Ramblings & ephemera

How easy it is to clone “unbreakable” RFID passports

From Steve Boggan’s “‘Fakeproof’ e-passport is cloned in minutes” (The Times: 6 August 2008):

New microchipped passports designed to be foolproof against identity theft can be cloned and manipulated in minutes and accepted as genuine by the computer software recommended for use at international airports.

Tests for The Times exposed security flaws in the microchips introduced to protect against terrorism and organised crime. The flaws also undermine claims that 3,000 blank passports stolen last week were worthless because they could not be forged.

In the tests, a computer researcher cloned the chips on two British passports and implanted digital images of Osama bin Laden and a suicide bomber. The altered chips were then passed as genuine by passport reader software used by the UN agency that sets standards for e-passports.

The Home Office has always argued that faked chips would be spotted at border checkpoints because they would not match key codes when checked against an international data-base. But only ten of the forty-five countries with e-passports have signed up to the Public Key Directory (PKD) code system, and only five are using it. Britain is a member but will not use the directory before next year. Even then, the system will be fully secure only if every e-passport country has joined.

Some of the 45 countries, including Britain, swap codes manually, but criminals could use fake e-passports from countries that do not share key codes, which would then go undetected at passport control.

The tests suggest that if the microchips are vulnerable to cloning then bogus biometrics could be inserted in fake or blank passports.

Using his own software, a publicly available programming code, a £40 card reader and two £10 RFID chips, Mr van Beek took less than an hour to clone and manipulate two passport chips to a level at which they were ready to be planted inside fake or stolen paper passports.

The tests also raise serious questions about the Government’s £4 billion identity card scheme, which relies on the same biometric technology. ID cards are expected to contain similar microchips that will store up to 50 pieces of personal and biometric information about their holders. …

The ability to clone chips leaves travellers vulnerable to identity theft when they surrender their passports at hotels or car rental companies. Criminals in the back office could read the chips and clone them. The original passport holder’s name and date of birth could be left on the fake chip, with the picture, fingerprints and other biometric data of a criminal client added. The criminal could then travel the world using the stolen identity and the original passport holder would be none the wiser.

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