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Government officials insists new passports are secure

This week the US government plans to rollout new RFID passports to citizens nationwide. The new passports contain a chip which requires no power and contains duplicate information of what's printed on the passports. This way, government officials at air ports and other national borders can quickly verify the authenticity of printed information on the passports. DailyTech last reported that the US government planned to issue the new passports this month despite privacy concerns.

Despite the security benefits that the US government is boasting, security advocates and experts say that the new RFID passports present an increased level of danger for passport users. Because of the technology being used, remote RFID readers can read information off the passports for cloning or malicious use. The US government argues that this is no different than having someone steal a physical passport -- they wouldn't be able to use it anyway. Officials claim that the information be stored on the new passports are encrypted and cannot be copied and modified. Likewise, the information on the passports cannot be scrambled or changed because the chips are read-only.

The US State Department already has a fairly comprehensive Frequently Asked Questions website about the new electronic passports.  About half of the official Q&A from the State Department is with regard to security.  For example, the site claims "To prevent eavesdropping, Basic Access Control (BAC) is employed in the U.S. e-passport.  BAC is similar to a PIN used in ATM or credit card transactions.  In the case of the electronic passport, characters from the printed machine-readable zone of the passport must be read first in order to unlock the chip for reading.  Thus, when an electronic passport is presented to an inspector, the inspector must scan the printed lines of data in order to be able to read the data on the chip." 

Staff counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington said that "many of the advantages the industry is touting are eliminated by security concerns." However, a German security company has already demonstrated that information on the new passports can be copied and transferred to another device.  The State Department claims there is an anti-skimming technology in place to prevent this type of exploit specifically, though exact details of the counter-measure have not been revealed yet.

The new passports are being manufactured by Infineon Technologies, but production has not started yet. Other countries deploying new passport technologies include Japan, France and Canada. The new RFID passports are already being used in French international passports and Canada plans to introduce biometric passports sometime in 2007.  Japan's all-biometic passports are already being rolled out in select regions. The UK is still in the planning phases for its passports.

The new passports will cost roughly $97 per passport and includes a $12 security surcharge. The US government expects the technology to be fully deployed within the year. Those with regular passports will still be able to use them until the expiration date is reached.


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Infineon technology making the US Passports?
By IDmagnet on 8/14/2006 9:26:06 PM , Rating: 2
Does anyone besides me think that it's a bit strange that a German company is going to me making the US passports? There are plenty of 'home based' companies in the RFID business that I think would be a lot more appropriate sources for something as sensitive as a passport.
Intermec, for instance, holds most of the significant RFID patents and are US based. Why didn't they get the contract?




By TomZ on 8/15/2006 9:25:57 AM , Rating: 2
I don't think it is strange. The technology/security used is openly published, so I don't think there is any security threat. Not that a German company would be any problem anyway. In addition, the contract did go to an American company (a US subsidiary of Infineon), and I don't think the US government generally has any problem sourcing from overseas vendors anyway, as long as they can provide the local support required for a contract like this.

In my google searches, I did not se where Intermec actually bid on the contract. The companies that bid are system integrators, and maybe Intermec's IP is incorporated into their proposed solution. I'm just speculating on this, however.


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