MIFARE: technology, products, use and price

MIFARE ID card - logo

MIFARE is a word you often hear, do you know what it is?

MIFARE ® is a registered trademark, property of the company NXP Semiconductors. The use of MIFARE has become so widespread (more than 70% of market share) that today the term MIFARE is used extensively to designate any kind of RFID product: MIFARE card, MIFARE badge, MIFARE tag, MIFARE label. But MIFARE is a precise technology, which has its strengths and disadvantages which you must know to ensure the compatibility of the MIFARE card with your application.

What is MIFARE ®

A MIFARE product is basically an integrated circuit, which is called a common language chip. This MIFARE product makes it possible to record data in a support which without this chip would have no capacity of memory nor of processing of information. MIFARE also allows remote communication called RFID. It is widely used in the field of contactless smart cards intended for the identification of persons, for a large number of applications, throughout the world. The MIFARE range includes integrated circuits making it possible to produce RFID cards but also RFID readers making it possible to communicate with them by taking advantage of the field of excitation created between the transmitting antenna of the reader and the receiving antenna of the MIFARE card.

The MIFARE Classic ® chip

MIFARE Classic® was the pioneer of contactless ticket technology in 13.56 MHz frequency and with the read / write capacity in accordance with ISO 14443. MIFARE was at the origin of what the ’’ We called the contactless revolution and paved the way for many applications in the areas of public transport, access control, company badges and student cards.
Thanks to the acceptance of contactless identification by RFID badge solutions and the extraordinary success of the MIFARE Classic family of products, new solutions and applications are constantly emerging, which facilitate and secure our daily life.

The unique identifier of the MIFARE badge

The basic principle of identification by RFID card in general and MIFARE card format badge in particular is identification by reading the MIFARE serial number (Card Serial Number / CSN). Each MIFARE chip is given during its manufacturing process a unique serial number engraved in memory (a bit like the chassis number of your car would be engraved). The MIFARE reader interrogates the chip with a proprietary NXP command set which returns its CSN number in response. The MIFARE Classic ® card has a serial number coded on 4 bytes (32 bits). The new MIFARE generations, like the MIFARE DESFire card, have a serial number of 7 bytes.
This MIFARE reading does not appeal to the main characteristics of MIFARE technology in terms of security (mutual authentication process and security keys), it must therefore be considered as being unsecured. Sending a simple number (CSN MIFARE) makes it accessible to any NFC smartphone and the usurpation of this number by an active device or the creation of a MIFARE clone by using card with programmable MIFARE UID number is easy. Despite this, the simple reading of the MIFARE serial number still concerns the majority of sites exploiting the MIFARE card for questions of price of RFID readers and human cost of encoding cards. The risk of fraud by MIFARE clone is to be considered by each customer, site by site according to the risks and consequences of a possible cloning action of MIFARE card; however we recommend securing solutions based on MIFARE badges and A3M solutions implement advanced securing processes which we consider essential given the low price difference between an open MIFARE solution and a secure MIFARE solution.

Reading the memory of a MIFARE card

The MIFARE card has a memory available to system developers. It allows the MIFARE serial number to be used no longer as an identifier, but as data encoded in the card. Depending on the type of card, this can be done by reading in clear (MIFARE Ultralight), in encrypted after authentication CRYPTO1 (MIFARE Classic) or in a more secure session for micro-controller cards (MIFARE DESFire card).
In the case of a clear reading, with a known key called "transport" ("FF FF FF FF") on the written MIFARE sector, the usurpation is not more complicated than the emulation of the number of CSN series. Attacks on the MIFARE CRYPTO1 protocol have shown that "secure" MIFARE Classic reading can no longer be considered safe and many copy kits are available for a few euros. The ease and speed with which a MIFARE card can then be copied often surprises customers ...

MIFARE card security algorithms

It is possible to add a security overlay to a MIFARE card. Apart from modifying the transport keys of the sectors to be used, with personal keys, which complicates access to the data but today does not make it more impossible in the context of cloning. Techniques aimed at applying encoding algorithms to the stored data make it possible to avoid reading data which may be confidential in the MIFARE card: personal data, access meter, electronic wallet, etc. This security will be effective for prevent the massive creation of new MIFARE cards in your system, it will not however prevent the cloning of a particular card, by reproducing its state at an instant t. To guarantee the security of data access, you will need to switch to a secure card such as the MIFARE DESFire. The price will nevertheless be much higher, at the level of the card itself, at the level of RFID readers and at the level of application development.

Memory capacity of the MIFARE badge chip

The MIFARE Classic 1K card offers 752 bytes of memory distributed over 16 MIFARE sectors. Each sector is made up of 3 blocks of 16 bytes each. An additional security block protects access to the sector with two different keys (named Key A and Key B). Sectors can be managed via data read / write or value increment / decrement operations. Block 0 (first block of the first sector) contains the unique identifier CSN of the MIFARE card. It is programmed during the manufacturing of the chip in the factory and is locked in writing.
The MIFARE Classic 4K card offers approximately 4 kilobytes of memory distributed over 40 MIFARE sectors. The first 32 sectors are made up of 4 blocks, the next 8 sectors are 16 blocks. The MIFARE 4K card is used in particular when the identification systems work independently and more data must be entered in the MIFARE card (medical history for example). It is also preferred in the context of a biometric access control with recording of the bigital imprint in the MIFARE memory. The size of the fingerprint file is generally too large to be contained in the memory of a MIFARE 1K chip. The same applies to the photo if it must be stored on the card for the purpose of verifying personal identity.
The MIFARE Ultralight card offers a memory reduced to 512 bits (ie 64 bytes) and does not have the security found in the MIFARE Classic. It was developed for a very low sale price and in practice is only used as a disposable transport ticket or one-off access card to a sports hall, a leisure center.

High security of the MIFARE DESFire badge

The MIFARE DESFire card is a special version of the NXP MIFARE platform. Recently passed from the DESFire EV1 version to the DESFire EV2 version about to be launched. It is a RFID card with microprocessor which is sold pre-programmed with the DESFire operating system (or DESFire operating system). This operating system offers many more functions and total security if the DESFire card is correctly deployed, compared to MIFARE Classic cards. The 4 or 8 kb of storage offered by the DESFire chip is not distributed over 16 pre-defined zones but in spaces called applications (maximum 28 applications for EV1 and only limited by the memory size for EV2) that l ’we must create. This formatting work, delicate and which required recently experienced programmers can be done today with simple USB readers (PC / SC), card printers with RFID encoding module or even Android smartphones ( in NFC). Many RFID readers are now able to write to a DESFire card (Access control readers, transport terminal, or module in a photocopier ...). To see the MIFARE DESFire compatible A3M readers click here.

The name MIFARE

The brand MIFARE is often pronounced and less often written, users are sometimes mistaken about its spelling. As it is pronounced in English my fare, we sometimes find it written mayfair, also myfare, or mifair, mayfaire or Mayfer. But the exact brand is MIFARE, preferably written with the ® indicating a registered trademark, as requested by its manufacturer, NXP Semiconductors, which wishes to fight against the clones which flood the market.

MIFARE clones: chips compatible with MIFARE

The success of the MIFARE card has been such for almost 20 years that chip manufacturers have launched on the market compatible chips using the same MIFARE protocol, the same memory structure and generally offering the same capacities. These low-cost MIFARE-compatible chips, generally of Chinese origin (from manufacturers Fudan, Issi), are very difficult to identify and only the expert laboratories of NXP can determine whether it is indeed a chip original MIFARE or a generic chip, at the cost of destroying the tested card. This complicates the verification of MIFARE originality for the distributor and the end customer. A3M collaborates with NXP in the fight against MIFARE-compatible chips. The concern is not in these chips themselves but in the fact that very often they are sold as MIFARE when they are not, they are simply compatible with MIFARE ®.

MIFARE card, MIFARE bracelet, MIFARE tag, MIFARE label

The MIFARE chip can be inserted into multiple containers.
- The most common is the PVC MIFARE card for identification of people and access control, you have certainly used it many times without knowing it.
- In sports or aquatic environments, the MIFARE wristband advantageously replaces the MIFARE card with its ease of use.
- A multitude of containers of the type MIFARE tag facilitate the use of the MIFARE identifier day by day: attached to our keys or to the belt, the MIFARE keychain tag is compact and makes you forget, without forgetting ...
- The industrial MIFARE tag advantageously equips warehouses, it can be fixed screwed, riveted or attached to any package, pallet.
- The format MIFARE sticker is ideal for the identification of objects in logistics, books in the library, or even as an identification label to be scanned with a smartphone for medical visitors, nursing staff home, rotating cleaning staff etc ...


MIFARE Classic ® EV1 card specifications

RFID interface Contactless only, ISO / IEC14443-2
Protocol ISO / IEC14443-3
UID 7-byte UID, RID, 4-byte NUID (CSN 4 bytes)
Communication speed 106 kbps
Memory organization Compact, by sectors and blocks of 16 bytes
Crypto Crypto-1
Key length MIFARE Key 48 bit
Authentication Mutual in 3 steps
MIFARE communication security Encrypted

MIFARE badge price

MIFARE badge in PVC card format Depending on the quantity and printing of the badge, plan between € 0.30 excluding tax and € 1.50 excluding tax for the MIFARE badge
MIFARE keychain badge Depending on the quantity and printing of the keychain badge, plan between € 0.50 excl. Tax and € 2.50 excl. Tax the MIFARE keyring badge

MIFARE ®, MIFARE Classic ® and MIFARE DESFire ® are registered trademarks of NXP, BV., Inventor of MIFARE technology.

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