The Month: Researchers raise concern over RFID security

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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 consultancy DN-Systems, showed how the tags could be easily cloned, allowing duplicate documents to be produced. He demonstrated how to copy the data onto the chips using a cheap card reader and a laptop.

However, the US Government has pressed ahead with the deployment. "The Department of State is confident that the new e-passport, including biometrics and other improvements, will take security and travel facilitation to a new level," the agency said in a statement.

Experts disagree. Stijn Bijnens (pictured), senior vice-president of identity management at Cybertrust, said: "This exploit was already a well-known fact. RFID was not originally designed for authenticating human beings - more containers, packages, etc. Using RFID in this way makes the passports less secure, not more."

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

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

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