment of Wave could prove to be costly due to natural attrition of tag inventories through loss or 'wear and tear'.
Other vendors, including Alpha [link no longer available] and Checkpoint sell versions of 'self alarming' tags, or tags that sound alarms when tampered with. Variations of the 'alarming tag' include 'benefit denial' (rupturing ink) tags. However, the IR alarming feature of the Wave is uncommon, and adds extra cost. Other EAS hard tags are not as expensive as the Wave tags. For most retail buyers, especially softline buyers, a few pennies in extra cost makes a significant difference. Because Wave tags are several times more expensive than 'standard' hard tags, the high cost will exclude it from being seriously considered for many retailers.
In areas where 'theft hotspots' exist, or where standard tag technologies have been proven insufficient, Wave looks to be a strong countermeasure. With its added security features and higher unit cost, Wave is best positioned to secure high-value, expensive items. For less-costly 'commodity' merchandise use, unless a rash of EAS exploitation thefts prove to be an issue for a retailer, it is more cost effective to use less expensive standard 'single alarm' tag.