An article in the Guardian getting their source from Wired.com recounts how Lukas Grunwald, a German security consultant has been able to copy the data from biometric passports using 200 dollar equipment. Although the cloned data cannot apparently be modified, the so called unbreakable RFID tag technology seems less secure than expected.
The technology behind the "UK's Â£415m scheme to load passports with information such as fingerprints, facial scans and iris patterns" doesn't really seem too reassuring.
Gus Hosein from the London School of Economics and Privacy International, a U.K.-based group that opposes the use of RFID chips in passports:
"Is this what the best and the brightest of the world could come up with? Or is this what happens when you do policy laundering and you get a bunch of bureaucrats making decisions about technologies they don't understand?"
The wired.com article goes into detail about how the data can be copied, but it is currently unlikely that the data could be tampered with. Grunwald demonstrated that since the machines used to read the biometric passports read one tag at a time it is possible to place another and trick the system into reading that one. Physical inspection would most likely uncover the trick though.
The article also refers to other security companies that have demonstrated that it is possible to read data regardless of the metal mesh system supposed to protect the chip from being read by anyone around the carrier. This is far more scary since it means a passport carrier in a crowd could be pinpointed or trigger a remote system placed near there by terrorists.
The main issue of the current system used, like those used in corporate and hotel security systems, is the lack of encryption of the data which enables brute force dictionary attacks in far too many cases. It seems absurd that goverment officials can sit back and scorn at such proof of flaws in the current system. The attitude of yes but even if they can do that there is still a physical check just seems irresponsable. The whole idea was to create a system that didn't allow illegal cloning of the data stored on it. Now that has been cracked we have one last line of defense left! Wow that leaves me completely reassured...!