Quickie Teardown – ShopGuard Anti-Theft Tag

ShopGuard Anti-Theft Tag
ShopGuard Anti-Theft Tag

Everyone at some stage must have seen these EAS security tags in shops, usually attached to clothing with a steel pin. As some of this year’s presents had been left with the tags attached, I had to forcibly remove them before wrapping could commence.

Reverse Side
Reverse Side

These are just a plastic disc about 50mm in diameter, with an internal locking mechanism & RF tag inside.

RF Coil
RF Coil

After some careful attack with a saw around the glue seam, the tag comes apart into it’s halves. The RF coil & it’s ceramic capacitor can be seen wrapped around the outside of the tag. The capacitor in this case isn’t even epoxy dipped to save that extra 0.0001p on the manufacturing price. In the top centre is the pin locking mechanism, enclosed in a small plastic pill.

Lock Pill
Lock Pill

Popping off the back cap of the lock shows it’s internals.

Ball Bearing Lock Assembly
Ball Bearing Lock Assembly

The lock itself is very simple. The centre section, held in place by a spring, carries 3 small ball bearings. The outer metal frame of the lock is conical in shape.

When the pin is pushed into the tag, the conical shape of the lock chamber causes the ball bearings to grab onto it, helped by the action of the spring that pushes the ball bearing carrier further into the cone.
This also means that any attempt to force the mechanism causes it to lock tighter onto the pin.
In normal operation, removal is achieved by a strong magnet that pulls the ball bearing carrier back slightly against it’s spring, allowing the pin to disengage & be pulled out.

This design is incredibly simple & cheap to make, and gains it’s locking strength from friction alone.

I would consider the RF coil being around the outer edge of the device a bit of a security risk – a quick chop with a sharp pair of wire cutters would disable the tag’s alarm functionality instantly. Making the coil slightly smaller & keeping it out of reach of the edge of the tag would help in this regard.

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