By Dan Goodin in San Francisco
2nd February 2009
Using inexpensive off-the-shelf components, an information security
expert has built a mobile platform that can clone large numbers of the
unique electronic identifiers used in US passport cards and next
generation drivers licenses.
The $250 proof-of-concept device - which researcher Chris Paget built in
his spare time - operates out of his vehicle and contains everything
needed to sniff and then clone RFID, or radio frequency identification,
tags. During a recent 20-minute drive in downtown San Francisco, it
successfully copied the RFID tags of two passport cards without the
knowledge of their owners.
Paget's contraption builds off the work of researchers at RSA and the
University of Washington, which last year found weaknesses in US
passport cards and so-called EDLs, or enhanced drivers' licenses. So
far, about 750,000 people have applied for the passport cards, which are
credit card-sized alternatives to passports for travel between the US
and Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean, and Bermuda. EDLs are currently
offered by Washington and New York states.
"It's one thing to say that something can be done, it's another thing
completely to actually do it," Paget said in explaining why he built the
device. "It's mainly to defeat the argument that you can't do it in the
real world, that there's no real-world attack here, that it's all
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