CNN recently reported that hackers had demonstrated how a biometric passport issued in the name of “Elvis Presley” could be cleared through an automated passport scanning system being tested at an international airport. Using a doctored passport at a self-serve passport machine, the hacker was cleared for travel after just a few seconds and a picture of Elvis Presley himself appeared on the monitor’s display.
Adam Laurie and Jeroen Van Beek, who call themselves “ethical hackers,” say the exercise exposed how easy it is to fool a passport scanner with a fraudulent biometric chip. The Presley test was carried out at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport in September 2008, by Laurie and Van Beek, to highlight potential security shortcomings.
Biometric passports, with data stored on embedded chip, are now standard issue in Europe, the U.S. and a number of other countries. However, Laurie and Van Beek used their knowledge of IT security and hacking to show that biometric passports remain vulnerable to fraud.
The problem, in part, is that each country has its own security signature for verifying its own biometric passports. While some share that information, many countries do not, making it easy to exploit the loopholes.
The CNN article may be accessed here.
Our friend and colleague Paul Mayer, the current Consular Section Chief at the United States Consulate General in Montreal, has recently posted a blog on his experiences while serving as Acting Consul-General at the United States Embassy in Port-au-Prince Haiti, during the days following the January 2010 earthquake. He mentions the Embassy’s priority to evacuate United States citizens during times of emergency. However, he also talks about the difficulty he faced each day, having to turn away applicants who had no claim to United States citizenship but who had arrived at the consulate with their suitcases packed, hoping that the United States government would feed them, house them, and evacuate them from Haiti. I urge you to read Paul’s blog, which is available here.
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