Researchers Show PASS Card RFID Vulnerabilities

By Roy Mark  |  Posted 2008-10-27 Print this article Print

The University of Washington and EMC's RSA Labs team up on a study showing that new RFID-enabled U.S. Passport Cards used for border crossings are easily cloned and are vulnerable to being disabled. The researchers also showed that the cards could be scanned from as far away as 150 feet.

Researchers at the University of Washington and EMC's RSA Laboratories claim new RFID-enabled border-crossing documents are easily cloned and are vulnerable to being disabled. The researchers also showed that the cards could be scanned from as far away as 150 feet.

Produced jointly by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State, the U.S. Passport Cards, also known as PASS (People Access Security Services) cards, are available to Americans crossing U.S. land and sea borders. The state of Washington is also producing EDLs (Enhanced Driver Licenses) using the same radio-frequency identification technology.

The research, published Oct. 22, tested both PASS cards and Washington State's EDLs, which are produced jointly with DHS. Both of the cards have Generation 2 RFID tags, along with a sleeve that the government says offers protection against unauthorized reads.

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"Our research confirms the vulnerability of Passport Cards and Enhanced Drivers Licenses to copying attacks of their electronic RFID components," the report stated. "It is a technically straightforward matter to copy the data from a Passport Card's RFID tag into another, off-the-shelf tag."

The report added, "Gen-2 tags are essentially wireless bar codes, with no specific provisions to meet security and privacy needs. Just as their optical counterparts are subject to photocopying, Gen-2 EPC tags are vulnerable to cloning attacks in which their publicly visible data are scanned by an adversary and then transferred to a clone device, be it another tag or a more sophisticated emulator."

The authors also noted that the cards did not use unique tag identifier codes. Instead the cards use generic manufacturer's codes, significantly increasing cloning opportunities.

According to the report, the cards' vulnerabilities increase the risks of identity theft, attacks that can destroy the cards and the tracking of individuals through unauthorized readings.

"Our work suggests that as deployed, Passport Cards and Washington State EDLs possess security and privacy deficiencies that have the potential to compromise border security or render it more fragile than necessary and desirable," the report authors concluded.

A DHS spokesperson said the testing was conducted on older cards and the results are "outdated."


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