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Security Concerns Raised Over Paperless Passports

Security experts have warned there will be some serious operational challenges to overcome for the company that has just revealed it is developing technology to store digital passports on smartphones.

News emerged that UK firm De La Rue, which is the world’s largest passport producer, is testing tech which would make paperless versions of the travel document a reality for the first time.

“Technology is at the forefront of De La Rue’s business, and as you would expect we are always looking at new innovations and technology solutions for our customers around the world,” a spokesman told The Telegraph.

“Paperless passports are one of many initiatives that we are currently looking at, but at the moment it is a concept that is at the very early stages of development.”

However, the process won’t be all plain sailing, according to Proofpoint VP of mobile security, Dave Jevans.

“Digital passports on your phone will require new hardware on the device in order to securely store the electronic passport so it cannot be copied from the phone. It will also have to be communicated wirelessly to passport readers, because doing it on-screen like an airline ticket QR code can be copied or spoofed,” he explained.

“A big problem is what to do when your phone is lost or stolen. This happens far more often than losing a traditional passport.  A related challenge is how to deal with replacing your phone with an upgrade, and the issue of trading in your used phone or selling it”

Also, even if all of this can be accomplished, digital passport holders will still need to carry their old paper copy with them if travelling to a country which hasn’t yet approved the system, Jevans explained.

Meanwhile, Tenable EMEA director, Gavin Millard, argued that although traditional passports have contained digital chips inside them for many years with no impact on security, adding them to an internet-connected device will change the threat model “significantly.”

“With the recent launch of Apple Pay and Google Wallet, proving that mobile devices can be used securely for transactions, the obvious next step in the evolution of everything digital is the paperless passport,” he continued.

“If introduced, many will err on the side of caution and not enable this capability on their devices, but for frequent travelers, convenience will probably trump security concerns.” 

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