Technology

May 1, 2016

SAFER PASSPORTS

Digital passports are already in use in more than 70 countries in the world. Its use of biometrics, electronics and radio technologies allows for more security, minimizing the risk of forgery or abusive use.

They are usually called ePassports, or Digital Passports. The system, devised in the 1990s, combines the usual paper booklet with electronics, a microchip, and antenna to create a seamless document with all the needed information and biometrical data. The passport's critical information is both printed on the data page of the passport, and stored in the chip.

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The currently standardized biometrics used for this type of identification system are facial recognition, fingerprint recognition, and iris recognition. These were adopted after the assessment of several different kinds of biometrics, including retinal scan.

With a growing number of countries adopting digital passports, border controls had to evolve, and became "eBorders". These can read all information stored in the passport's chips using contactless technology through an RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) antenna.

Protection and security are guaranteed, and even safer than regular passports. From a long list of safety features, we highlight the following: chips are untraceable; random chip identifiers reply to each request with a different chip number, preventing the tracing of passport chips; Basic Access Control (BAC) protects the communication channel between the chip and the reader by encrypting transmitted information. Before data can be read from a chip, the reader needs to provide a key which is derived from the Machine Readable Zone: the date of birth, the date of expiry and the document number. If BAC is used, an attacker cannot (easily) eavesdrop transferred information without knowing the correct key. Other features are Passive Authentication (PA), aimed at identifying modification of passport chip data; and Active Authentication (AA), which prevents cloning of passport chips, containing a private key that cannot be read or copied, but its existence can easily be proven.

The implementation of ePassports with biometrical information is currently taking place around the world. Currently, there are over 70 states from all continents already using the system, so it is expected that ePassports will become a reality for everyone in few years.

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