RFIDEnabled Passports

RFID tags in passports are probably the most-talked-about RFID application in the security community. The first RFID passports were used in Malaysia in 1998. They not only provide visual ID but also record all flight details.

Later, the international community created specifications and open standards for interoperability of such RFID-enabled passports within the International Civil Aviation

Organization (ICAO). The ICAO calls such passports Machine Readable Travel Documents (MRTDs).

Beginning in 2006, the EU member countries and the United States included ICAO MRTD-compliant RFID tags in new passports. The U.S. produced 10 million passports in 2005 and an estimated 13 million in 2006. The tag stores the same information printed on the passport, as well as a digital picture of the passport holder, and a cryptographic signature of the passport-issuing authority. Furthermore, the ICAO specifies optional data, including biometric images and templates of fingerprints and irises. Each ICAO member country can decide which of these optional features to use. All EU member countries are mandated to add two fingerprint images to all their newly issued passports within the next few years. In Germany, all passports issued after November 1, 2007, store encrypted, digital fingerprint images on the RFID (see Figure 10-2).

MRTDs contain a number of security measures, each designed to combat an individual threat. Almost all of the security measures are optional and their use is up to the particular passport-issuing country. For example, U.S. passports will incorporate a thin metal lining to make it more difficult for unauthorized readers to skim information when the passport is closed. One of the many risks of deploying RFID passports is that passports in many countries do not expire for ten years. Within that time frame, the cryptography used to secure the data may be compromised or the mechanical stress to the RFID antenna bondings may prove too much.

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Figure 10-2 German passport with passive RFID chip

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