Posts Tagged ‘ Combating Human Trafficking ’

Growing Mistrust of India’s Biometric ID Scheme

May 6th, 2012 | By | Category: News

MAY 4, 2012 | BY REBECCA BOWE

In India, a massive effort is underway to collect biometric identity information for each of the country’s 1.2 billion people. The incredible plan, dubbed the “mother of all e-governance projects” by the Economic Times, has stirred controversy in India and beyond, raising serious concerns about the privacy and security of individuals’ personal data.

The plan is moving ahead at a clip under the auspices of the National Population Register (NPR) and the Unique ID (UID) programs, separately governed initiatives that have an agreement to integrate the data they collect to build the world’s largest biometric database. Upon enrollment, individuals are issued 12-digit unique ID numbers on chip-based identity cards. For residents who lack the necessary paperwork to obtain certain kinds of employment or government services, there’s strong incentive to get a unique ID. While the UID program is voluntary, enrollment in the NPR program is mandatory for all citizens.

The NPR program’s stated objectives are to streamline the delivery of government services such as welfare or subsidies, prevent identity fraud, and facilitate economic development, but some critics contend that the plan has its roots in an agenda focused on national security. Indian journalist Aman Sethi argues in a New York Times Op-Ed that the NPR originated with a 1992 government campaign to deport undocumented Bangladeshi immigrants, and that the creation of a comprehensive identity database was intended “exclusively to assist law enforcement.” And while UID was originally created to target India’s poorest 200 million citizens to facilitate service delivery, it has since been expanded to cover the country’s entire population.

The UID program is administered by the Unique Identity Authority of India (UIDAI), an executive body created to oversee the issuance of unique ID numbers for the stated purpose of facilitating access to benefits and services. At the helm of UID is Nandan Nilekani, a billionaire who made his fortune in the tech industry before ascending to his current role as chairman of the UIDAI.

While the NPR program has been moving ahead since 2004 with a relatively low level of public opposition, the more recently introduced UID project has sparked controversy. UID took center stage during a political feud last December when Parliament’s Standing Committee on Finance rejected a bill establishing the National Identification Authority of India, which would have granted the UID program statutory mandate. Although the bill was submitted in 2010, the UIDAI had already begun processing individuals and issuing numbers pending Parliamentary approval of the legislation, operating under the authority of the executive branch. The committee rejected the reasoning that they had the authority to do so, calling the program’s legality into question.

In late January, a compromise deal was struck between the NPR and the UID program administrators following a political turf war, when officials announced “the NPR and UID projects would proceed side by side to ensure that all Indian citizens have a unique number by June 2013.” Project administrators from UIDAI and India’s Ministry of Home Affairs, which oversees the Indian Census and the NPR program, announced that they would collaborate to de-duplicate the data to eliminate overlap for integration purposes.

Collecting Biometric Data

To date, some 170 million individuals have been registered in the UID program. To perform the data collection, the UIDAI has executed Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) with partners — including states, union territories and 25 financial institutions — to act as registrars for implementing the scheme, according to a Parliamentary committee report.

The registrars, in turn, contract with tech firms such as Wipro, a company that has issued at least 6 million UID numbers in Maharashtra. Agents gather the data by going from village to village to set up processing camps, toting laptops and scanning equipment along with them and scrambling to process as many individuals as possible each day. In addition to demographic information, individuals’ biometric information is collected with iris scanners, fingerprint scanners, and face cameras that employ facial recognition technology. Morpho, a technology company, is a primary UID contractor that develops and maintains systems to crosscheck new applications by sifting through the biometrics database and prevent actual or fraudulent duplication.

The UID program is known as Aadhar, which also refers to the unique 12-digit number citizens are issued upon enrollment. According to recent news reports, a pilot program will link Aadhar with financial and banking services in 50 districts in a move that the UIDAI program director says will “change the financial landscape of the country.”

Nilekani has championed the UID program as a tool that can aid low-income sectors of India’s population by streamlining the delivery of public services and creating a system that is more inclusive to the poor. Yet R. Ramakumar of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai pushes back against this point in an op-ed in The Hindu, charging, “the UID would be an alibi for the state to leave the citizen unmarked in the market for social services.”

And if the interviews with Delhi’s poorest residents in this report is any indication, there’s also a danger that some marginalized individuals could slip through the cracks altogether.

An issue of greater concern, however, is that the biometric database could open the door to significant violations of personal privacy. The Aadhar system became mired in controversy last December surrounding the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance’s rejection of legislation that would have given it statutory mandate. In a report, lawmakers based their disapproval on concerns about security, data theft and the fact that that a national data protection law has yet to be enacted.

“The collection of biometric information and its linkage with personal information of individuals without statutory amendment appears to be beyond the scope of subordinate legislation,” committee members wrote.

They also seized on the risk, uncertainty, and potential for privacy violations that would be ushered in under the massive scheme:

“Considering the huge database size and possibility of misuse of information, enactment of a national data protection law, which is at a draft stage, is a prerequisite for any law that deals with large scale collection of information from individuals and its linkages across separate database…The committee is afraid that the scheme may wind up being dependent on private agencies…”

Despite these concerns, the UID program continues, while at the same time, biometric data collection for the NPR moves ahead on a separate track. Mandatory registration for all citizens in the NPR went into effect with the 2004 amendment of the Citizenship Act, providing that“the Central Government may compulsorily register every citizen of India and issue National Identity Card[s].”

Civil Society Responds

The Center for Internet and Society (CIS) has criticized the system due to design flaws that pose security and privacy concerns.

“We don’t need Aadhar because we already have a much more robust identity management and authentication system based on digital signatures that has a proven track record of working at a ‘billions-of-users scale on the Internet with reasonable security,” CIS Director Sunil Abraham noted in a Business Standard op-ed. “The UID project based on the so-called ‘infallibility of biometrics’ is deeply flawed in design. These design disasters waiting to happen cannot be permanently thwarted by band-aid policies.

“Biometrics are poor authentication factors because once they are compromised they cannot be re-secured unlike digital signatures. Additionally, an individual’s biometrics can be harvested remotely without his or her conscious cooperation. The iris can be captured remotely without a person’s knowledge using a high-res digital camera.” (For more detailed information on CIS’s work on India’s UID program, see hereherehereherehere, and here.

Delhi-based NGOs have also condemned UID as an affront to civil liberties that violates citizens’ basic constitutional right to privacy.

In his Op-Ed, Ramakumar echoes Indian economist Amartya Sen in arguing that the system could open the door to abuse by law enforcement:

“There is a related concern: police and security forces, if allowed access to the biometric database, could extensively use it for regular surveillance and investigative purposes, leading to a number of human rights violations. As Amartya Sen has argued elsewhere, forced disclosure and loss of privacy always entailed ‘the social costs of the associated programs of investigation and policing.’ According to him, ‘some of these investigations can be particularly nasty, treating each applicant as a potential criminal.’”

Meanwhile, famed activist Arundhati Roy voiced scathing criticism against India’s biometric collection scheme, saying, “The UID is a corporate scam which funnels billions of dollars into the IT sector. To me, it is one of the most serious transgressions that is on the cards. It is nothing more than an administrative tool in the hands of a police state.”

It is irrationally excessive to collect this sensitive biometric data in a centralized nation-wide ID scheme. The massive collection of biometric information in a centralized ID scheme is not necessary nor proportionate in a democratic society.

EFF has documented (herehere, and here) the function creep risks that this data collection poses to privacy and security, including in those countries with data protection laws like the European Union. Informed analysis of the long-term consequences of the misused and secondary uses of this data collection and its impact in people’s lives should have been given to all citizens before the collection even started. There is still time to ask the Indian government to dismantle that colossal database, like the UK did.



Information Technology – Israel New Biometric ID database raises significant privacy concerns

Sep 22nd, 2011 | By | Category: News

 The act as a whole (and the biometric database specifically) raises significant concerns. Privacy advocates have urged the Home Office to re-evaluate the potential grave risks to information security and privacy that the database poses – for example, the irreversibility of biometric data loss and the public’s general mistrust of the government’s ability to secure the database. A proposition to transform the database into a blurred set-base that would enhance security and privacy was recently offered by Professor Adi Shamir, a well-known cryptographer. However, despite backing from the Law Information and Technology Authority, the government eventually rejected Shamir’s proposition.

 

Contributed by Pearl Cohen Zedek Latzer

 

September 20 2011

New regulations and orders introduced by the Ministers’ Committee for Biometric Applications have paved the way for a two-year trial period for the issuance of biometric identification documents (IDs). The Ministry of Home Affairs is in the process of making its final preparations and aims to start issuing the IDs shortly. The IDs will contain encoded fingerprints and a facial image, and will be stored in a national database. A campaign led by privacy activists against the controversial biometric database has thus far failed to yield a positive result.In December 2009 the Israeli Parliament (the Knesset) enacted the Biometric Identifiers and Biometric Data Inclusion in Identification Documents and a Database Act.(1) The act is intended to tackle the large-scale loss and theft of identification cards and passports, which may then later be used by criminals or terrorists.The Biometric Data Act is far reaching. Following a two-year trial period, every citizen will be compelled to provide two fingerprint samples and a facial photograph, to be digitally stored in a national database and on chips embedded in passports and national IDs (mandatory in Israel for citizens over the age of 16). The digital ID will also carry a certified electronic signature that can be used as a substitute for regular handwritten signatures in the execution of transactions.

The biometric database is not intended solely to manage the processing of ID and passports applications. It will also serve as a valuable source of information for law enforcement agencies, under the supervision of a new authority that has been established specifically for that purpose by the Ministry of Home Affairs.

The act as a whole (and the biometric database specifically) raises significant concerns. Privacy advocates have urged the Home Office to re-evaluate the potential grave risks to information security and privacy that the database poses – for example, the irreversibility of biometric data loss and the public’s general mistrust of the government’s ability to secure the database. A proposition to transform the database into a blurred set-base that would enhance security and privacy was recently offered by Professor Adi Shamir, a well-known cryptographer. However, despite backing from the Law Information and Technology Authority, the government eventually rejected Shamir’s proposition.

The new regulations under the Biometric Data Act include procedures for:

  • issuing a biometric ID;
  • taking fingerprints and facial images from applicants;
  • encrypting and securing the data; and
  • transferring data between authorities.(2)

A governmental order accompanies the regulations and sets specific rules for the two-year trial period.(3)During this period (starting in November 2011), biometric IDs will be issued to Israeli citizens, subject to their written and signed consent. At the end of the trial period, professional auditors will evaluate the extent of the trial’s success, under a set of pre-determined parameters and following feedback from applicants. Unless the Ministry of Home Affairs decides otherwise, in light of the trials results and public debate, the Biometric Data Act will come into full effect at the end of the trial period and all citizens will be obliged to provide their biometric data, which will be included in IDs and passports, and stored in the national database.

 

For further information on this topic please contact Haim Ravia or Dan Or-Hof at Pearl Cohen Zedek Latzer by telephone (+972 9 972 8000), fax (+972 9 972 8001) or email (haimr@pczlaw.com ordano@pczlaw.com).

Endnotes

(1) The full wording of the Biometric Data Act (in Hebrew) is available at http://law.co.il/media/computer-law/biometric_law.pdf.

(2) The full wording of the new regulations (in Hebrew) is available at http://law.co.il/media/computer-law/biometric_id_reg.pdf.

(3) The full wording of the governmental order (in Hebrew) is available at http://law.co.il/media/computer-law/biometric_id_decree.pdf.

 

 



Canada to launch biometric passports by 2012 – Critics warn privacy at risk

Sep 18th, 2011 | By | Category: News

By Amy Chung, Postmedia News September 15, 2011

Some countries, such as France and Germany, implemented “ePassports” (with Empty Biometric information on their chip) five years ago to allow their citizens to travel to the U.S. under its Visa Waiver Program, which requires participating countries to have specified security measures on their passports. Canadians do not require a visa to enter the U.S. and are not subject to the program. Despite the new passport’s enhanced security features, some information security experts say the document is not necessary and can be vulnerable to privacy leaks.

The current Canadian passports will soon be replaced with a more high-tech design. Photograph by: Tom Hanson   Read more: http://www.canada.com/news/Canada+launch+biometric+passports+2012/5404109/story.html#ixzz1YHrR1K6w

 

OTTAWA — Canada’s long awaited ePassports will be ready by the end of 2012, making this country the last among G8 nations to have enhanced digital security measures on the documents.

The electronic passport program was first announced as part of the government’s National Security Policy in 2004.  Also known as a biometric passport, the document looks like the traditional book but will contain an electronic chip encoded with the bearer’s name, sex, date and place of birth, as well as a digital image of the person.

According to Passport Canada, 95 countries have issued approximately 350 million Biometric passports worldwide.

Asked why Canada was so late in bringing about the passports, Passport Canada spokeswoman Beatrice Fenelon said the agency had to repatriate overseas passport printing to Canada, which was completed in 2006, and it had to implement new facial recognition technologies.

Also, Fenelon said between 2007 and 2009, the department was flooded with increased numbers of passport applications when the U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative required Canadians to show their passports to enter the United States.

“As a result, the organization was not able to turn its full attention to the ePassport project until 2009, when planning began in earnest,” Fenelon wrote in an email.

Some countries, such as France and Germany, implemented “ePassports” (with Empty Biometric information on their chip) five years ago to allow their citizens to travel to the U.S. under its Visa Waiver Program, which requires participating countries to have specified security measures on their passports. Canadians do not require a visa to enter the U.S. and are not subject to the program. Despite the new passport’s enhanced security features, some information security experts say the document is not necessary and can be vulnerable to privacy leaks.

“After 9/11, the U.S. pressured the visa waiver countries to get (ePassports). Canada was out of that, but we were encouraged to go along with it,” said professor Andrew Clement, who coordinates the Information Policy Research Program at the University of Toronto. Clement says there has not been enough discussion to say if there are any problems with our current passport.

“With the 19 hijackers, there were a couple who had expired visas and not travelling under false documents. So it’s a bit of security theatre. So I think this was brought in for other reasons and there hasn’t been any debate if it’s a good thing or not,” said Clement. He said the facial recognition technology can allow border agents to screen your image in other databases like watch lists, creating risks of misidentification.

“It’s concerning that our everyday activity is surveyed, even if our behaviour is innocent, it could get the attention of authorities unnecessarily,” said Clement.

Postmedia News

© Copyright (c) Postmedia News

Dr. Ann Cavoukian, Information & Privacy Commissioner of Ontario, Canada



Fake biometric eye stamps: Three arrested at DIA

Sep 5th, 2011 | By | Category: Evidence

DNRD has referred three people – two Russians and a Moldavian – to Dubai International Airport (DIA) Police, for suspicion of smuggling forged Eye Biometrics Recognition Stamps

WAM –  UAE | General

XPRESS

The Naturalization and Residency Department in Dubai (DNRD), has referred three people – two Russians and a Moldavian – to Dubai International Airport (DIA) Police, for suspicion of smuggling forged Eye Biometrics Recognition Stamps with intent to facilitate the entry to the UAE of individuals who were previously banned.

A team of DNRD officers, consisting of preventive security staff and airports investigation department personnel, succeeded in arresting ‘F. Sh’, a 17-years-old Russian, at DIA, after he surrendered 72 fake Eye Biometrics Recognition stamps. Another suspect ‘Kh.A’, a 34-year-old Russian, who received the bag containing the fake stamps, was also captured.

A third suspect, ‘A.M’, 21 years old female holder of Moldavian passport was also arrested at the DIA with a laptop and 5 ink pads and later she acknowledged that she was going to deliver them to the first suspect. The DIA team prepared a criminal report against the three and referred them to special task forces for further investigation.

Major-General Mohammed Ahmed Al Marri, DNRD Director, revealed that the number of individuals arrested through the Iris Scan System at DIA reached 1,325 in 2006, which increased to 3,626 and 4,382 in 2007 and the first half of 2008, respectively.

 



Germany says “nein” to full-body scanners

Sep 4th, 2011 | By | Category: News

Germany has decided against deploying full-body scanners at German airports; after a 10-month trial, in which 1,280,000 passengers were scanned, the government said that the false alarm rate was just too high

Published 2 September 2011


Germany has decided against deploying full-body scanners at German airports; after a 10-month trial, in which 1,280,000 passengers were scanned, the government said that the false alarm rate was just too high

After trials which lasted ten month, the German government has decided against deploying full-body scanners at German airports.

The German Interior Ministry said that “the technology is not mature enough for the available equipment to be used in practice” and that it will therefore not be installed at the county’s airports “for the time being.”

The ministry spokesperson said that the agencies responsible for airport security were leaning toward supporting the use of body scanners to “improve efficiency and effectiveness of air transport security checks,” but that the trials showed that there were “too many” false alarms.

FlightGlobal quotes sources in the German federal police as saying that the false alarm rate was “significantly higher than 50 percent.”

There were also concerns about the health effects of backscatter X-ray scanners, so the system tested used millimeter wave technology.

The test was conducted at the Hamburg Airport from September 2010 to July 2011, and involved scanning 1,289,000 passengers.

 



Expert warns facial biometrics could compromise privacy

Aug 31st, 2011 | By | Category: News

As facial biometric technology becomes increasingly ubiquitous, IT experts warn that these systems can easily be abused and therefore require stringent privacy policies and data encryption

Published 30 August 2011

 

As facial biometric technology becomes increasingly ubiquitous, IT experts warn that these systems can easily be abused and therefore require stringent privacy policies and data encryption.

In an interview with Information Security Media Group, Beth Givens, the founder and director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, cautioned that organizations using biometric facial solutions should encrypt their data.

“If they back up those applications with good, solid privacy policies and practices, they’ll be in good shape,” she said.

Givens explained that a major problem with facial recognition technology is the chance that sensitive information could be compromised. As evidence, Givens pointed to a Carnegie Mellon University study where researchers used only a photo of a person’s face and publicly available information to track down that individual’s birth date, personal interests, and Social Security number.

“To me, that’s astounding,” Givens said. “There are many places where you can get a person’s birth date; in fact, that’s public information. But being able to link it to a Social Security number as well as personal interest is another matter entirely, that takes it to an all new level.”

To help protect against the loss of sensitive data, Givens encouraged organizations to investigate biometric encryption.

 



Massive Biometric Project Gives Millions of Indians an ID

Aug 29th, 2011 | By | Category: News

More than 16 million Indians’ people have since been enrolled, and the pace is accelerating. By the end of 2011, the agency expects to be signing up, 1 million Indians a day, and by 2014, it should have 600 million people in its database. It takes about 10 minutes to enter someone into the Aadhaar database. A single UID, earlier estimated to cost around Rs 31 per person, may now end up in the Rs 400-500 territory. The reason: in one hour there are only 60 minutes it is 6 people per hour the “mission” is to provide 1 million ID’s per 24 hours… all that efforts just to create a USELESS invasive Biometric’s  collection on a “national database”…. India is a democratic country… with democratic privacy laws (!!!???)… {Innovya}

  • By Vince Beiser
  • August 19, 2011  |
  • 1:27 pm  |
  • Wired September 2011
  • 

    In India, hundreds of millions of impoverished people have no ID—which means no bank account, credit, insurance, or government aid. Photo: Jonathan Torgovnik; Fingerprints: Getty

    In India, hundreds of millions of impoverished people have no ID—which means no bank account, credit, insurance, or government aid. Photo: Jonathan Torgovnik; Fingerprints: Getty

 

The courtyard, just off a busy street in a Delhi slum called Mongolpuri, is buzzing with people—men in plastic sandals arguing with one another, women in saris holding babies on their hips, skinny young guys chattering on cheap cell phones. New arrivals take up positions at the end of a long queue leading to the gated entry of a low cement building. Every so often, a worker opens the gate briefly and people elbow their way inside onto a dimly lit stairway, four or five on each step. Slowly they work their way upward to a second-story landing, where they are stopped again by a steel grille.

After a long wait, a lean woman in a sequined red sari, three children in tow, has finally made it to the head of the line. Her name is Kiran; like many poor Indians, she uses just one name. She and her school-age brood stare curiously through the grille at the people and machines on the other side. Eventually, an unsmiling man in a collared shirt lets them into the big open room. People crowd around mismatched tables scattered with computers, printers, and scanners. Bedsheets nailed up over the windows filter the sun but not the racket of diesel buses and clattering bicycles outside. Kiran glances at the brightly colored posters in Hindi and English on the walls. They don’t tell her much, though, since she can’t read.

A neatly dressed middle-aged man leads the children to a nearby table, and a brisk young woman in a green skirt sits Kiran down at another. The young woman takes her own seat in front of a Samsung laptop, picks up a slim gray plastic box from the cluttered tabletop, and shows Kiran how to look into the opening at one end. Kiran puts it up to her face and for a moment sees nothing but blackness. Then suddenly two bright circles of light flare out. Kiran’s eyes, blinking and uncertain, appear on the laptop screen, magnified tenfold. Click. The oversize eyes freeze on the screen. Kiran’s irises have just been captured.

Kiran has never touched or even seen a real computer, let alone an iris scanner. She thinks she’s 32, but she’s not sure exactly when she was born. Kiran has no birth certificate, or ID of any kind for that matter—no driver’s license, no voting card, nothing at all to document her existence. Eight years ago, she left her home in a destitute farming village and wound up here in Mongolpuri, a teeming warren of shabby apartment blocks and tarp-roofed shanties where grimy barefoot children, cargo bicycles, haggard dogs, goats, and cows jostle through narrow, trash-filled streets. Kiran earns about $1.50 a day sorting cast-off clothing for recycling. In short, she’s just another of India’s vast legions of anonymous poor.

Now, for the first time, her government is taking note of her. Kiran and her children are having their personal information recorded in an official database—not just any official database, but one of the biggest the world has ever seen. They are the latest among millions of enrollees in India’s Unique Identification project, also known as Aadhaar, which means “the foundation” in several Indian languages. Its goal is to issue identification numbers linked to the fingerprints and iris scans of every single person in India.

That’s more than 1.2 billion people—everyone from Himalayan mountain villagers to Bangalorean call-center workers, from Rajasthani desert nomads to Mumbai street beggars—speaking more than 300 languages and dialects. The biometrics and the Aadhaar identification number will serve as a verifiable, portable, all but unfakable national ID. It is by far the biggest and most technologically complicated biometrics program ever attempted.

Aadhaar faces titanic physical and technical challenges: reaching millions of illiterate Indians who have never seen a computer, persuading them to have their irises scanned, ensuring that their information is accurate, and safeguarding the resulting ocean of data. This is India, after all—a country notorious for corruption and for failing to complete major public projects. And the whole idea horrifies civil libertarians. But if Aadhaar’s organizers pull it off, the initiative could boost the fortunes of India’s poorest citizens and turbocharge the already booming national economy.

It takes about 10 minutes to enter someone into the Aadhaar database. Photo: Jonathan Torgovnikf

It takes about 10 minutes to enter someone into the Aadhaar database. Photo: Jonathan Torgovnik

 

 

It takes about 10 minutes to enter someone into the Aadhaar database.
Photo: Jonathan Torgovnik

The Indian government has tried to implement national identity schemes before but has never managed to reach much more than a fraction of the population. So when parliament set up the Unique Identification Authority of India in 2009 to try again with a biometrically based system, it borrowed a trick used by corporations all over the world: Go to an outsourcer. The government tapped billionaire Nandan Nilekani, the “Bill Gates of Bangalore.”

Nilekani is about as close to a national hero as a former software engineer can get. He cofounded outsourcing colossus Infosys in 1981 and helped build it from a seven-man startup into a $6.4 billion behemoth that employs more than 130,000 people. After stepping down from the CEO job in 2007, Nilekani turned most of his energy to public service projects, working on government commissions to improve welfare services and e-governance. He’s a Davos-attending, TED-talk-giving, best-seller-authoring member of the global elite, pegged by Time magazine in 2009 as one of the world’s 100 most influential people. This is the guy who suggested to golf buddy Thomas Friedman that the world was getting flat. “Our government undertakes a lot of initiatives, but not all of them work,” says B. B. Nanawati, a career federal civil servant who heads the program’s technology-procurement department. “But this one is likely to work because of Chairman Nilekani’s involvement. We believe he can make this happen.”

The Unique Identification Authority’s headquarters occupies a couple of floors in a hulking tower complex of red stone and mirrored glass on Connaught Place, the bustling center of Delhi. As chair of the project, Nilekani now holds a cabinet-level rank, but his shop looks more like a startup than a government ministry. When I show up in February, the walls of the reception area are still bare drywall, and the wiring and air-conditioning ducts have yet to be hidden behind ceiling tiles. Plastic-wrapped chairs are corralled in unassigned offices.

“I took this job because it’s a project with great potential to have an impact,” Nilekani says in his spacious office, decorated with only a collection of plaques and awards and an electric flytrap glowing purple in a corner. He’s a medium-size man of 56 with bushy salt-and-pepper hair and a matching mustache. His heavy eyebrows and lips and protuberant brown eyes give him a slightly baleful look, like the villain in a comic opera. “One basic problem is people not having an acknowledged existence by the state and so not being able to access things they’re entitled to. Making the poor, the marginalized, the homeless part of the system is a huge benefit.”

Aadhaar is a key piece of the Indian government’s campaign for “financial inclusion.” Today, there are as many as 400 million Indians who, like Kiran, have no official ID of any kind. And if you can’t prove who you are, you can’t access government programs, can’t get a bank account, a loan, or insurance. You’re pretty much locked out of the formal economy.

Today, less than half of Indian households have a bank account. The rest are “unbanked,” stuck stashing whatever savings they have under the mattress. That means the money isn’t gaining interest, either for its owner or for a bank, which could be loaning it out. India’s impoverished don’t have much to save—but there are hundreds of millions of them. If they each put just $10 into a bank account, that would add billions in new capital to the financial system.

To help make that happen, Nilekani has recruited ethnic Indian tech stars from around the world, including the cofounder of Snapfish and top engineers from Google and Intel. With that private-sector expertise on board, the agency has far outpaced the Indian government’s usual leisurely rate of action. Aadhaar launched last September, just 14 months after Nilekani took the job, and officials armed with iris and fingerprint scanners, digital cameras, and laptops began registering the first few villagers and Delhi slum dwellers. More than 16 million people have since been enrolled, and the pace is accelerating. By the end of 2011, the agency expects to be signing up 1 million Indians a day, and by 2014, it should have 600 million people in its database.

More than 1.2 billion indians will be in the system—the biggest biometrics database on earth. Photos: Jonathan Torgovnik

More than 1.2 billion indians will be in the system—the biggest biometrics database on earth. Photos: Jonathan Torgovnik

 

 

More than 1.2 billion indians will be in the system—the biggest biometrics database on earth.
Photos: Jonathan Torgovnik

The village of Gagenahalli sits amid a placid quilt of green millet and tomato fields in the hinterlands of Karnataka state, some 1,300 miles south of Delhi. Bulls with tassels on their horns pull wooden carts decorated with deities and demons past tiny, cheerily painted houses of dried mud. Old men and skinny cows lounge in the shade of baobab trees. It’s a lovely place to visit but a hard place to live. Many of Gagenahalli’s 8,500 residents are landless peasants, and about three-quarters subsist below India’s official poverty line, earning less than a dollar a day.

Most Indians still live in rural hamlets like this, so getting them enrolled in Aadhaar requires some creativity. One evening not long ago, a man walked through Gagenahalli’s red-dirt streets beating a drum and calling the villagers to gather outside—the traditional way to make public announcements. He explained that the government wanted everyone to visit the village schoolhouse in the weeks ahead to be photographed.

A few days later, Shivanna, a stringy 55-year-old farmer—again, with just the one name—presents himself in a cement classroom commandeered by the agency. He doesn’t know what it’s all about, nor is he particularly interested. “When the government asks to take your picture, you just go and do it,” he shrugs. Shivanna takes a worn plastic chair at one of the four enrollment stations set up about the room. All the computer gear and the single bare lightbulb are plugged into a stack of car batteries and kerosene-powered generators—the village gets only a few hours of electricity a day from the national grid.

A young man in a polo shirt records Shivanna’s personal information in a form on his laptop. It’s bare-bones stuff: name, address, age, gender (including the option of transgender). He has Shivanna look into a camera mounted on the laptop. Once the Aadhaar software tells him he’s got Shivanna’s full face in the frame and enough light, he snaps the picture. The program runs similar quality checks on the agent’s work as Shivanna looks into the iris scanner and then puts his fingers on the glowing green glass of the fingerprint scanner. “We had to dumb it down so that anyone could learn to use the software,” says Srikanth Nadhamuni, Aadhaar’s head of technology, as he watches the scan progress.

About 100 miles east of Gagenahalli is Bangalore, the center of India’s booming IT industry. In one of its southern suburbs, across a busy street from Cisco’s in-country headquarters, sits the office building housing Aadhaar’s Central ID Repository. The information collected from Shivanna the farmer, Kiran the rag sorter, and every other person enrolled in the Aadhaar system gets sent here, electronically or via couriered hard drive.

This is Nadhamuni’s domain. He’s a trim, energetic, half-bald engineer with geek-chic rectangular glasses. His English is full of the awesomes and likes that he picked up in Silicon Valley, where he worked for 14 years. In 2002, he, his engineer wife, and their two kids returned to India, and a year later he and Nilekani launched a nonprofit dedicated to digitizing government functions. Nilekani even kicked the organization a few million dollars.

Some of the projects that Nadhamuni worked on—computerizing birth and death records, improving the tracking of schoolkids in migrant worker families—impressed upon him how much India needed a central identity system. When Nilekani asked him to be point man for the task of wrangling Aadhaar’s data, Nadhamuni says, “I was, like, delighted.”

The offices, like the identity program’s Delhi headquarters, are still under construction. When I tour them, rolls of carpet tied with string are stacked along a wall, and workers’ bare feet have left plaster-dust prints in a corridor leading to an unfinished meeting room. The rows of cubicles that will eventually accommodate roughly 400 workers are only about half full. The wall intended for a dozen video monitors showing incoming data packets is, for now, empty.

Getting the poor into the system is a huge benefit, says Nandan Nilekani. Photo: Jonathan Torgovnik

Getting the poor into the system is a huge benefit, says Nandan Nilekani. Photo: Jonathan Torgovnik

 

 

Getting the poor into the system is a huge benefit, says Nandan Nilekani.
Photo: Jonathan Torgovnik

Each individual record is between 4 and 8 megabytes; add in a pile of quality-control information and the database will ultimately hold in the neighborhood of 20 petabytes—that is, 2 x 1016 bytes. That will make it 128 times the size of the biggest biometrics database in the world today: the Department of Homeland Security’s set of fingerprints and photos of 129 million people.

The unprecedented scale of Aadhaar’s data will make managing it extraordinarily difficult. One of Nadhamuni’s most important tasks is de-duplication, ensuring that each record in the database is matched to one and only one person. That’s crucial to keep scammers from enrolling multiple times under different names to double-dip on their benefits. To guard against that, the agency needs to check all 10 fingers and both irises of each person against those of everyone else. In a few years, when the database contains 600 million people and is taking in 1 million more per day, Nadhamuni says, they’ll need to run about 14 billion matches per second. “That’s enormous,” he says.

Coping with that load takes more than just adding extra servers. Even Nadhamuni isn’t sure how big the ultimate server farm will be. He isn’t even totally sure how to work it yet. “Technology doesn’t scale that elegantly,” he says. “The problems you have at 100 million are different from problems you have at 500 million.” And Aadhaar won’t know what those problems are until they show up. As the system grows, different components slow down in different ways. There might be programming flaws that delay each request by an amount too tiny to notice when you’re running a small number of queries—but when you get into the millions, those tiny delays add up to a major issue. When the system was first activated, Nadhamuni says, he and his team were querying their database, created with the ubiquitous software MySQL, about 5,000 times a day and getting answers back in a fraction of a second. But when they leaped up to 20,000 queries, the lag time rose dramatically. The engineers eventually figured out that they needed to run more copies of MySQL in parallel; software, not hardware, was the bottleneck. “It’s like you’ve got a car with a Hyundai engine, and up to 30 miles per hour it does fine,” Nadhamuni says. “But when you go faster, the nuts and bolts fall off and you go, whoa, I need a Ferrari engine. But for us, it’s not like there are a dozen engines and we can just pick the fastest one. We are building these engines as we go along.”

Using both fingerprints and irises, of course, makes the task tremendously more complex. But irises are useful to identify the millions of adult Indians whose finger pads have been worn smooth by years of manual labor, and for children under 16, whose fingerprints are still developing. Identifying someone by their fingerprints works only about 95 percent of the time, says R. S. Sharma, the agency’s director general. Using prints plus irises boosts the rate to 99 percent.

That 1 percent error rate sounds pretty good until you consider that in India it means 12 million people could end up with faulty records. And given the fallibility of little-educated technicians in a poor country, the number could be even higher. A small MIT study of data entry on electronic forms by Indian health care workers found an error rate of 4.2 percent. In fact, at one point during my visit to Gagenahalli, Nadhamuni shows me the receipt given to a woman after her enrollment; I point out that it lists her as a man. A tad flustered, Nadhamuni assures me that there are procedures for people to get their records corrected. “Perfect solutions don’t exist,” Nilekani says, “but this is a substantial improvement over the way things are now.”

For the past year or so, Mohammed Alam, 24, has spent his nights in a charity-run Delhi “night shelter” for the homeless. Inside the weathered cement building, nearly 100 men and one 3-year-old boy in various states of dishevelment sprawl on worn cotton mats in a gloomy open room. A bloody Bollywood action movie flickers on a small TV sitting on a folding table in a corner. The stench of ammonia wafts from the group bathroom across the foyer.

Alam looks markedly healthier than most of his compeers, his glossy black hair elaborately gelled and his teal shirt and jeans spotless. He left his home in Lucknow because of family problems he’d rather not specify and has been getting by in the capital ever since, doing odd labor jobs. In a good month, he pulls in about $50. That makes it hard to afford his own place to live. But the Unique Identification Authority came to enroll the shelter’s inhabitants a few weeks ago, and Alam just received a letter from the authority with his randomly generated 12-digit Aadhaar number.

The authority doesn’t issue cards or formal identity documents. Once enrolled, each person’s eyeballs and fingertips are all they need to prove who they are—in theory, anyway. For now Alam keeps the folded-up letter in his pocket. It serves as ID when the police stop him, he says. But more important, he just used it to open a bank account. “I tend to spend more money when it’s on me,” he says.

Local grocers could act as banks, doling out cash and accepting deposits for a small fee.

That’s exactly the kind of thinking Nilekani is counting on. One of his first major coups was persuading India’s central bank to declare the Aadhaar number adequate identification to issue no-frills accounts. Bringing biometrically verified banking to the poor could lead to enormous savings in government benefit programs—for both the recipients and the state. Today, a pensioner in a village like Gagenahalli has to take a bus to the nearest town to collect his monthly payment in cash. That’s time and money lost for him. Meanwhile, more than 40 percent of the government’s $250 billion in subsidies and other spending on the poor will be siphoned off by scammers over the next five years, according to investment group CLSA. Both problems could largely be solved if instead the funds were sent straight to bank accounts held by biometrically verified recipients. “It’s like having 1.2 billion pipes through which you can send the benefits directly,” Sharma says. Connecting the poor to banks could also enable some of them to get loans to start businesses or pay for their children’s education.

Banks, however, are in short supply in the countryside, where most Indians live; the one nearest to Gagenahalli is 7 miles away. That’s one reason only 47 percent of Indian households have bank accounts (compared with 92 percent in the US). So Indian financial institutions have begun introducing “business correspondents” into bankless areas, essentially deputizing some shopkeeper or other trusted local who has access to a little cash to handle villagers’ tiny deposits and withdrawals. Here’s how it’s supposed to work: Say Shivanna wants 50 rupees from his savings account. Instead of schlepping miles to an actual bank, he goes to the little kiosk down the road from his house. The guy in the kiosk scans Shivanna’s fingerprints with an inexpensive handheld machine. (There are several on the market already; other similar gadgets—and even cell phone apps—that scan irises are in the works.) Then he transmits the image via cellular network to the tech hub in Bangalore and gets a simple confirmation-of-identity message. (The same process works for deposits.) Once Shivanna’s identity is validated, the kiosk guy gives him his cash or deposit receipt, minus a small commission. Shivanna’s bank reimburses the kiosk guy. Shivanna saves time and money, the kiosk guy makes a little profit, the bank gets more capital, and the rising tide lifts all boats.

Many Indians' finger pads have been worn smooth by years of manual labor. Photo: Jonathan Torgovnik

Many Indians' finger pads have been worn smooth by years of manual labor. Photo: Jonathan Torgovnik

 

 

Many Indians’ finger pads have been worn smooth by years of manual labor.
Photo: Jonathan Torgovnik

In practice, of course, all kinds of things might go wrong. “Some iris scanners can be fooled by a high-quality photo pasted onto a contact lens,” says a senior exec from a biometrics-equipment maker working on the project. Fingerprints can be lifted from almost anything you touch, and a laser-printer reproduction of one will have tiny ridges of ink that may fool scanners. Or a corrupt Aadhaar worker could pair a scammer’s name with someone else’s biometrics. The system is being built with open architecture so other agencies and businesses can add their own applications. The idea is to make Aadhaar a platform for all kinds of purposes beyond government benefits and banking, much like a smartphone is a platform for more than making phone calls. In January, the Indian Department of Communications declared Aadhaar numbers to be adequate ID to get a mobile phone. It’s easy to imagine the numbers being used to authenticate airline passengers, track students, improve land ownership records, and make health records portable. But opening up the Aadhaar system so widely makes it vulnerable. Each record is encrypted on the enroller’s hard drive as soon as it’s completed, and the central database will have state-of-the-art safeguards. Still, Sharma acknowledges, “there’s no lock in the world that can’t be broken.”

Anyway, Nadhamuni points out, credit card numbers are stolen all the time, but everyone still uses them because the card companies have come up with enough ways to spot when they’re being used fraudulently. In the big scheme of things, credit card fraud is a relatively small problem compared with the gigantic benefit of being able, say, to buy stuff online. He believes the same calculus will hold for Aadhaar. And if Aadhaar data is stolen, they have countermeasures to deal with it.

There’s also the question of whether India’s cell phone network, which will carry the bulk of the verification requests, can handle such a load. “We expect to be getting 100 million requests per day in a few years,” Nadhamuni says. “And the authentication needs to happen fast. The answer needs to come back in maybe five seconds.” Partly to meet that demand, the federal government is investing billions to massively expand the nation’s broadband capacity. “It’s not there yet,” Nilekani says. “But if someone had told you 10 years ago that there would be 700 million mobile phones in this country today, you’d say he was smoking something.”

The technological problems may pale compared to the potential civil liberties issues. Anti-Aadhaar protesters showed up at Nilekani’s January speech at the National Institute of Advanced Studies. Several anti-Aadhaar websites have sprung up. And members of parliament and prominent intellectuals have criticized the whole idea. (A Christian sect even denounced it as a cover for introducing the number of the Beast.)

Technically, Aadhaar is voluntary. No one is obligated to get scanned into the system. But that’s like saying no American is obligated to get a Social Security number. In practice, once the Aadhaar system really takes hold, it will be extremely difficult for anyone to function without being part of it. “I find it obnoxious and frightening,” says Aruna Roy, one of India’s most respected advocates for the poor (and, like Nilekani, one of Time’s 100 most influential people). India, she points out, is a country where people have many times been targeted for discrimination and violence because of their religion or caste.

Earlier this year, privacy concerns scuttled an effort to give every citizen of the United Kingdom a biometric ID card, and similar worries have slowed ID plans in Canada and Australia. “But the intentions were very different. It comes more from a security and surveillance perspective,” Nilekani says. “Many of these countries already have ID. In our situation, our whole focus is on delivering benefits to people. It’s all about making your life easier.”

The Unique Identification Authority is very deliberately not collecting information on anyone’s race or caste. But local governments and other agencies subcontracted to collect data are permitted to ask questions about race or caste and link the information they harvest to the respondent’s Aadhaar number. In Gagenahalli, for instance, agents asked villagers several extra questions about their economic conditions that the Karnataka state government requested. “I haven’t seen any agencies asking for caste or religion, but the fact that they can seems problematic,” admits a midlevel Aadhaar official who asked to remain anonymous. And while the agency has pledged not to share its data with security services or other government agencies, “if they want to, they can,” says Delhi human rights lawyer Usha Ramanathan. “All that information is in the hands of the state.” It’s not an unreasonable concern; in the wake of the Mumbai terror attacks, security is a major preoccupation in India. Armed guards, x-ray machines, and metal detectors are standard features at the entrances of big hotels, shopping centers, and even Delhi subway stations. Police officials have told Indian newspapers that they would love to use Aadhaar numbers to help catch criminals. And, in fact, some of the agency’s own publicly available planning documents mention the system’s potential usefulness for security functions. “We would share data for national security purposes,” Nilekani admits. “But there will be processes for that so you have checks and balances.” Every official I speak with, from Nilekani on down, seems impatient when I bring up this issue. They breezily remind me that there’s an electronic data privacy bill before parliament—as though the mere fact that the government is thinking about the issue is enough.

For supporters, the bottom line is simple: The upsides beat the downsides. “Any new technology has potential risks,” Nilekani says. “Your mobile phone can be tapped and tracked. One could argue we already have a surveillance state because of that. But does that mean we should stop making mobile phones? When you have hundreds of millions of people who are not getting access to basic services, isn’t that more important than some imagined risk?”

Indeed, Kiran, the mother of three at the Mongolpuri enrollment station, actively wants the government to have a record of her and her children. She’s a bit mystified when I ask if the idea worries her. If you’ve never read a newspaper, let alone fretted over your Facebook privacy settings, the question of whether the government might abuse your digital data must seem pretty abstract—especially when you compare it with the benefits the government is offering.

The first thing Kiran plans to use her Aadhaar number for, she says, is to obtain a city government card that will entitle her to subsidized groceries. “I’ve tried very hard to get one before, but they wouldn’t give it to me because I couldn’t prove I live in Delhi,” she says. Having that proof will take some other stress off her mind, too. She’s constantly afraid the police will order non-Delhi residents to leave the overcrowded slum, but now she has something to show them if they do.

Her three children come running up, fresh from having their own irises scanned. They’re excitedly waving their receipts for the numbers that will be attached to them for the rest of their lives. “It was fun!” 7-year-old Sadar says. “It wasn’t scary at all.”

Vince Beiser (@vincelbwrote about activists combating Chinese online censorship in issue 18.11.

 

 



Facial Biometrics Pose Privacy Woes

Aug 29th, 2011 | By | Category: News


Lack of Consent Bothers Privacy Advocate Beth Givens

Privacy Advocate Beth Givens explains that use of facial recognition technology could:

  • Violate privacy rights by not getting an individual’s consent.
  • Result in unequal treatment of consumers by businesses.
  • Encourage stalking and violence.



August 29, 2011 – Eric Chabrow, Executive Editor, GovInfoSecurity.com

 

Facial recognition technology could prove to be an effective way to authenticate individuals seeking entry to secured buildings or databases storing sensitive information. But the biometric technology already is being abused, and IT security managers employing facial recognition should be careful to encrypt the biometric data, cautions a privacy rights leader.

“If they back up those applications with good, solid privacy policies and practices, they’ll be in good shape,” Beth Givens, founder and director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, says in an interview with Information Security Media Group (select one of Podcast Options at right to listen).

Givens says the danger of privacy loss is a major problem with facial recognition technology. She cites a Carnegie Mellon University study in which using only a photo of a person’s face and information publicly available online, researcher identified the person’s birth date, personal interests and Social Security number.

“To me, that’s astounding,” Givens says. “There are many places where you can get a person’s birth date; in fact, that’s public information. But being able to link it to a Social Security number as well as personal interest is another matter entirely, that takes it to an all new level.”

In the interview, Givens explains that use of facial recognition technology could:

  • Violate privacy rights by not getting an individual’s consent.
  • Result in unequal treatment of consumers by businesses.
  • Encourage stalking and violence.

Givens founded the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse in 1992. She developed the clearinghouse’s Fact Sheet series that addresses a wide variety of privacy matters. Givens also authored the encyclopedia entries on identity theft for Encyclopedia of Privacy, World Book Encyclopedia and Encyclopedia of Crime and Punishment. She also authored The Privacy Rights Handbook: How to Take Control of Your Personal Information (Avon, 1997) and co-authored Privacy Piracy: A Guide to Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft (1999). She contributed a chapter on consumer and privacy rights to the 2006 book, RFID: Applications, Security and Privacy.

 



Black Hat: System links your face to your Social Security number and other private things

Aug 15th, 2011 | By | Category: News

Soon it will be practicable to take someone’s photo on a smartphone and within minutes know their Social Security number and a range of other private data like their personal interests, sexual preference and credit status, researchers will tell the Black Hat security conference

Aug. 3, 2011 (1:35 pm) By: Jennifer Bergen

Soon it will be practicable to take someone's photo on a smartphone and within minutes know their Social Security number and a range of other private data like their personal interests, sexual preference and credit status

The annual Black Hat security conference is in full swing right now in Las Vegas. The conference, which started on July 30 and goes to August 4, is the place to be for security researchers to discuss and learn about different types of security vulnerabilities seen in almost every area of technology. One area of security that touches close to home for everyone is the privacy of our personal data being linked to our faces. Specifically, information can be linked to your face and made available to anyone who snaps your picture with their smartphone camera.

With major companies like Apple offering face detection APIs to developers in iOS 5, the method of taking a picture and having a database recognize the person’s face is available, and over the years, it will only get more and more advanced.

This privacy-invading technology is what Alessandro Acquisti, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, will present at the conference on August 4. Acqusiti’s study uses three different technologies, including cloud-computing, facial recognition, and public information that can be found via various social networks. The technology would allow the user to see information about the person, in addition to the social security number, like sexual orientation, credit ratings, and personal interests.

Acquisiti says the point of the technology is to show that it’s something that’s already available, which means digital surveillance will only get better as technologies improve. He told Network Wold that “this and fear is the future we are walking into.”

The presentation is based on research that he and his team conducted. First, the team was able to identify people on an online dating site where members use aliases as identification. To do this, they looked at a person’s Facebook profile photo and compared it using PittPatt face-recognition software. They were able to identify other photos of the same person in the dating service database, and once the software made a match, the team looked at the photos to see how close of a match it was.

It’s not perfect yet, as the software ended up only identifying 1 of every 10 people. But, the team said this was actually acceptable number considering that the software only used one profile photo to identify the person. The number may also be improved if they considered Pitt-Patt’s second and third guesses.

The subsequent two experiments identified random people on a college campus (with 33% accuracy) and predicted the first five digits of a person’s social security number. The latter is possible because those digits are based on place and date of birth, both of which are available on many people’s Facebook pages.

The fact that these are all rough technologies that are only going to be fine-tuned in the near future is pretty scary. Facebook had implemented a facial recognition photo-tagging feature a few months ago that made many people upset, but now only lets people in your friends list can use the service. Facial recognition isn’t an immediate privacy threat but as technology improves it will be a way to quickly collect increasing amounts of information in people, using only publicly available data. Partial records could be constructed and then filled out as potential targets are identified.

via Network World

 

 



Biometric recognition and privacy concerns

Aug 14th, 2011 | By | Category: News

Face recognition software of the kind incorporated into biometric identification tools, photo-gallery applications and social media websites can be very useful but the technology raises privacy concern

 

Post by: crisisboomThe more you know, the better off you will be…

sciencecodex

 

Face recognition software of the kind incorporated into biometric identification tools, photo-gallery applications and social media websites can be very useful but the technology raises privacy concerns, given the seeming ease with which faces in photos can now be tied to an individual. Researchers in Russia and Poland hope to take face recognition technology an important step forward with the even more powerful software they have developed.

Writing in the International Journal of Biometrics, Georgy Kukharev of Saint Petersburg Electrotechnical University in Russia, and colleagues Paweł Forczmański and Andrzej Tujaka of the West Pomeranian University of Technology, Szczecin, Poland, explain how they have developed algorithms they refer to as two-dimensional Canonical Correlation Analysis (CCArc) and two-dimensional Partial Least Squares (PLSrc) for image matching where “rc” implies the analysis is applied to the images’ rows and columns.

Conventionally, scanning techniques based on CCA and PLS convert an image into a small set of variables, such as distance between eyes, width of jaw, and other factors. New images in which a face is to be identified are then categorized in the same way and the variables compared with those in the database. Correlation of a significant number of the variables gives a variable positive identification for the “new” face with one in the database and allows the software to verify with varying degrees of certain whether that new face is a specific individual in the database. The same technology can be used for biometric identification of a face on a driver’s license or on a social network, or for finding your friends and relatives in your photo collection.

The original algorithms for assessing and assigning variables are based on statistical methods developed in the 1930s. However, with the advent of more and more powerful computing, Forczmański and colleagues realized that these algorithms could be made much more powerful by measuring and analyzing many more variables in each image.

The team has extended the algorithms to utilize rows and columns and so generate a matrix for each image. They have tested them on known family databases as well as a photo gallery of their own creation with positive results. The algorithms perform well even with low-resolution images of faces and with varying lighting conditions and even if other objects, such as overhead lights or “loud” shirts are present in the photo. They have even developed a practical application that can find a person’s spouse given the presence of pairs of faces in single photographs.

 

 



Hacking Passports – Exposing the Vulnerabilities of ‘Smart Card’ Technology

Aug 10th, 2011 | By | Category: News

“I spent most of my career writing embedded software and designing the related hardware at Motorola Government Electronics Division in Scottsdale, Arizona. Many of the design projects I worked on were for government secure communication applications. As a result of my professional experience I understand that these threats are very real, even though they may sound esoteric. Hacker attacks against passports could potentially dwarf credit card and identity fraud and pose a serious threat to personal privacy and national security”

By Rob Sanchez
Published in The Social Contract
Volume 20, Number 4 (Summer 2010)
Issue theme: “Remembering Terry Anderson”

http://www.thesocialcontract.com/artman2/publish/tsc_20_4/tsc_20_4_sanchez.shtml

If there is one document that serves as a ticket to just about anywhere in the world it’s the United States passport. Passports are the ultimate breeder documents for almost everything that requires identification. Owning one is essential for millions of international travelers, and in many countries they are used for identification and transactions. Security of the personal information on passports is critical for ensuring privacy, and yet the expediency and cost savings realized by offshore outsourcing have been a more important priority than using common sense measures to reduce the risks of hacker attacks.

In order to thwart fraud, identification theft, and counterfeiting, the U.S. government and most other nations in the world embarked on programs to design a new generation of passports with “smart card” technology. Despite the grandiose efforts to incorporate technology into the passports, about all that has been accomplished is to shift the tools of crime from color copy machines to computers.

Smart technology gives the public a false sense of security because of its high-tech mystique. Smart technology, like any electronic device, is vulnerable to tampering. Software code and the microelectronics used to make the passports are vulnerable to attack, and the risk is heightened by outsourcing the engineering and production of the components to private companies that are foreign owned and located overseas. Some of the nations involved are hostile to the United States, or they don’t have the law enforcement infrastructure to control criminals.

A recent Scientific American article about hardware hacking provides excellent background for the problems with smart technology. The article didn’t explicitly mention passports, but the same issues apply.

As if software viruses weren’t bad enough, the microchips that power every aspect of our digital world are vulnerable to tampering in the factory. The consequences could be dire:

• Integrated circuits are increasingly complex and capable — but also increasingly vulnerable to attack.

• The circuits typically include designs from many sources. A “Trojan” attack hidden in one of these designs could surface long after the circuit has left the factory.

This is one possible way that we might experience a large-scale hardware attack — one that is rooted in the increasingly sophisticated integrated circuits that serve as the brains of many of the devices we rely on every day. These circuits have become so complex that no single set of engineers can understand every piece of their design; instead teams of engineers on far-flung continents design parts of the chip, and it all comes together for the first time when the chip is printed onto silicon. The circuitry is so complex that exhaustive testing is impossible. Any bug placed in the chip’s code will go unnoticed until it is activated by some sort of trigger, such as a specific date and time — like the Trojan horse, it initiates its attack after it is safely inside the guts of the hardware.

“The Hacker in Your Hardware: The Next Security Threat,” by John Villasenor, Scientific American, August 4, 2010 [1]

 

Tampering with passport hardware is not difficult when the engineers who designed it or the factory workers that assembled it are the saboteurs. Detection and prevention of covert sabotage is much more difficult when the production process takes place in dispersed locations worldwide where the U.S. government has little influence.

Each e-passport contains a microprocessor chip and a memory that stores the software for the operating system. Software is implanted into a small computer memory chip in much the same way as the BIOS is programmed on a home computer. It’s at this stage that hacking is the easiest to accomplish by technically proficient infiltrators who could slip a small piece of code into the software that is, for all practical purposes, invisible. The code could be programmed as a Trojan horse that is only activated when the passport is queried with a surreptitious request. Trojans that have been put into code at this level would be virtually impossible to detect.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recognizes that malicious code could be slipped into the passport hardware. It’s worth noting that they give the public no more than a vague “reasonable assurance” that the passports are secure:

If properly validated, the digital signatures on State’s e-passports should provide those reading the chip data, including DHS [Department of Homeland Security], reasonable assurance that the data stored on the chip were written by State and have not been altered. Proper validation includes verifying that the document signer certificate was issued by the State Department.

Border Security: Better Usage of Electronic Passport Security Features Could Improve Fraud Detection, GAO, January 2010.[3]

The components for the e-passport are manufactured in locations all over the globe in places such as Asia and Europe. Brian Ross of ABC News did an excellent report investigating how outsourcing to foreign countries exacerbates security problems: “Operation Outsourced: Security of U.S. Passports” can still be watched online. [2]

ABC made the connection that critical parts of the passport are made in Thailand — a country with a significant radical Islamic population. What ABC didn’t make very clear is that Thailand is just one of dozens of nations that are involved in the manufacture of passports.

The following statement by the GAO describes the globalized design and manufacturing of passports. It is alarming to read because the product supply and design chain is so similar to the scenarios described by the Scientific American article.

In producing e-passport booklets for State, the Government Printing Office (GPO) has tapped into the existing global smart card industry, resulting in a wide number of different companies involved in the e-passport chip production and inlay process. Two separate companies were awarded contracts to supply chips for the U.S. e-passports. Infineon, a German company, fabricates its own chips and embeds a commercial operating system from a third-party company on them. Gemalto, a Dutch company, obtains chips from NXP, a Dutch semiconductor manufacturer. Gemalto provides NXP with its own operating system, which NXP embeds within the chip prior to shipping the chip to Gemalto.

Better Usage of Electronic Passport Security Features Could Improve Fraud Detection, GAO, January 2010 [3]

 

The manufacturing trail for passports is complex because it is dispersed over many different countries and companies. Identities of most of the companies who are suppliers are withheld by the GPO for security reasons, but they name a few of the major ones. The NXP website [4] for the Dutch-owned company claims to have 13 manufacturing sites worldwide and 26 R&D centers located in 12 countries. NXP engineers in foreign countries designed the software to control the smart chips, so it’s doubtful that our government knows who designed it or where. Gemalto is a company jointly owned by the Dutch and French with locations worldwide. Infineon [5] is a German company that makes passport hardware for many different countries including China and the U.S.

The Chinese government is using security microcontrollers of Infineon Technologies AG (FSE: IFX / OTCQX: IFNNY) for its new electronic passports. Infineon today announced that it recently started deliveries to the Chinese electronic passport project which volume-wise is one of the world’s two biggest electronic passport projects. As of the first quarter of 2010, all new Chinese passports will be issued as electronic passports. The Chinese government estimates that, beginning in the first full year of the roll-out, about 6.5 million electronic passports will be handed out annually to citizens, diplomats and government workers. In total, there are currently more than 30 million passports in circulation in China, which are usually valid for ten years.
China Selects Infineon’s Security Chips for Electronic Passports, Infineon Press Release, November 11, 2009 [6]

Sharing common technology platforms with other countries is risky because hackers worldwide can concentrate their efforts on fewer systems to break into. As these technologies proliferate, there will be increasing probabilities that somebody will figure out how to hack them, and the motivation to do so will increase as the value of the information expands. Sharing those systems with enemies such as China or with countries that have large terrorist organizations exacerbates the risk. One only has to look at the worldwide popularity of the Microsoft Windows operating system to see a common example that demonstrates how a popular platform encourages the proliferation of malicious viruses.

China’s desire for hacking passports cannot be underestimated. In 2007 Smartrac filed a complaint in the International Court of Justice based in The Hague. Smartrac accused China of stealing their patented technology for e-passport chips. It must now be assumed that China has obtained the secrets of the technology, so their engineers have figured out all the vulnerabilities of e-passports.

Passports are supposed to be valid for 10 years, so that’s how long the Chinese and the world’s best hackers have to compromise them. Just imagine how simple it would be if a hacker with today’s powerful computers was tasked with hacking a 10-year-old computer!

E-passports are so globalized it’s fair to assume that all citizens from all nations are in jeopardy of privacy breaches. If personal information is pried out of passports, it will not matter to the victims if the system is upgraded or improved because biometric information such as fingerprints, face pictures, and eye scans lasts the duration of a lifetime, not a decade.

Worldwide, nations are trending towards standard designs and common databases for passports. As this trend progresses, governments will want to simplify data sharing by making a worldwide database of everyone in the world. Databases will either be centralized or the data of individual nations will be linked together by networks.

The development of a worldwide database almost seems inevitable. Policy decisions concerning passports are mostly invisible to the public as they are made and implemented by faceless bureaucrats instead of elected officials that are accountable to the people of the U.S. Most of the decisions on passport standards and policies aren’t even made in the U.S.— they are made by international committees and agencies such as the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a specialized agency within the United Nations, and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), based in Geneva.

Passports are morphing into global identification cards, and the American public has almost no voice or control in the way they are to be manufactured or used. It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say that the U.S. has almost no control over e-passports. Even U.S. law is out of control, considering that the Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002 doesn’t require the U.S. government to make a radio frequency identification device (RFID) passport and it doesn’t give the State Department or the GPO the statutory authority to manage one.

Globalized systems have inherent security problems because they are connected to networked computers that affect large groups of people simultaneously. The story about a recent malfunction of a European smart card system received very little media coverage in the U.S., but it should have because it serves as a warning about what the future holds:

“Late Millennium bug” hits Germany leading to over 30 million debit and credit cards damaged and incapable of transactions. The mishap was reported to have occurred as a result of a programming failure, which left the German credit and automated teller machine (ATM) cards unable to deal with the change in year from 2009 to 2010.

The bug has left cardholders unable to use their payment cards in drawing cash from the cash machines or make payments throughout Germany and abroad.

Gemalto Counts Cost of New Year Bug , Smart Card News, January 2010 [7]

Robert Mocny, acting director of the Department of Homeland Security US-VISIT program, described the push for globalized identification in a speech at an international biometrics and ethics conference in 2006. US-VISIT is a system that screens foreigners for criminal or terrorist connections using their biographical and biometric data. While describing why countries have an obligation to share the personal information of travelers with other nations, Mocny admitted [27] to the desire to implement a worldwide system when he said, “We have an ethical responsibility to make the vision of a global security envelope possible sooner rather than later.”

Citizens of the U.S. have no choice whether their passports have the e-passport technology because all passports issued since 2007 are required to include it. E-passports can be identified by the international logo on the front cover. [link]

 

According to the State Department, [8] over 48 million U.S. passports have been issued with e-passport smart technology per fiscal year. Worldwide over 100 million e-passports are in use by about 50 different countries.

tsc_20_4_sanchez_1.gif

As of June 2010, the GPO claimed that they have delivered more than 55 million [8] blank e-passports without a single security breach. Boasting over their security success rate is somewhat of an empty claim because the e-passport system is only partially completed. Most U.S. passports are used in the conventional fashion as a paper document because the DHS is behind on installing passport scanners and the networked computers necessary to make the system fully operational. Responsibility for installing scanners was pushed onto the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), but that hasn’t helped to speed things up. As of January 2006 only 500 scanners have been deployed, and since then due to lack of funding no additional ones have been installed. If the CBP decides to buy more scanners, they will most likely purchase ones that are made overseas so even those devices are suspect.

So, let’s review the entire picture: The brain of the passport is a smart chip that is manufactured somewhere in the world by NXP, Infineon, and probably contracted fabrication plants. The smart chip and associated hardware are shipped to Gemalto for packaging and programming. Integration of the components is completed after they are shipped to Smartrac in Minnesota or Thailand for assembling the inlay. The inlay is a laminate containing an RFID and antenna. Outer layers of sheet material, such as the passport cover stock, security paper, or laser-engravable polycarbonate, protect the electronics on the front of the passport. [link]

The GPO is the sole provider of blank U.S. passports, but they are merely the front end of a very large and complicated process. Blank passports are sold exclusively by the GPO to the Department of State. The State Department has a procedure called “personalization” when the personal information of the passport owner is implanted into the smart card. The easiest way to counterfeit passports is to steal blank passports at this stage of the operation because they could be implanted with fake biometric data that could be used to confound security databases.

The final product is shipped to the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO) to employees at secure production facilities in Washington, D.C., and at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi [9]. It’s at those locations where somebody puts a stamp on the document that says “Made in the USA.” The GPO shipped the blank passports to the State Department by unsecured FedEx until they decided to use an armored car company. There was a debate about whether to contract the armored car out to a foreign-owned company, but a few diplomats at the State Department raised loud enough objections to stop that from happening.

Does the entire process sound confusing? That’s because it is! There are plenty of reasons to doubt that government bureaucracies are capable of keeping track of the interconnected manufacturing process. At least 60 suppliers all over the world are used to manufacture components. Government agents inspect the supply chain, but there are only about 30 agents that travel all over the world to inspect the suppliers. Inadequate manpower problems of this type are almost a guarantee that security gaps will occur. Typically inspectors target about 16 companies that are considered to be the most critical. During an audit in 2006, most of those companies didn’t have documented security plans — and adding to the concern, due to budget cuts the GPO only has one employee to oversee the formal security supply chain assessment process. [10]

This statement by the GPO isn’t very reassuring:

The sites are spread across several countries, and within some countries there may be multiple sites. For example, for both Infineon and Gemalto, production of the chips involves several sites within Europe. [3]

The GAO explains the globalized passport design and manufacturing system in more detail:

In producing e-passport booklets for State, GPO has tapped into the existing global smart card industry, resulting in a wide number of different companies involved in the e-passport chip production and inlay process. Two separate companies were awarded contracts to supply chips for the U.S. e-passports. Infineon, a German company, fabricates its own chips and embeds a commercial operating system from a third-party company on them. Gemalto, a Dutch company, obtains chips from NXP, a Dutch semiconductor manufacturer. Gemalto provides NXP with its own operating system, which NXP embeds within the chip prior to shipping the chip to Gemalto. [3]

The types of cyber attacks on passports are as vast as the imagination of criminals and terrorists. The Center for Public Integrity (CPI) gave this warning in June, 2010:

Thai workers there assemble inlays that embed wireless transmitters and sophisticated computer chips that store biometric and other personal information used by customs officials and border guards to verify the identities of those who enter the United States.

The U.S. Government Printing Office, the agency charged with producing the new e-Passports, has been warned repeatedly since 2006 by its own security officer that the Thai manufacturing site posed a “potential long term risk to the USG (U.S. government’s) interests,” according to inspection reports obtained by the Center for Public Integrity and ABC News.

U.S. Lacks Basic Security for e-Passport Manufacturing, Key Tool for Border Security Made in High-Risk Locations, by John Solomon, June 14, 2010 [23]

More recently the CPI published another article, and things don’t look any better:

A decade after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks brought to light the dangers of fake IDs, federal undercover agents are still able to easily obtain genuine U.S. e-Passports using clearly fraudulent information that should have raised red flags at the State Department.

Undercover Feds Able to Easily Obtain Fraudulent e-Passports, by John Solomon, July 29, 2010 [24]

Although most U.S. passports that are in use haven’t been used as e-passports due to the lack of installed scanners, they still pose a security risk for anyone that carries one because they could transmit personal information. Passports use RFID technology, which means that they could in theory broadcast personal information to surveillance by hackers who shouldn’t have access by a process called skimming, which often involves nothing more than a laptop computer that is configured as a scanning device.

E-passports are supplied with a shielding envelope that attenuates all but the most sophisticated attacks using advanced receiver and antenna equipment. Owners have to make sure that their passport is completely closed for the shield to be effective. Keeping passports closed at all times is problematic and not as easy to do in Europe where passports are used for various forms of identification for credit cards, to lease cars, or to register to vote, etc. The following excerpt from eWeek explains the problems with RFID:

At the same time, there have been persistent outcries from privacy and security advocates regarding the use of Radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology in passports in order to transmit and receive data from scanners. It’s not that difficult to imagine some rogue code inserted into the smart chip that would only broadcast information when it received a specific code from a spy, terrorist, or criminal. The hack could be programmed to respond when a specific query is transmitted to the RFID but it will operate normally in all other situations. Information transfer would be almost impossible to detect because it could happen in a fraction of a second at any place somebody might be carrying a passport. Just imagine if an enemy government used it to track our spies!

In response, the State Department has increased the security technology for the electronic passports, adding both shielding and access control measures.

Infineon Announces Deal for U.S. Passport RFID Chips, Renee Boucher Ferguson, eWeek, 2006-08-29 [12]

Hardware hacks to obtain personal information are a very real threat to privacy because worldwide governments are embedding biometric information on passports. [11] To get an idea what types of information could be stored, one only needs to look at the European Union, [13] which established a biometric standard that requires a face picture and fingerprints. In the U.S. the RealID Act would require similar biometric information. So, just imagine the ramifications if an unsuspecting victim lost his or her biometric information to a criminal hacker: faces and fingerprints can’t be changed (barring plastic surgery or amputation), so exposing these data could affect innocent victims for their entire lifespan.

Some immigration reform groups support the RealID Act. They tend to ignore the privacy concerns because they think this technology will make it nearly impossible to be in the U.S. illegally. Their enthusiasm for national identification cards is misplaced. They are probably not aware of the real security issues involved, as outlined in this article. Few realize how easy it is to clone them to assume fake identities.

Hacking smart chips and the RFID interface aren’t the only things to worry about, although that is one of the scariest scenarios because attacks of that kind would be virtually impossible to detect until the data are compromised. Two excerpts below describe examples of successful hacker attacks:

A security expert has cracked one of the U.K.’s new biometric passports, embarrassing the British government which has touted [them] as a way of cutting down cross-border crime and illegal immigration.

The attack, which uses a common RFID reader and customised code, siphoned data off an RFID chip from a passport in a sealed envelope, said Adam Laurie, a security consultant who has worked with RFID and Bluetooth technology. The attack would be invisible to victims, he said.

“That’s the really scary thing,” said Laurie, whose work was detailed in the Sunday edition of the Daily Mail newspaper. “There’s no evidence of tampering. They’re not going to report something has happened because they don’t know.”

UK biometric passports succumb to hack, by Jeremy Kirk, IDG News Service, March 6, 2007. [14]

Recently a group of Indian hackers were caught hacking system software:

Seven people were arrested in Andhra Pradesh for hacking the online passport application software of the Hyderabad regional passport office, police said Friday. Police Commissioner A.K. Khan told reporters that seven people, among them five passport agents, were arrested and a search was on for two other agents involved in the racket.

Seven held in Andhra for hacking passport software, Thaindian News, June 4, 2010 [15]

The U.S. government recognizes the security threat that outsourcing to Thailand poses. In June of 2010, Steve LeBlanc, Managing Director, Security & Intelligent Documents, GPO, announced that the assembly of the passports will move to Chanhassen, Minnesota. [16] Shifting the assembly plant operations of the Dutch-owned company Smartrac from Thailand to Minnesota was a good idea to improve security, but the move is no panacea. Changing locations is somewhat futile since Smartrac will still produce passport inlays by using the same complicated chain of foreign suppliers for the components. The threat of compromised hardware is unlikely to improve much because by the time Smartrac gets the parts to assemble the inlay, the malicious code would already be in place. Smartrac would be very unlikely to discover the sabotage in the assembly process.

Smartrac produces inlays for most of the passports in the world, so they will continue to produce inlays at their Thailand location. Smartrac could shift some of the production of inlays for U.S. passports back to Thailand if they lack capacity at the U.S. location or for any other reason they deem it necessary (like for cheap labor). As of June 2010, 20 percent of the inlays were still being made in Thailand. [17] Fraud investigators would have a daunting task if they had to do a forensic search to trace where the inlay components for a passport came from because Thailand will continue to assemble passports for other countries including the U.S. Any damage that has already been done to the system will continue until an anomaly is detected.

The most insidious and difficult to detect hacker attacks would most likely be done covertly by employees of one of the many companies that contribute to the manufacture of passports. Hiring foreign workers increases security risks because allegiance to the U.S. isn’t required, and perhaps even more important, criminal background checks of foreign nationals are often difficult or impossible to do. Smartrac hires foreigners that have proof of legal residence and valid green cards or H-1B visas. Foreign nationals are allowed to work at Smartrac for various support positions, such as, for instance, “maintenance manager” and “research assistant.” [18] Smartrac employs about 20 people in Chanhassen, Minnesota, which is good for the local economy although it’s not clear how many of the workers are local versus foreign, and there doesn’t seem to be much oversight on the criteria Smartrac uses to hire people. If foreign entities wanted to implement espionage at the Smartrac plant, the H-1B visa would be an excellent conduit for saboteurs to position themselves into the right places.

Considering that security experts within the U.S. government recognize the dangers of outsourcing the manufacture of passport components to overseas locations, why did they decide to do it? The best explanation is straight out of the mouth of the GPO when they responded to a scathing series of articles done by the Washington Times that raised the same question (excerpt from the Times followed by GPO response):

According to interviews and documents, GPO managers rejected limiting the contracts to U.S.-made computer chip makers and instead sought suppliers from several countries, including Israel, Germany and the Netherlands.

Mr. Somerset, the GPO spokesman, said foreign suppliers were picked because “no domestic company produced those parts” when the e-passport production began a few years ago.
Outsourced passports netting government profits, risking national security, by Bill Gertz, Washington Times, March 26, 2008 [19]

GPO Response:

In coordination with the State Department and the U.S. intelligence community, GPO conducted a Request for Proposal (RFP), under GPO’s procurement rules and regulations, to procure the required bio-metric components to build an e-passport. GPO incorporated The Buy American Act in accordance with MMAR-52-225. Those responding to the RFP all submitted Buy American Act certificates. However, many companies were able to achieve Buy American Act certification due to their North American subsidiaries. There were no U.S. companies who manufactured integrated circuits that met ICAO
[ICAO is International Civil Aviation Organization] standards and/or rigorous testing. During the vendor selection process, GPO and the State Department vetted the limited number of qualified vendors through rigorous security audits. Those audits included inspections of facilities and employee background checks. GPO was shocked to learn no U.S. company manufactured an integrated circuit that met the ICAO standards and/or rigorous testing. Since 2004, GPO has encouraged U.S. companies to consider producing ICAO compliant components.

GPO Responds to Second Washington Times Story, March 27, 2008 [20]

On first impression it may seem that the GPO is making lame excuses for buying smart chips and other components in the U.S., but the reality is that they probably couldn’t find domestic suppliers no matter what price they were willing to pay. The manufacturing sectors in the U.S. have been decimated to such an extent that foreign countries dominate the semiconductor business. Over the last 20 years U.S. companies have outsourced most of their production capacity offshore. Manufacturing & Technology News published an article that describes the trends in very stark terms: “U.S. Becomes a Bit Player in Global Semiconductor Industry: Only One New Fab Under Construction In 2009,” by Richard A. McCormack, February 12, 2010. [21]
Important highlights of the article:

• In 2009, 16 fabrication plants (fabs) began construction throughout the world. One of them was in the United States.

• In 2007, only 8 percent of all new semiconductor fabs under construction in the world were located in the United States.

• As of 2009, the percentage of global semiconductor production capacity located in the United States was 14 percent, down from 25 percent in 2005 and 17 percent in 2007.

• The United States leads the world in one category: closures! In 2009, 27 fabs closed worldwide, with 15 of them in the United States followed by four in Europe, four in Japan, two in China, one in Korea, and one in Southeast Asia.

According to RAND, [26] in 1980 the U.S. had about 60 percent of the world market share.

The bottom line is that it may no longer be possible for any of the electronic semiconductor components used for e-passports to be produced in the U.S. because it has lost most of its semiconductor manufacturing foundries. If the exodus of U.S. manufacturing continues it’s doubtful that passports could be made in the U.S. for decades to come.

tsc_20_4_sanchez_2.gif

 

 

The lack of domestic suppliers for government-funded projects is a problem that simply wouldn’t have happened before 1990 because the U.S. government considered it a national security priority to procure electronic semiconductors from domestic sources.

Several factors in the 1980s contributed to the decline of the government’s ability to mandate that domestic suppliers be used for their contracts: growing consumer buying power, shrinking military budgets, and globalization. The military share of the electronics industry became insignificant compared to the civilian market by 1990 and by that time American owned companies were moving their facilities offshore as fast as they could. In some cases the military or other large buyers like NASA paid far more than commercial market prices to subsidize U.S. manufacturers so that private industry would keep fabs open, but it was a losing battle that could only stall the inevitable stampede overseas.

In view of the trend towards globalization the Department of Defense adopted a new policy called the Commercial-Off-The-Shelf (COTS) program. [22] Parts procurement by commercial producers was mandated because it was considered more cost effective to do so. National security was sacrificed in order to buy civilian components — even when they were made in foreign countries. Governmental agencies purchased from the lowest-cost suppliers even as U.S. companies were closing fabs, going out of business, and moving overseas.

Of course there is a more obvious explanation for passport outsourcing — simple greed and stupidity. In a scheme that resembles a starving man who cuts off his legs to satiate his hunger, the GPO made about $100 million in profits by selling the blank passports to the State Department. [19] More than likely, the GPO rationalizes that using domestic suppliers for components would cut profit margins from their sales to the State Department, so they use the lowest-cost bidders, who always happen to be overseas suppliers.

A video called “The Myth of Biometrics’ Enhanced Security” [25] by Michael (Micha) Shafir and David J. Weiss, February 17, 2009, does an excellent job of illustrating the various threats posed by e-passports. Warning: the animated person doing the narrative is rather annoying and the video is partially an infomercial.

I spent most of my career writing embedded software and designing the related hardware at Motorola Government Electronics Division in Scottsdale, Arizona. Many of the design projects I worked on were for government secure communication applications. As a result of my professional experience I understand that these threats are very real, even though they may sound esoteric. Hacker attacks against passports could potentially dwarf credit card and identity fraud and pose a serious threat to personal privacy and national security.

 

Endnotes

1. “The Hacker in Your Hardware: The Next Security Threat,” by John Villasenor, Scientific American, August 4, 2010

2. ABC Reports, “Operation Outsourced: Security of U.S. Passports

3. BORDER SECURITY: Better Usage of Electronic Passport Security Features Could Improve Fraud Detection, GAO, January 2010

4. NXP Locations

5. Infineon Subsidiaries

6. China Selects Infineon’s Security Chips for Electronic Passports, Infineon Press Release, November 11, 2009

7. Gemalto Counts Cost of New Year Bug, Smart Card News, January 2010

8. Passport Statistics

9. U.S. e-Passport facts at-a-glance, GPO

10. Secrity of GPO’s e-Passport Supply Chain, March31, 2010

11. ICAO: Machine Readable Passports to be Issued Worldwide by 2010, Information Handling Services, July 20, 2005

12. Infineon Announces Deal for U.S. Passport RFID Chips, Renee Boucher Ferguson, eWeek, 2006-08-29

13. Integration of biometric features in passports and travel documents

14. UK biometric passports succumb to hack, by Jeremy Kirk, IDG News Service, March 6, 2007

15. Seven held in Andhra for hacking passport software, Tahindian News, June 4, 2010

16. GPO reassures your passport is secure, Federal News Radio, June 17, 2010

17. PASSPORT SUPPLY CHAIN IS SECURE, GAO Press Release, June 15, 2010

18. GPO Responds to Second Washington Times Story, March 27, 2008

19. Outsourced passports netting government profits, risking national security, by Bill Gertz, March 26, 2008

20. H-1B Visa application for Smartrac

21. “U.S. Becomes a Bit Player in Global Semiconductor Industry: Only One New Fab Under Construction in 2009,” by Richard A. McCormack, February 12, 2010

22. Outsourcing Poses Unique Challenges for the U.S. Military-Electronics Community, by Randall Milanowski and Mark Maurer, Chip Design, 2006

23. U.S. Lacks Basic Security for e-Passport Manufacturing, Key Tool for Border Security Made in High-Risk Locations, by John Solomon, June 14, 2010

24. Undercover Feds Able to Easily Obtain Fraudulent e-Passports, by John Solomon, July 29, 2010

25. “The Myth of Biometrics’ Enhanced Security,” by Michael (Micha) Shafir and David J. Weiss, February 17, 2009

26. High-Technology Manufacturing and U.S. Competitiveness, RAND Research, March 2004

27. Robert Mocny statement

 

About the author

Rob Sanchez keeps track of non-immigrant visa and offshoring developments at his website, www.jobdestruction.info. He also publishes the Job Destruction Newsletter. To get on the free mailing list, send an e-mail to: news at JobDestruction dot info.

Copyright The Social Contract Press, 445 E Mitchell Street, Petoskey, MI 49770; ISSN 1055-145X
(Article copyrights extend to the first date the article was published in The Social Contract)

 



FBI’s NGI database could include non-criminals, said privacy rights group

Jul 17th, 2011 | By | Category: News

Lynch contends that the NGI will not just collect and store criminal justice data because one third of the FBI’s IAFIS data is from civil sources like attorney bar applications, federal and state employees, and people who work with children or the elderly. She said the FBI hadn’t allowed those kinds of records to include photos and had segregated civil records from criminal data. “Civil records were also not included in bulk checks for criminal investigative purposes,” she wrote. The FBI’s NGI may remove those barriers, she warned. “There is some evidence to show the FBI is considering including this data in future NGI database searches and, according to the CCR FOIA documents, has already begun to include civil records from DHS and State Department database files such as visa applications, immigration records, and border entries and exits,” she said.

 

Mon, 2011-07-11 09:31 AM

EFF’s Lynch

The FBI’s next-generation criminal identification biometric database could include not only information about criminals, but every day people, said the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) on July 8.

Documents recently released under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) show the FBI’s Next Generation Identification (NGI) database could include biometric and other identification information from civil sources like attorney bar applications, federal and state employees, and people who work with children or the elderly, said EFF staff attorney Jennifer Lynch in a July 8 posting on the group’s Web site.

The National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), and the Cardozo Law School Immigration Justice Clinic had publicly released the FOIA documents on July 6. The groups contended the documents showed Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s Secure Communities biometric identification system identify criminal aliens for deportation, is also a key component the FBI’s NGI. The combination, the groups said, will accumulate a massive store of personal biometric information on citizens and non-citizens with an aim to create a sort of electronic national identification card.

In remarks on the EFF’s Web Site on July 8, Lynch said the FBI’s NGI program hasn’t been secret. The FBI, she said, has “bragged” about it over the last 10 years and has “carefully laid the groundwork for extensive data sharing and database interoperability through publicly-available privacy impact assessments and other records.”

Even though the NGI program was developed in the open doesn’t make it any less dangerous, she said.  The FBI’s IAFIS [Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System] and DHS’ IDENT [Automated Biometric Identification System] systems, she said, can store extensive amounts of names, addresses, social security numbers, telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, fingerprints, booking photos, unique identifying numbers, gender, race and dates of birth. “Within the last few years, DHS and FBI have made their data easily searchable between the agencies,” she said. “However, both databases remained independent, and were only ‘unimodal,’ meaning they only had one biometric means of identifying someone—usually a fingerprint.”

The documents obtained under FOIA, she said, show the NGI database will contain both FBI and DHS records in “multimodal” capability.

“This means NGI is designed to allow the collection and storage of the now-standard 10-print fingerprint scan in addition to iris scans, palm prints, and voice data. It is also designed to expand to include other biometric identifiers in the future,” she said.

Lynch contends that the NGI will not just collect and store criminal justice data because one third of the FBI’s IAFIS data is from civil sources like attorney bar applications, federal and state employees, and people who work with children or the elderly. She said the FBI hadn’t allowed those kinds of records to include photos and had segregated civil records from criminal data. “Civil records were also not included in bulk checks for criminal investigative purposes,” she wrote. The FBI’s NGI may remove those barriers, she warned. “There is some evidence to show the FBI is considering including this data in future NGI database searches and, according to the CCR FOIA documents, has already begun to include civil records from DHS and State Department database files such as visa applications, immigration records, and border entries and exits,” she said.

 



Privacy is vital to freedom from ‘Big Brother’

Jul 17th, 2011 | By | Category: Articles

“Big Brother Is Watching You” was the pervasive punch-line in British writer George Orwell’s classic novel “1984.” Now we know Big Brother is listening too.

Arthur I. Cyr

By Arthur I. Cyr

“Big Brother Is Watching You” was the pervasive punch-line in British writer George Orwell’s classic novel “1984.” Now we know Big Brother is listening too.

Revelations that Rupert Murdoch’s News International Corp. for years has conducted massive hacking into British cell phone information is truly shocking. Alleged targets include cell phones of a murdered young girl and relatives of soldiers killed in action. Britain’s political parties have united in Parliament, an unusual move, to condemn the company.

The scandal includes allegations of police payoffs. An initial police investigation concluded the snooping was a renegade incident targeting only a few individuals.

Murdoch’s political influence in Britain has been enormous. Politicians across the spectrum fear his power to embarrass or endorse, and have assiduously courted his favor.

Orwell, one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, was a committed socialist. Unlike many on the left, however, he had personal involvement with working people, because he was one. He stressed egalitarianism, while warning about the dangers of concentrated power in government as well as corporations.

The Murdoch snooping scandal is particularly grotesque, and may bring down that media empire. However, guarding individual freedom, including privacy, from intrusive power structures inevitably is a challenge.

Other developments in British politics and American business underscore this tension. Britain’s coalition government has wisely repealed a national identity card. A card microchip linked to biometric data encouraged bureaucratic snooping. Amid launch of the latest iPhone, Apple leader Steve Jobs gave particular emphasis to protecting customer privacy.

A wag once suggested that “1984″ was really about 1948, a reference to the Stalinist dictatorships ruling in Eastern Europe as well as the Soviet Union when the novel was published. The Cold War had just emerged, and for many communism seemed the wave of the future.

Intense anti-communism seriously distorted U.S. domestic politics and the wider society intellectuals accused of left-wing views found their careers damaged and in some cases destroyed. Blacklisting of writers became a symbol of this intimidation.

An open economy under the rule of law helps limit abuse. Modern Britain has never had dictatorship, and the effects of Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s “Big Bang” deregulation of the economy were important in facilitating freedom. Her heavy-handed style earned her the sobriquet “Big Sister,” but the reforms were crucial to Britain’s economic recovery and reassertion of international influence starting in the 1980s.

A similar process unfolded in the U.S., beginning in the Carter administration and carried much further by the Reagan administration. The financial crises of the past decade, facilitated in part by deregulation gone too far, overshadow the durable beneficial consequences of this market freedom.

This in turn brings context to Steve Jobs’ statement. Apple last year surpassed Microsoft in total capitalization, a major accomplishment for a firm floundering less than 10 years ago before cofounder Jobs returned. Products that facilitate freedom are now major Apple marketing themes.

Meanwhile, competitor Google has grappled with embarrassing accusations that extensive information on individuals has been collected. For example, Google Earth cars driving through random neighborhoods captured specific data from unsecure wireless outlets in unsuspecting households.

In our fascinating, fantastic global information revolution, institutions committed to following the law and protecting personal privacy, not just profits and power, deserve our support. Murdoch and crew deserve condemnation, and prosecution.

Above all, remember: Big Brother is not watching you.

Not yet.

But he’d like to.

Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen distinguished professor at Carthage College. He is also a columnist for Scripps Howard News Service (www.scrippsnews.com). E-mail him at acyr@carthage.edu.

 



Police eyeing iris scanners, civil libertarians fret over privacy

Jul 17th, 2011 | By | Category: News

A Plymouth company whose technology turns ordinary iPhones into facial recognition tools has garnered rave reviews from law enforcement even as civil libertarians worry about the device’s privacy-invading potential.

BI2 Technologies makes a Biometric smartphone peripheral that scans irises, takes fingerprints and recognizes facesThe American Civil Liberties Union has expressed concerns over the technology because it could be construed as a “search. But B12 CEO Sean Mullin said “none of the data is stored on the smartphone” (IT WILL BE STORED AT THE POLICE DATABASES?), “and the system requires a basic level of consent from the party being scanned”.

Business & Markets

By Brendan Lynch
Sunday, July 17, 2011

A Plymouth company whose technology turns ordinary iPhones into facial recognition tools has garnered rave reviews from law enforcement even as civil libertarians worry about the device’s privacy-invading potential.

BI2 Technologies makes a biometric smartphone peripheral that scans irises, takes fingerprints and recognizes faces. The $3,000 Mobile Offender Recognition and Information System, or MORIS, will roll out to about 40 police departments starting this fall.

The American Civil Liberties Union has expressed concerns over the technology because it could be construed as a “search.” But B12 CEO Sean Mullin said none of the data is stored on the smartphone, and the system requires a basic level of consent from the party being scanned.

“If you’re going to have your face scanned, you have to stand still for a second and let me take a picture of your face,” he said.

Using the 12-ounce MORIS attached to the back of an Apple-made iPhone, a police officer responding to a domestic dispute could take video statements, search for and read relevant restraining orders or outstanding warrants, and record locations using GPS.

“Click, click. Get in the back seat. Watch your head,” said Mullin, who founded BI2 with former Plymouth County Sheriff Peter Flynn.

The Plymouth County Sheriff’s Department has ordered less than 10 MORIS units for the fall, said spokesman John Birtwell. Since Massachusetts sheriffs act mostly as jail keepers, the scanners will be used to confirm the identities of the 10,000 people it processes every year.

“It’s not only a practical time saver, it’s foolproof,” Birtwell said.

Birtwell said the department is sensitive to privacy concerns, though everyone they would scan would have already appeared before a magistrate.

We’re not going to be randomly scanning people walking down the street,” he said.

The technology has applications in other markets such as health care IT and mobile payments. EMTs could access electronic medical records by scanning a patient’s iris, while shoppers could “sign” a transaction by scanning their eye.

“You won’t be able to steal the credit card, but you would be able to steal someone’s iPhone or Droid,” he said. “What this does is secure that transaction biometrically.”

Those applications are in the analysis stage. MORIS was similarly tested by the Brockton Police Department to offer suggestions for the law enforcement application.

“I wish I was a smart guy,”Mullin said. “I’m not. I’m a good listener.”

The company has shifted into expansion mode with plans to hire eight to 10 people — engineers, salespeople, marketers and management — over the next year in Massachusetts. Research and development is done at BI2 headquarters while the MORIS device is manufactured at contract manufacturer Columbia Tech in Worcester.

BI2 generated a lot of buzz last week with a prominent story in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday and segment on CBS’ “The Early Show” on Friday, the company’s fifth anniversary.

Mullin said BI2 fielded about 2,500 inquiries about its system. “It’s great,” he said. “I just wish it wouldn’t all come in three days.”




The FBI’s Next Generation Identification: Bigger and Faster but Much Worse for Privacy

Jul 10th, 2011 | By | Category: Articles

This week, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and several other organizations released documents from a FOIA lawsuit that expose the concerted efforts of the FBI and DHS to build a massive database of personal and biometric information. This database, called “Next Generation Identification” (NGI), has been in the works for several years now. However, the documents CCR posted show for the first time how FBI has taken advantage of the DHS Secure Communitiesprogram and both DHS and the State Department’s civil biometric data collection programs to build out this $1 billion database.


 

JULY 8TH, 2011 by Jennifer Lynch

 

This week, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and several other organizations released documents from a FOIA lawsuit that expose the concerted efforts of the FBI and DHS to build a massive database of personal and biometric information. This database, called “Next Generation Identification” (NGI), has been in the works for several years now. However, the documents CCR posted show for the first time how FBI has taken advantage of the DHS Secure Communitiesprogram and both DHS and the State Department’s civil biometric data collection programs to build out this $1 billion database.

Unlike some government initiatives, NGI has not been a secret program. The FBI brags about it on its website (describing NGI as “bigger, faster, and better”), and both DHS and FBI have, over the past 10+ years, slowly and carefully laid the groundwork for extensive data sharing and database interoperability through publicly-available privacy impact assessments and other records. However, the fact that NGI is not secret does not make it OK. Currently, the FBI and DHS have separate databases (called IAFIS and IDENT, respectively) that each have the capacity to store an extensive amount of information—including names, addresses, social security numbers, telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, fingerprints, booking photos, unique identifying numbers, gender, race, and date of birth. Within the last few years, DHS and FBI have made their data easily searchable between the agencies. However, both databases remained independent, and were only “unimodal,” meaning they only had one biometric means of identifying someone—usually a fingerprint.

In contrast, as CCR’s FOIA documents reveal, FBI’s NGI database will be populated with data from both FBI and DHS records. Further, NGI will be “multimodal.” This means NGI is designed to allow the collection and storage of the now-standard 10-print fingerprint scan in addition to iris scans, palm prints, and voice data. It is also designed to expand to include other biometric identifiers in the future. NGI will also allow much greater storage of photos, including crime scene security camera photos, and, with its facial recognition and sophisticated search capabilities, it will have the “increased ability to locate potentially related photos (and other records associated with the photos) that might not otherwise be discovered as quickly or efficiently, or might never be discovered at all.”

The FBI does not just collect and store data from people caught up in the criminal justice system;about 1/3 of the data collected and reviewed in IAFIS is from civil sources such as attorney bar applications, federal and state employees, and people who work with children or the elderly. In the past, the FBI has not allowed these records to include photos and has segregated civil records from criminal data. Civil records were also not included in bulk checks for criminal investigative purposes. NGI may take down these barriers, however. There is some evidence to show the FBI is considering including this data in future NGI database searches and, according to the CCR FOIA documents, has already begun to include civil records from DHS and State Department database files such as visa applications, immigration records, and border entries and exits.

So why should we be worried about a program like NGI, which the FBI argues will “reduce terrorist and criminal activities”? Well, the first reason is the sheer size of the database. Both DHS and FBI claim that their current biometrics databases (IDENT and IAFIS, respectively) are the each the “largest biometric database in the world.” IAFIS contains 66 million criminal records and 25 million civil records, while IDENT has over 91 million individual fingerprint records.

Once these records are combined into one database and once that database becomes multimodal, as we discussed in our 2003 white paper on biometrics, there are several additional reasons for concern. Three of the biggest are the expanded linking and tracking capabilities associated with robust and standardized biometrics collection systems and the potential for data compromise.

Already, the National Institute for Standards and Technology, along with other standards setting bodies, has developed standards for the exchange of biometric data. FBI, DHS and DoD’s current fingerprint databases are interoperable, indicating their systems have been designed (or re-designed) to read each others’ data. NGI will most certainly improve on this standardization. While this is good if you want to check to see if someone applying for a visa is a criminal, it has the potential to be very bad for society. Once data is standardized, it becomes much easier to use as a linking identifier, not just in interactions with the government but also across disparate databases and throughout society. This could mean that instead of being asked for your social security number the next time you apply for insurance, see your doctor, or fill out an apartment rental application, you could be asked for your thumbprint or your iris scan.

This is a big problem if your records are ever compromised because you can’t change your biometric information like you can a unique identifying number such as an SSN. And the manyrecent security breaches show that we can never fully protect against these kinds of data losses.

The third reason for concern is at the heart of much of our work at EFF. Once the collection of biometrics becomes standardized, it becomes much easier to locate and track someone across all aspects of their life. As we said in 2003, “EFF believes that perfect tracking is inimical to a free society. A society in which everyone’s actions are tracked is not, in principle, free. It may be a livable society, but would not be our society.”

Unfortunately, biometric data collection is not limited to NGI or even to the legacy DHS, FBI and DoD fingerprint collection programs. The federal government and states have been steadily expanding their DNA collection efforts over the last 10 years as well. Currently all 50 states, the federal government and the District of Columbia collect and share DNA records through the FBI’sCODIS database. At least 15 of those states, as of 2010, collect DNA from defendants convicted of misdemeanor offenses. And as of 2009, under the federal DNA Fingerprint Act of 2005 and several recently-expanded state statutes, at least 21 states and the federal government collect DNA samples from any adult arrested for (not just convicted of) a crime. This has led to an exponential increase in the amount of DNA collected in the United States on an annual basis, with nearly 1.7 million samples processed (pdf Pg8) in 2009, alone. As of 2011, the National DNA Index or NDIS (the federal level of CODIS) contains over 9,748,870 offender profiles, and the states’ individual databases are each expanding as well.

Currently, it doesn’t appear the FBI plans to incorporate the DNA data held by CODIS into NGI. However, NGI has been designed to be flexible and to be able to incorporate additional biometric identifiers as the need arises in the future. This means that we can’t rule anything out. FBI claimsNGI “doesn’t threaten individual privacy,” but the government’s continuing efforts to collect, store and track the biometric data for so many Americans and foreigners cannot bode well for a society that values privacy.

 

 



Privacy Groups Request FTC Probe of Facebook Facial Recognition Tech

Jun 14th, 2011 | By | Category: News

A D.C.-based privacy group has asked the Federal Trade Commission to examine Facebook’s facial-recognition technology.

 

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) joined with the Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Watchdog, and the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse to file a complaint with the agency, arguing that the facial-recognition software is “unfair and deceptive.”

EPIC wants the FTC to require Facebook to stop using the technology pending an investigation, as well as ultimately make it opt-in.

“Users could not reasonably have known that Facebook would use their photos to build a biometricdatabase in order to implement a facial recognition technology under the control of Facebook,” EPIC argued.

The organization said without FTC intervention, Facebook will “likely expand the use of the facial recognition database it has covertly established for purposes over which Facebook users will be able to exercise no meaningful control.”

Back in December, Facebook announced plans for facial-recognition technology intended to make it easier for people to tag photos of friends. Facebook said it would examine newly uploaded photos and compare them to other photos in which you or your friends are tagged in order to make tagging suggestions.

Last week, security firm Sophos expressed concern that facial recognition had been turned on by default. Users must go in and disable the service if they do not want to show up as “suggested tags” in their friends’ photos. Facebook acknowledged that it should have been more communicative about the service.

“We should have been more clear with people during the roll-out process when this became available to them,” a Facebook spokesman said in a Tuesday statement.

The news was met with concern overseas, however. Several members of EU’s Article 29 DataProtection Working Party—like the U.K., Ireland, and Luxembourg—are investigating the issue.

“As with any new technology, we would expect Facebook to be upfront about how people’s personal information is being used,” the U.K.’s Information Commissioner’s Office said in a statement. “The privacy issues that this new software might raise are obvious and users should be given as much information as possible to give them the opportunity to make an informed choice about whether they wish to use it. We are speaking to Facebook about the privacy implications of this technology.”

In the EU, the Data Protection Directive of 1995 requires that people give their consent to the use of their data. Companies that process personal data must tell users about how their information is being used and whether it is passed on to other companies or individuals. The data protection agencies within the EU are responsible for monitoring and enforcing this directive, according to a European Commission spokesman.

Though the Article 29 Working Party is independent of the European Commission, the commission will propose a reform of the data protection rules this year. “The challenges on data protection resulting from new technologies, such as cloud computing and social network sites, are one of the central reasons for this reform,” the spokesman said.

Here in the U.S., Rep. Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, expressed support for the EPIC filing. “The Federal Trade Commission should investigate this important privacy matter, and I commend the consumer groups for their filing. When it comes to users’ privacy, Facebook’s policy should be: ‘Ask for permission, don’t assume it,’” Markey said in a statement. “Rather than facial recognition, there should be a Facebook recognition that changing privacy settings without permission is wrong. I encourage the FTC to probe this issue and will continue to closely monitor this issue.”

Markey and EPIC have both tangled with Facebook in the past. In December 2009, EPIC and other consumer groups filed another complaint with the FTC arguing that Facebook’s recent privacy update violated federal consumer protection law. It also expressed concern with Facebook allowing developer access to users’ phone numbers and addresses, a feature it is now revamping.

Markey and Rep. Joe Barton, meanwhile, have written to Facebook on several occasions requesting more information on data collection by third-party developers and advertisers.

For more from Chloe, follow her on Twitter @ChloeAlbanesius.

 

 



March 8 – FBI Announces Next Generation Biometric Identification System… Built by Lockheed Martin (Hacked on May 29)

Jun 6th, 2011 | By | Category: News

BIOMETRIC: “If you can store it; I can steal it”

March 08, 2011: FBI : “The Next Generation Identification System (NGI), built by Lockheed Martin, delivers an incremental replacement of the FBI’s Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS)”

May 29, 2011: Lockheed Martin hit by cyber attack!….

 


 

March 08, 2011
  • FBI National Press Office(202) 324-3691

CLARKSBURG, WV—New technology designed to revolutionize law enforcement’s ability to process fingerprints has reached its initial operating capability, the FBI announced today.

The Next Generation Identification System (NGI), built by Lockheed Martin, delivers an incremental replacement of the FBI’s Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS). NGI provides automated fingerprint and latent search capabilities, electronic image storage, and electronic exchange of fingerprints to more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies and other authorized criminal justice partners 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Upon completion, NGI will have the ability to process fingerprint transactions more effectively and accurately.

“The implementation announced today represents a tremendous achievement in enhancing our identification services. Already, we’re seeing how the NGI system is revolutionizing fingerprint identification in support of the FBI’s mission,” said Louis E. Grever, executive assistant director, FBI Science and Technology Branch.

“Lockheed Martin was there supporting the FBI when IAFIS went live in 1999, and we’re thrilled to be here for NGI today,” added Linda Gooden, executive vice president, Lockheed Martin Information Systems and Global Solutions. “Technology like this is a powerful tool when it comes to protecting America’s citizens, and we’re proud to serve as a partner in that mission.”

“While IAFIS has been effective, criminal and terrorist threats have evolved over the past decade. Today’s environment demands faster and more advanced identification capabilities,” said Assistant Director Daniel D. Roberts, FBI Criminal Justice Information Services Division. “NGI represents a quantum leap in fingerprint identification that will help us in solving investigations, preventing crime, and apprehending criminals and terrorists.”

In addition to the new fingerprint identification technology, the NGI program has also delivered Advanced Technology Workstations to the FBI’s fingerprint examiner staff. The workstations include significantly larger display screens with higher resolution and true color support, allowing staff to see more detailed attributes of biometric data for more efficient decision-making.

 



RSA hack makes Biometric databases more dangerous – data exposed – reducing the effectiveness of SecurID tokens

Mar 21st, 2011 | By | Category: News

Top security firm RSA Security revealed that it’s been the victim of an “extremely sophisticated” hack.

RSA’s ‘SecurID’ adds an extra layer of protection to a login process by requiring users to enter a secret code number displayed on a keyfob, or in software, in addition to their password. The number is cryptographically generated and changes every 30 seconds.

Michael (Micha) Shafir, the founder of Innovya says: “To make things clear, using an OTP (One Time Password device…) during a simple 1-way authentication with the presence of a HACKED TECHNOLOGY is NOT SECURE it is like showing your ID (passport, fingerprints…) to a fake police officer. In fact, the user is “strongly authenticated” but to the wrong person/target.

Saving Biometric information in databases or turning the human body into the ultimate identification card is extremely dangerous. The possibility of fraud with electronic chips and stored biometric data should not be underestimated. Exposing or losing biometric property is a permanent problem for the life of the individual, since, there is no practical way of changing one’s physiological or behavioral characteristics”.

By Tim Stevens posted Mar 18th 2011 8:49AM

RSA Hacked

 

If you’ve ever wondered whether two-factor authentication systems actually boost security, things that spit out pseudorandom numbers you have to enter in addition to a password, the answer is yes, yes they do. But, their effectiveness is of course dependent on the security of the systems that actually generate those funny numbers, and as of this morning those are looking a little less reliable. RSA, the security division of EMC and producer of the SecurID systems used by countless corporations (and the Department of Defense), has been hacked. Yesterday it sent out messages to its clients and posted an open letter stating that it’s been the victim of an “advanced” attack that “resulted in certain information being extracted from RSA’s systems” — information “specifically related to RSA’s SecurID two-factor authentication products.”

Yeah, yikes. The company assures that the system hasn’t been totally compromised, but the information retrieved “could potentially be used to reduce the effectiveness of a current two-factor authentication implementation as part of a broader attack.” RSA is recommending its customers beef up security in other ways, including a suggestion that RSA’s customers “enforce strong password and pin policies.” Of course, if security admins wanted to rely on those they wouldn’t have made everyone carry around SecurID tokens in the first place.

 

Sunday March 20, 2011

RSA Hack Demonstrates Superiority of Cell Phone as 2nd Factor

RSA 2 factor authentication gets Hacked… RSA is an important measure, making attacks against authentication systems much harder to commit (??) – NOT ANY MORE…

The company said in a note posted on its website that the intruders succeeded in stealing information related to the company’s SecurID two-factor authentication products. SecurID adds an extra layer of protection to a login process by requiring users to enter a secret code number displayed on a keyfob, or in software, in addition to their password. The number is cryptographically generated and changes every 30 seconds.



Outrange: Think tank slams plan for biometric database

Mar 14th, 2011 | By | Category: News

“The plan to establish a central biometric database, along with the use of biometric identity cards, will make Israel the only Western democracy to store biometric information about its own citizens,” economist Diana Zaks wrote. “Israel will be in the company of countries such as Ethiopia, Indonesia, Yemen and Pakistan.”

 

By NADAV SHEMER – Jpost.com
03/13/2011 23:22

If implemented, Interior Ministry will convert Israelis’ identity cards into smart cards with digital chips storing biometric data.

The government is about to begin compiling a biometric database of all Israelis that will put their personal data in the hands of at least 10,000 government employees, according to a position paper released Sunday by the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies. 

“The plan to establish a central biometric database, along with the use of biometric identity cards, will make Israel the only Western democracy to store biometric information about its own citizens,” economist Diana Zaks wrote. “Israel will be in the company of countries such as EthiopiaIndonesia, Yemen and Pakistan.”

Founded in 2003, JIMS is a nonprofit economic-policy think tank whose declared mission is to promote social progress in Israel through economic freedom and individual liberty.

Its position paper, which analyses the Biometric Law passed by the Knesset in 2009, warns that if implemented, the Interior Ministry will be tasked with converting Israelis’identity cards into smart cards with digital chips storing biometric data, and at the same time the government will establish a central database with each individual’s personal biometric information.

According to the paper, the government is about to embark on a two-year pilot program with voluntary registration, before the program becomes mandatory for all citizens.

The paper argues that the program presents a host of dangers, including leakage of data, possible use by terrorists, criminal penetration and identity theft, increase in police powers and likely pressure on the government to make the data available to local or international businesses or to pharmaceutical companies for research.

“Considering the marginal benefits from establishing a biometric database, the alternative means of achieving its aims, its high cost and the many dangers involved,the government of Israel could do well to consider whether such a database is necessary, and Israelis could do well to express themselves concerning this intended invasion of their privacy and the dangers ahead,” Zaks wrote.

 



Outrage: DHS develops shared biometrics database with DOD

Mar 9th, 2011 | By | Category: News

70 million bad guys

Dan Roberts, the assistant director of the FBI: My database is very rich with 70 million bad guys. But we don’t own those records. They’re owned by the states, by the 18,000 law enforcement agencies across this country. They submit them to us and allow us to use them, we hold them and distribute them per their agreements with each of the states. And every state has a different law governing what records can be distributed and what they can be used for. The challenge is walking that line and making sure we’re not violating any of the states’ rights in addition the federal laws that we have…”

Published 8 March 2011


DHS is currently developing a joint database to gain access to the Department of Defense’s (DOD) biometrics database and hopes to have the system operational by the end of this year; the goal is to allow DHS agents at points of entry to run an individual’s fingerprint to determine if that person had any run-ins with the U.S. military and also includes fingerprints taken from improvised explosive devices; this new system is a vast improvement over current joint data exchange plans between DHS, DOD, and the FBI which are often done manually; this database must be implemented according to Homeland Security Presidential Directive 24, which mandates that all biometric data shared between government agencies must conform to local privacy laws

DHS is currently developing a joint database that will give border agents access to the Department of Defense’s (DOD) biometrics records and hopes to have the system operational by the end of this year.

The goal is to allow DHS agents at points of entry to run an individual’s fingerprint to determine if that person had any run-ins with the U.S. military. The database also includes fingerprints taken from improvised explosive devices.

Speaking before a panel at last month’s AFCEA Homeland Security conference in Washington, D.C., Thomas Killion, director of DOD’s Biometrics Identity Management Agency, “The battlefield is not a nice, neat place.”

“There’s a lot of trafficking across the globe, there are people moving across that globe, and there are certainly cases of people who have involved themselves in the wrong kinds of activities in theater and then popped up elsewhere on the globe, perhaps trying to come across the border. If we weren’t sharing this data and that were to happen, and they were to engage in activities here domestically, we would certainly hear about that in the press,” added Bob Mocny, the director of DHS’ U.S. VISIT program.

Mocny says that this new system will function similarly to the existing Secure Communities program, which connects local law enforcement agents with DHS and FBI databases. Under the system, whenever an individual is arrested, police officers can scan their fingerprint and it will determine if they had any prior arrests or felonies as well as their immigration status.

“We can tell that police officer who is really in front of them, and the fact that they’ve been deported two or three times before and the fact that we want to put a detainer on that individual and deport them,” he said.

According to Mocny, “From October 2008 through the end of January 2011, 62,000 convicted criminal aliens have been removed because of the Secure Communities program. And that 62,000 just may not have been encountered before.”

These new systems are a vast improvement over current joint data exchange plans between DHS, DOD, and the FBI which are often done manually. Now agents in the field will have the ability to search through voluminous amounts of data within seconds.

These new joint information sharing databases must be implemented according to Homeland Security Presidential Directive 24, which mandates that all biometric data shared between government agencies must conform to local privacy laws.

Dan Roberts, the assistant director of the FBI, says that ensuring privacy laws are followed is often more difficult than the technological implementation of such systems.

“My database is very rich with 70 million bad guys. But we don’t own those records. They’re owned by the states, by the 18,000 law enforcement agencies across this country. They submit them to us and allow us to use them, we hold them and distribute them per their agreements with each of the states. And every state has a different law governing what records can be distributed and what they can be used for. The challenge is walking that line and making sure we’re not violating any of the states’ rights in addition the federal laws that we have,” he said.