Infineon supplies RFID chips for US passports

Munich (Germany) - Infineon is the first company to announce a major contract to supply RFID chips that will be integrated in US passports. The chips will carry digital copies of the citizen's picture as well as the printed documentation in the passport. Infineon promises that more than "50 individual security mechanisms" are protecting the data saved on the chip.

Infineon said that it received a "multi-million piece purchase order from the United States government" to supply its highly-secure integrated circuit technology for new electronic passports that will be issued to the public. Infineon expects that there will be a ramp of RFID-enabled passports throughout 2006, with all new US passports being issued as electronic passports by the end of this year.

The new passports, which have been issued in limited numbers to diplomats and other government workers in late 2005, include a computer chip in the back cover that, according to Infineon - securely stores the same information that is printed in the document. The chip can be read by scanning devices, which promises to not only simplify international immigration procedures but also provide greater counterfeit protection and an increase in security.

Infineon's RFID chip

Infineon explained that the electronic passport will contain multiple layers of security to protect the privacy of passport holders. For example, there is a technology called Basic Access Control (BAC), which requires the border control inspector to pass the document over a scanner that reads coded information and then authorizes the electronic reader to access the data stored on the chip. The company said that the actual data transmission occurs over a distance of about four inches. In addition to shielding and BAC, Infineon uses "more than 50 individual security mechanisms," including sensors that can change read voltages, "active protective shields on the surface of the chip" and "sophisticated computing methods for encrypting data," to protect personal data from unauthorized scanning.

Despite these security efforts, electronic passports remain a highly controversial topic. While more than 20 countries - including Germany, Hong Kong, Norway and Sweden - already have begun using or testing electronic passports or have begun testing RFID support, there are concerns about how secure these passports really are. Infineon claims that one billion PCs would need to run a trial and error scheme for one billion years to crack the encryption of the passport data.

However, some security experts claim that hackers do not necessarily need to crack the data in passports. In some cases, it may be enough to simply detect that there is an electronic passport in order to identify tourists from certain countries.

According to legislation passed by the U.S. Congress, all countries that are participating in the US Visa Waiver Program must issue passports with secure chip technology by October 2006.

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