Foiling ID theft

A simple foil envelope that costs the same as a postage stamp could prevent the cloning of credit cards and passports during transit and use.

Recently there have been repeated concerns about the security of biometric passports and the vulnerability of their radio frequency identification (RFID) microchips to skimming — copying its contents by readily-available hand-held scanning devices.

The shield from BioCert iQBio Metrics, the UK arm of global technology company Artemis Solutions Group, takes its inspiration from 19th century physicist Michael Faraday, who discovered that lining an object with a conducting material shielded the contents from the influence of external electric fields.

Called the IdlokR envelope, it is a non-ferrous foil lined pocket that shields the item from incoming radio signals, isolating the transmitter from the receiver and so preventing a scanner from activating the chip. The envelope is available for passports, travel passes and credit/debit cards. Radio signals from the scanner simply bounce off the foil lining of the cover, never reaching the chip. When the device is needed it can be removed easily from its cover to be read.

Microchip technology is now used routinely by many industries as a method of storing personal data. Aside from passports and credit cards RFID technology is also being incorporated into store cards, travel passes, parking permits and entry passes for sites or buildings.

However, devices employing RFID chips are vulnerable to skimming. During this process, the chip is duped into surrendering information after responding to the radio frequency waves emitted by a hacker's scanner.

This can be used to subsequently access an individual's personal data without their knowledge and without leaving evidence of the crime. Even if the data is encrypted, hackers can access the chip as many times as they need until the code is broken.

'When the passport office sends passports out in the post or by courier, or credit card issuers do the same, they are taking a big risk in terms of allowing people to access the data within them,' said Duncan Preen, managing director of BioCert iQBio Metrics.

'It is easy to identify these documents while they are on the move if you know what you are looking for, so all someone would have to do is to infiltrate the handling company before skimming the envelopes as they move through. Normal envelopes do not protect the data at all.'

Julia Pierce