saves you approximately half a second in the border-control process [but] open a potential security hole.
The hole is that the border control systems have to store certificates (with the public keys that are needed to check the signatures on passports) that are pre-verified, so if the bad guys can get their certificates into the system, their (bent) passports will be accepted as real. There is a proposal floating around to implement a more sophisticated PKD (with cross-certification, so that countries could check the signatures on other country’s certificates) but that means a more complicated structure. I’m not sure this is the kind of interoperability that should be a goal for other sectors.
When I last commented on e-passports, I said that one might expect to see “e-passport cracked/cloned/useless” stories for some time to come. This was an entirely accurate prediction, and some of the problems being uncovered are pretty interesting. Take, for example, Mr. Lukas Grunwald. Mr. Grunwald was an e-passport consultant to the German government. He’s discovered security flaws that allow someone to seize and clone the fingerprint image stored on the biometric e-passport (which is actually not that hard since the passports don’t yet implement proper access control) as well as how to code the RFID chip in an e-passport to sabotage readers! He achieved that latter by modifying the JPEG2000 image file containing the passport photo to exploit a buffer-overrun problem.
Mind you, if were a foreign drug baron, child pornographer or terrorist sleeper trying to get in to the U.K., I don’t think I’d go go for these complicated technical attacks. I would just buy a bent passport from a bent civil servant like everyone else.
These opinions are my own (I think) and are presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]