One thing that many U.S. passport holders do not realize it that they are carrying around a radio transmitter or RFID chip when they carry their passport. You need to protect your passport from being scanned by hackers who can buy cheap receivers that can read or even clone every bit of information that is on your passport.
How Can Hackers Read My Passport Chip From A Distance?
RFID chips in Passports are new but the technology is not. If you have ever walked through the scanner at Wal Mart and had it go off because the 18 year old gum-chewing clerk forgot to deactivate the RFID chip, you have seen the technology in action. RFID chips are a passive radio transmitter, meaning that they have to be sent a strong electromagnetic signal that powers them and causes them to chirp the data encoded in the chip.
This data can be a “swipe and go” gas credit card, medical card, passport, tollway tag, etc. There are RFID chips all around us and in many of our wallets. Hacking an RFID passport chip is as easy as buying fifty dollars worth of ready made gear off of eBay or other sites. In the video below, white hat hacker Chris Paget shows how he was able to read dozens of passport RFID chips from a distance while driving around San Francisco.
What Are The Security Implications Of Remote Reading Of Passport RFID Chips?
Now for the scary part that’s much worse than identity theft, as if that wasn’t bad enough. Suppose you are on vacation, anywhere in the world, and there are people there who don’t like the country you are from for some reason. A hacker with $50 worth of gear could stroll around public places and with a concealed passport RFID reader and antenna, reading the nationalities of the people in the crowd. Tech experts at the recent Def Con convention in Las Vegas have warned of U.S. passports acting as “terrorist-beacons”. Let’s just say someone was planning to do something very evil in a public place, and looking for a group of certain individuals to do it around. With the kinds of people plotting horrible acts around the world it is not far fetched to think that they might use remote RFID passport chip readers to plan something based on the nationality of persons in a crowd. Another national security issue with RFID passport chip hacking is that passport hackers can clone a U.S. passport and insert their own photo in a fake one and gain access to the country illegally.
How To Protect Your U.S. Passport From Hackers
Protecting your passport from hackers who use RFID readers is relatively simple. You can simply cover your passport or passport card in foil. This isn’t very practical, so there are pre-made RFID blocking passport covers and sleeves for cards. For under ten dollars you can find these for sale on sites like eBay and Amazon. In case you wonder just how common RFID passport hackers are becoming, do a quick search on Google for “remote RFID reader” and you will find about two million, one hundred thousand and ten results. (As of August 31, 2101). The devices to read passport RFID chips are becoming cheaper and cheaper. Walking around with your passport unprotected, especially when traveling abroad, is a very unwise thing to do these days. That’s not alarmist, it’s a fact. Here is what the U.S. government is doing. They are requiring all employees to use FIPS 202 standard RFID blocking sleeves on ID cards and passports.