UK Guardian: Hackers crack new biometric passports

From: Andrew Johnson

Date: 2006-08-09 12:39:09

My new passport has a chip!….,,1838751,00.html Hackers crack new biometric passports Bobbie Johnson, technology correspondent
Monday August 7, 2006
The Guardian
Hi-tech biometric passports used by Britain and other countries have been hacked by a computer expert, throwing into doubt fundamental parts of the UK’s £415m scheme to load passports with information such as fingerprints, facial scans and iris patterns. Speaking at the Defcon security conference in Las Vegas, Lukas Grunwald, a consultant with a German security company, said he had discovered a method for cloning the information stored in the new passports. Data can be transferred onto blank chips, which could then be implanted in fake passports, a flaw which he said undermined the project. The revelation also casts another shadow over the government’s plan for a national ID card, which would contain much of the same information. “The whole passport design is totally brain damaged,” Mr Grunwald told “From my point of view all of these [biometric] passports are a huge waste of money – they’re not increasing security at all.” Since March anyone applying for a UK passport has been issued with a biometric version, which contains physical identification information. Mr Grunwald said his discovery was made within two weeks of first attempting to copy the data, and the equipment used cost $200 (£105). It is believed the hacking principle could be applied to any new passport issued in Britain, the US and other countries. But the findings do not mean that all biometric information could be faked or altered by criminals. Although the data held on a passport chip is not encrypted, it is not yet possible to change the cloned data without alerting the authorities. The Home Office said yesterday that the UK biometric passport was one of the most secure in the world and while it might be possible to copy the chip data it was not possible to modify or manipulate any of the data. Last week the House of Commons’ science and technology committee called on the government to reconsider the technology behind the biometric ID scheme.

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