The Hackers Choice has released a tool allowing people to clone and modify electronic passports.
The problem is self-signed certificates.
A CA is not a great solution:
Using a Certification Authority (CA) could solve the attack but at the same time introduces a new set of attack vectors:
- The CA becomes a single point of failure. It becomes the juicy/high-value target for the attacker. Single point of failures are not good. Attractive targets are not good.
Any person with access to the CA key can undetectably fake passports. Direct attacks, virus, misplacing the key by accident (the UK government is good at this!) or bribery are just a few ways of getting the CA key.
- The single CA would need to be trusted by all governments. This is not practical as this means that passports would no longer be a national matter.
- Multiple CA’s would not work either. Any country could use its own CA to create a valid passport of any other country. Read this sentence again: Country A can create a passport data set of Country B and sign it with Country A’s CA key. The terminal will validate and display the information as data from Country B.This option also multiplies the number of ‘juicy’ targets. It makes it also more likely for a CA key to leak.
Revocation lists for certificates only work when a leak/loss is detected. In most cases it will not be detected.
So what’s the solution? We know that humans are good at Border Control. In the end they protected us well for the last 120 years. We also know that humans are good at pattern matching and image recognition. Humans also do an excellent job ‘assessing’ the person and not just the passport. Take the human part away and passport security falls apart.
EDITED TO ADD (10/13): More information.
Posted on September 30, 2008 at 12:24 PM •
The headline says it all: “‘Fakeproof’ e-passport is cloned in minutes.”
Does this surprise anyone? This is what I wrote about electronic passports two years ago in The Washington Post:
The other security mechanisms are also vulnerable, and several security researchers have already discovered flaws. One found that he could identify individual chips via unique characteristics of the radio transmissions. Another successfully cloned a chip. The State Department called this a “meaningless stunt,” pointing out that the researcher could not read or change the data. But the researcher spent only two weeks trying; the security of your passport has to be strong enough to last 10 years.
This is perhaps the greatest risk. The security mechanisms on your passport chip have to last the lifetime of your passport. It is as ridiculous to think that passport security will remain secure for that long as it would be to think that you won’t see another security update for Microsoft Windows in that time. Improvements in antenna technology will certainly increase the distance at which they can be read and might even allow unauthorized readers to penetrate the shielding.
Posted on August 8, 2008 at 4:59 AM •
The U.S. is outsourcing the manufacture of its RFID passports to some questionable companies.
This is a great illustration of the maxim “security trade-offs are often made for non-security reasons.” I can imagine the manager in charge: “Yes, it’s insecure. But think of the savings!”
The Government Printing Office’s decision to export the work has proved lucrative, allowing the agency to book more than $100 million in recent profits by charging the State Department more money for blank passports than it actually costs to make them, according to interviews with federal officials and documents obtained by The Times.
Posted on April 2, 2008 at 6:08 AM •
Investigative report on passport fraud worldwide.
Six years after 9/11, an NBC News undercover investigation has found that the black market in fraudulent passports is thriving. On the streets of South America, NBC documented the sale of stolen and doctored passports, and travel papers prized by terrorists: genuine passports issued under false names. For a few thousand dollars, an undercover investigator was able to purchase several entirely new identities from organized criminal networks with access to corrupt government employees. The investigator obtained passports from Spain, Peru, and Venezuela and used the Peruvian and Venezuelan passports to travel widely in the Western Hemisphere, with practically no scrutiny.
Posted on January 8, 2008 at 1:59 PM •
This is the kind of thing that demonstrates why attempts to make passports harder to forge are not the right way to spend security dollars. These aren’t fake passports; they’re real ones mis-issued. They have RFID chips and any other anti-counterfeiting measure the British government includes.
The weak link in identity documents is the issuance procedures, not the documents themselves.
Posted on March 26, 2007 at 6:46 AM •
It’s getting mainstream attention; here’s an article from the BBC.
Posted on December 20, 2006 at 6:09 AM •
Interesting story of a British journalist buying 20 different fake EU passports. She bought a genuine Czech passport with a fake name and her real picture, a fake Latvian passport, and a stolen Estonian passport.
Despite information on stolen passports being registered to a central Interpol database, her Estonian passport goes undetected.
Note that harder-to-forge RFID passports would only help in one instance; it’s certainly not the most important problem to solve.
Also, I am somewhat suspicious of this story. I don’t know about the UK laws, but in the US this would be a major crime — and I don’t think being a reporter would be an adequate defense.
Posted on December 5, 2006 at 1:38 PM •
Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.