Modern passports contain NFC chips inside them in order to reduce counterfeiting and doctoring of travel documents; however, their capabilities can also be used to improve the experience of the average traveller. Unfortunately, instead of discussing these capabilities, much has been made of their potential for leaking sensitive personal information; therefore, the security features of these E-Passports will also be discussed here.
NFC passport chips and authenticating travel documents
The chips in NFC passports are quite far removed from the basic tags one might purchase online or see on a smart poster. In order to store not only your basic passport information (address, name, etc), but also your photograph and potentially biometric data such as fingerprints, the chips used are some of the highest-memory NFC tags currently in production. This memory capacity also allows passports to store supplemental information useful for a traveller, such as records of chronic medical conditions.
What is actually stored on your E-Passport depends on the country issuing the document; for instance, biometric information and supplemental information is optional according to international standards. At a minimum, each NFC passport following the ICAO 9303 standard must contain an electronic version of the basic information printed in your passport, as well as a digital copy of the passport photo. Passports conforming to the international standard that governs how basic information is presented visually and stored electronically are known as Machine Readable Travel Documents (MRTD).
To reduce passport counterfeiting these NFC chips contain digital signatures that can be verified by inspections systems at airports and other inspection points. The international standard allows for both a passive and active authentication scheme, with the latter requiring a knowledge of a private key.
Traveller friendly features
For the everyday traveller, NFC passports can be used to significantly increase the speed of passing through passport control points due to their ability to be used to automate portions of the clearance and visa stamping process. In order to maximize this capability, NFC passports allow electronic visas to be stored on the passport’s internal memory. This can be used to eliminate time-consuming paging through the passport to find the original entry stamp in order to validate a trip’s duration without even requiring a human inspector to be present. If you’ve ever been on a crowded international flight arriving at 3am local time when very few immigration officers are available, you can imagine how helpful this capability would be.
Given how much private information is present on an E-Passport, it is clear that security is a significant concern. In order to prevent unauthorized access, an E-Passport makes use of an authentication scheme known as basic access control, which requires the reader to have knowledge of the traveller’s date of birth as well as both the passport number and date of expiry. A passkey is derived from these parameters that can be used to authenticate with the passport’s NFC chip and access the data. Some passports have additional security measures to protect personal information using additional authentication systems (known as enhanced access control)
TapTrack’s TappyUSB contains an optional firmware upgrade that will allow it to perform basic access control on an NFC passport to read the photo and basic document details electronically with just an NFC reader! All the TappyUSB requires is the passport number, bearer’s date of birth, and the date of expiry and it will do all the key calculation, authentication, and secure communication to read the data as shown in our E-Passport utility. If you’re interested in this feature, contact us today.