Criminals find way around new technology in credit cards, passports

By Andy Wise - bio | email

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - Privacy advocates are worried microchips implanted inside credit cards, access cards and even passports could be a criminal's keys to your castle.

New passports use what is called radio frequency identification technology (RFID) to add a layer of security for international travelers. But, as with most new technologies, crooks have figured out a way to access information you do not want them to have.

For the past two and a half years, the State Department has only issued passports with a small chip embedded on the back cover.  Everything printed on your passport is in that chip.

"Soon after the US government started putting these RFID chips into individual passports, there were a number of thieves ... that said, 'hey, we can gather this information just using a laptop and a wireless connection'," Nicole Bocra with Infinity Investigative Solutions said.

In some cases, the RFID technology is that simple.  If you are in a crowd and someone has configured a powerful RFID reader, your information can be compromised in just a keystroke.

TJ Eiden runs an electronic security business.  He said similar RFID technology is used in credit cards, access cards, and by businesses trying to protect property and products.

It is a small chip with endless possibilities.

"Anything from a picture or a fingerprint," Eiden said, "or in the case of a passport or something like that, it can save your passport number, image, and where you've been."

The State Department was inundated with complaints when it announced a transition to electronic passports, and soon got to work safeguarding them.

It added RF-blocking material to passport covers.  Passports must now be physically open to be read.

The State Department also took steps to prevent tracking and copying of passports.  Still, it admits nothing is fool-proof.

Some RFID readers will work as far as 30-feet away from the target.  But, with passports and credit cards, the encryption is so intricate, a criminal would be hard-pressed to figure out whatever information they could possibly get from the cards.

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