E-passports pose data leakage risks, expert says

14 Aug 2006

Electronic passports being introduced in the US and other countries have a major vulnerability that could allow criminals to clone embedded secret code and enter countries illegally, an expert warned.

A demonstration by German computer security expert Lukas Grunwald showed how personal information stored on the documents could be copied and transferred to another device.

It appeared to contradict assurances by officials in government and private industry that the electronic information stored in passports could not be duplicated.

'If there is an automatic inspection system, I can use this card to enter any country,' Grunwald said, holding up a computer chip containing electronic information he had copied from his German passport.

The research is the latest to raise concerns about the growing use of RFID, short for radio-frequency identification, which allows everyday objects such as store merchandise, livestock and security documents to beam electronic data to computers equipped with special antennas.

Germany already uses RFID in passports to help border officials guard against forgeries and automate the processing of international visitors. US officials plan to start embedding RFID in passports in October.

A US State Department spokeswoman said she did not have enough information on the matter to comment.

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