Essays in the Category "ID Cards"

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Security and Function Creep

  • Bruce Schneier
  • IEEE Security & Privacy
  • January/February 2010

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Security is rarely static. Technology changes the capabilities of both security systems and attackers. But there’s something else that changes security’s cost/benefit trade-off: how the underlying systems being secured are used. Far too often we build security for one purpose, only to find it being used for another purpose—one it wasn’t suited for in the first place. And then the security system has to play catch-up.

Take driver’s licenses, for example. Originally designed to demonstrate a credential—the ability to drive a car—they looked like other credentials: medical licenses or elevator certificates of inspection. They were wallet-sized, of course, but they didn’t have much security associated with them. Then, slowly, driver’s licenses took on a second application: they became age-verification tokens in bars and liquor stores. Of course the security wasn’t up to the task—teenagers can be extraordinarily resourceful if they set their minds to it—and over the decades driver’s licenses got photographs, tamper-resistant features (once, it was easy to modify the birth year), and technologies that made counterfeiting harder. There was little value in counterfeiting a driver’s license, but a lot of value in counterfeiting an age-verification token…

Why Technology Won't Prevent Identity Theft

  • Bruce Schneier
  • The Wall Street Journal
  • January 9, 2009

Hebrew translation

Impersonation isn’t new. In 1556, a Frenchman was executed for impersonating Martin Guerre and this week hackers impersonated Barack Obama on Twitter. It’s not even unique to humans: mockingbirds, Viceroy butterflies, and the brown octopus all use impersonation as a survival strategy. For people, detecting impersonation is a hard problem for three reasons: we need to verify the identity of people we don’t know, we interact with people through “narrow” communications channels like the telephone and Internet, and we want computerized systems to do the verification for us…

How to Create the Perfect Fake Identity

  • Bruce Schneier
  • Wired
  • September 4, 2008

Let me start off by saying that I’m making this whole thing up.

Imagine you’re in charge of infiltrating sleeper agents into the United States. The year is 1983, and the proliferation of identity databases is making it increasingly difficult to create fake credentials. Ten years ago, someone could have just shown up in the country and gotten a driver’s license, Social Security card and bank account—possibly using the identity of someone roughly the same age who died as a young child—but it’s getting harder. And you know that trend will only continue. So you decide to grow your own identities…

Bruce Schneier: Security at What Cost?

National ID System Is Not Worth The $23 Billion Price Tag

  • Bruce Schneier
  • Minneapolis Star Tribune
  • February 23, 2008

The argument was so obvious it hardly needed repeating: We would all be safer if we had a better ID card. A good, hard-to-forge national ID is a no-brainer (or so the argument goes), and it’s ridiculous that a modern country such as the United States doesn’t have one. One result of this line of thinking is the planned Real ID Act, which forces all states to conform to common and more stringent rules for issuing driver’s licenses.

But security is always a tradeoff; it must be balanced with the cost. We all do this intuitively. Few of us walk around wearing bulletproof vests. It’s not because they’re ineffective, it’s because for most of us, the tradeoff isn’t worth it. It’s not worth the cost, the inconvenience, or the loss of fashion sense…

Driver's Licenses for Immigrants: Denying Licenses Makes Us Less Safe

  • Bruce Schneier
  • Detroit Free Press
  • February 7, 2008

Many people say that allowing illegal aliens to obtain state driver’s licenses helps them and encourages them to remain illegally in this country. Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox late last year issued an opinion that licenses could be issued only to legal state residents, calling it “one more tool in our initiative to bolster Michigan’s border and document security.”

In reality, we are a much more secure nation if we do issue driver’s licenses and/or state IDs to every resident who applies, regardless of immigration status. Issuing them doesn’t make us any less secure, and refusing puts us at risk…

Testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee

  • Bruce Schneier
  • May 8, 2007

Testimony of Bruce Schneier
Security technologist, author, founder and CTO of BT Counterpane

“Will REAL ID Actually Make Us Safer?
An Examination of Privacy and Civil Liberties Concerns”

Senate Judiciary Committee
Room 226, Dirksen Senate Office Building
Tuesday, May 8, 2007


I appreciate the opportunity to appear before the Committee today to discuss privacy issues. My name is Bruce Schneier. I am a security technologist, author, and CTO of BT Counterpane. The expertise I bring to this committee is less in the privacy and civil liberties realms, and more in the security realm. As such, I will focus my comments on the insecurities of the REAL ID system, the ineffectiveness of identity-based security systems, and the need to find smart and effective solutions to new security challenges. I’d like to emphasize at the start that this is an enormously interesting, important, and subtle topic, and I appreciate the decision of the Committee to hold these hearings…

Real-ID: Costs and Benefits

  • Bruce Schneier
  • The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists
  • March/April 2007

The argument was so obvious it hardly needed repeating. Some thought we would all be safer—­from terrorism, from crime, even from inconvenience—­if we had a better ID card. A good, hard-to-forge national ID is a no-brainer (or so the argument goes), and it’s ridiculous that a modern country like the United States doesn’t have one.

Still, most Americans have been and continue to be opposed to a national ID card. Even just after 9/11, polls showed a bare majority (51%) in favor—­and that quickly became a minority opinion again. As such, both political parties came out against the card, which meant that the only way it could become law was to sneak it through…

The ID Chip You Don't Want in Your Passport

  • Bruce Schneier
  • Washington Post
  • September 16, 2006

This essay also appeared in San Jose Mercury News, Sacramento Bee, Concord Monitor, Fort Worth Star Telegram, Dallas Morning News, Contra Costa Times, Statesman Journal, and The Clarion-Ledger.

If you have a passport, now is the time to renew it—even if it’s not set to expire anytime soon. If you don’t have a passport and think you might need one, now is the time to get it. In many countries, including the United States, passports will soon be equipped with RFID chips. And you don’t want one of these chips in your passport.

RFID stands for “radio-frequency identification.” Passports with RFID chips store an electronic copy of the passport information: your name, a digitized picture, etc. And in the future, the chip might store fingerprints or digital visas from various countries…

Fighting Fat-Wallet Syndrome

  • Bruce Schneier
  • Wired
  • February 9, 2006

I don’t know about your wallet, but mine contains a driver’s license, three credit cards, two bank ATM cards, frequent-flier cards for three airlines and frequent-guest cards for three hotel chains, memberships cards to two airline clubs, a library card, a AAA card, a Costco membership, and a bunch of other ID-type cards.

Any technologist who looks at the pile would reasonably ask: why all those cards? Most of them are not intended to be hard-to-forge identification cards; they’re simply ways of carrying around unique numbers that are pointers into a database. Why does Visa bother issuing credit cards in the first place? Clearly you don’t need the physical card in order to complete the transaction, as anyone who has bought something over the phone or the internet knows. Your bank could just use your driver’s license number as an account number…

Fatal Flaw Weakens RFID Passports

  • Bruce Schneier
  • Wired
  • November 3, 2005

In 2004, when the U.S. State Department first started talking about embedding RFID chips in passports, the outcry from privacy advocates was huge. When the State Department issued its draft regulation in February, it got 2,335 comments, 98.5 percent negative. In response, the final State Department regulations, issued last week, contain two features that attempt to address security and privacy concerns. But one serious problem remains.

Before I describe the problem, some context on the surrounding controversy may be helpful. RFID chips are passive, and broadcast information to any reader that queries the chip. So critics, myself …

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.