Security and Privacy Risks in Electronic Chip Based Passports

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A recent news by NDTV reported about introduction of electronic (RFID) chips in Chinese passports. It is not the first time that an electronic passports are being introduced any where. USA has also done it few years back. However, as more and more countries are adopting to use of the technology (RFID chips) in such confidential documents like Passports etc. – it has led to start of debate over security and privacy issues in doing so. Criminals and terrorists are always looking to hack such sensitive, personal and confidential documents like passports which can help them gain unauthorized access quite easily.

 chinese passports with electronic chips

How Does Electronic Passport Work

An Electronic passport is nothing but same document with the exception that all the personal information like name, date of birth, photo and finger prints which were earlier printed will now be contained within a small electronic chip. The data in RFID chip can be read using some special readers which can work from a predefined distance from the chip.

However, we are already quite used to using electronic chip in credit and debit cards and so we can easily guess about the potential security and privacy risks it can pose.

Security and Privacy Risks in Electronic Passports

One of the major risks is that of cloning the chip altogether as criminals usually do with credit/debit card. Cloning the chip can enable them to misuse the passport in gaining unauthorised entry to any country or even (mis)-use the document anywhere. Criminals can impersonate someone and can gain unauthorized access and benefits.

 security risks in e-passports

Another risk is that of privacy wherein some one else can read the information stored in chip in an unauthorized way. This can be done using electronic readers made specially for this purpose. Although, it is claimed in the technical specs, that these chips can be read only from a very small distances. However, it has been seen practically that it may be possible at times to read them from quite a distance. If that happens, it will leak all the personal information stored in the chip to unauthorized people who again can misuse it in any way.

Chinese passports to have electronic chip

China will soon start issuing a new type of passport that will contain an electronic chip to record the passport holder’s personal information.

According to the ministry of public security, the new passports will look similar to traditional ones but the electronic chip will contain the holder’s name, date of birth, photo and fingerprints, Xinhua reported.

Under preparation for three years, the new passports will be available from May 15.

Their introduction will help prevent counterfeits, the ministry said.

More rigid anti-counterfeiting technologies, such as special printing ink, laser signs, holographic film and digital signatures, have been applied in the new passports.

The annual number of passports issued by China has increased from one million in the 1990s to 10 million now.

With more than 90 countries adopting such digital passports, China felt the need to follow the trend to facilitate citizens’ travel abroad, the ministry said.

It is best to take enough caution to prevent all the security and privacy risks in using passports (or, any such document for that sake) with electronic chips.

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