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How to Protect Yourself against Passport Thieves

April 08, 2014

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What does a missing Malaysian aircraft, passports and IT security have in common?

Recently, I was interviewed by WPIX-11 on “How to protect yourself against high tech passport thieves”. We discussed the privacy and security threats associated with RFID-enabled passports. Over the past decade, the US government has started embedding smart chips inside US passports, to enable better screening of US citizens. See the video at http://brainlink.wpengine.com/media.

On the face of it, this seems like a really good idea – let’s make passports smarter, harder to counterfeit. In practice however, the approach the US government chose is flawed. Unbeknownst to most, RFID was invented to deal with a logistics and warehouse problem. How does a company find the right part in a warehouse of million items? How do we track a shipping container from factory dock, to the truck, rail, ship, and ultimately to the retailer?

In practice, this means Walmart, Amazon, USPS, FedEx and others have spent billions making RFID cheaper, faster, better.

Notice that SECURE is nowhere in their design principles. RFID is the equivalent of digital barcodes. The very idea of shielding or blocking barcodes defeats their efficacy.

What does that mean to me & you? If you travel with your passport, you must take special steps to protect RFID passports.

Old-fashioned, paper-only passports required a thief to snatch your purse, pick your pocket or steal them from your hotel room. The RFID-passports however, can have their information stolen from several feet away. And you can’t tell when they’ve been read. The stolen information can lead to ID theft,

A stolen passport (whether old-fashioned or new) is the ultimate in ID theft. A stolen US passport is one of the most highly sought after credentials in the world. On the black market, each one is worth anywhere from $300 to $10,000.

Tips to protect yourself:

  1. Carry RFID passports, smart credit cards, NFC cards in shielded wallets
  2. Never leave your passport lying around
  3. Don’t flash it around – treat it as you would a $10,000 bill.
  4. Be wary of fake police officers, or corrupt ones, who try to steal your passport
  5. Be wary of strangers who try to buy yours in bars, restaurants and hotels
  6. Carry a photocopy of the main page with you
  7. In case of loss, contact the State Department or your

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