The Month: Researchers raise concern over RFID security

Researchers have raised concerns over Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) security and privacy, just as US passports containing the tags are issued.

Lucas Grunwald, chief technology officer at German security consultancyDN-Systems, showed how the tags could be easily cloned, allowingduplicate documents to be produced. He demonstrated how to copy the dataonto the chips using a cheap card reader and a laptop.

However, the US Government has pressed ahead with the deployment. "TheDepartment of State is confident that the new e-passport, includingbiometrics and other improvements, will take security and travelfacilitation to a new level," the agency said in a statement.

Experts disagree. Stijn Bijnens (pictured), senior vice-president ofidentity management at Cybertrust, said: "This exploit was already awell-known fact. RFID was not originally designed for authenticatinghuman beings - more containers, packages, etc. Using RFID in this waymakes the passports less secure, not more."

He continued: "It's not just the security issue either - privacy is areal issue here, and I think we'll be hearing a lot more about this aspeople realise the implications."

The new US passports will have embedded RFID chips that broadcastpersonal details such as the name, nationality, sex, date and place ofbirth,and a digital photograph of the passport holder. US officialsclaim that a layer of metallic "anti-skimming" material on the documentwill prevent data from being read from a distance, provided that thepassport is fully closed.

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