Passport dangers

If the security firm Flexilis has things right, you might want to think twice about trading in your old passport for one of the high-tech models set to come out in October. In a news release and video, the company has revealed that not only can the new Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)-enabled passports be read by third parties from ...

607541_passport.thumbnail5.jpg
607541_passport.thumbnail5.jpg

If the security firm Flexilis has things right, you might want to think twice about trading in your old passport for one of the high-tech models set to come out in October. In a news release and video, the company has revealed that not only can the new Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)-enabled passports be read by third parties from a distance, but they could also eventually be used to target passport holders for bomb attacks. 

It seems that the shield surrounding the information chip only protects it from being read when the passport is fully closed; a passport even slightly open in a purse or a pocket could easily be spied on. But more than privacy is at stake: one of the readily available, pint-sized devices that read RFID passports can be hitched to explosives rigged to set off automatically when the passport passes within a certain range.

Eventually, Flexilis says, terrorists could enable a reader to distinguish between the chips of different countries and target specific nationalities for attack.

If the security firm Flexilis has things right, you might want to think twice about trading in your old passport for one of the high-tech models set to come out in October. In a news release and video, the company has revealed that not only can the new Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)-enabled passports be read by third parties from a distance, but they could also eventually be used to target passport holders for bomb attacks. 

It seems that the shield surrounding the information chip only protects it from being read when the passport is fully closed; a passport even slightly open in a purse or a pocket could easily be spied on. But more than privacy is at stake: one of the readily available, pint-sized devices that read RFID passports can be hitched to explosives rigged to set off automatically when the passport passes within a certain range.

Eventually, Flexilis says, terrorists could enable a reader to distinguish between the chips of different countries and target specific nationalities for attack.

The Flexilis video is slightly comical for its amateurish appearance–it features a mannequin strung from a clothesline and then blasted with model rocket engines–but it’s an unsettling reminder that terrorists’ methods can be almost as crude. 

In a related story, the UK-based tech monitor The Register offers a report on how to clone the new passport in a few easy steps.

Ben Fryer is a researcher at Foreign Policy.

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