British passport codes – cracked!

Cracked it! Guardian Unlimited

Steve Boggan explains how he and “a friendly computer expert” managed to crack the security codes on the new British biometric passport (the one which provided an excuse to hike up passport charges astronomically):

“I was amazed that they made it so easy,” Laurie says. “The information contained in the chip is not encrypted, but to access it you have to start up an encrypted conversation between the reader and the RFID chip in the passport.

“The reader - I bought one for £250 - has to say hello to the chip and tell it that it is authorised to make contact. The key to that is in the date of birth, etc. Once they communicate, the conversation is encrypted, but I wrote some software in about 48 hours that made sense of it.

“The Home Office has adopted a very high encryption technology called 3DES - that is, to a military-level data-encryption standard times three. So they are using strong cryptography to prevent conversations between the passport and the reader being eavesdropped, but they are then breaking one of the fundamental principles of encryption by using non-secret information actually published in the passport to create a ‘secret key’. That is the equivalent of installing a solid steel front door to your house and then putting the key under the mat.”

Within minutes of applying the three passports to the reader, the information from all of them has been copied and the holders’ images appear on the screen of Laurie’s laptop. The passports belong to Booth, and to Laurie’s son, Max, and my partner, who have all given their permission.

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