Make us your home page

Microchips in our passports and credit cards: Are they safe?

The Sacramento Bee

Tiny plastic chips embedded in passports and, increasingly, in credit cards are primarily designed to thwart fraud and counterfeiting. But they also make credit card users and travelers uneasy about the potential for someone with prying eyes to try to steal their personal data.

How real is the threat?

The chip technology for passports and credit cards is different.

With credit cards, the tiny chip contains encrypted data activated only when the card is inserted into a designated "smartcard" reader. So fears of having someone "skim" a credit card chip are largely unwarranted, security officials say.

Passports use a different technology, Radio Frequency Identification. When embedded in a U.S. passport, the chip can be scanned only by an RFID reader, usually within a couple feet.

"Yes, someone nearby could read what's in your wallet," said G. Mark Hardy, president of National Security Corp., who uses a wallet that blocks RFID signals. But, he said, "it's less likely to happen, at this point in time, because it's so much easier to do fraud some other way."

Since August 2007, all U.S. passports have come embedded with an RFID chip, intended to deter fraud and improve security. The chip contains the same information as on the passport's picture page, including a digital version of the passport photograph.

According to the federal Bureau of Consular Affairs, the passport chip is designed with security features to thwart unauthorized access. It can be "read" only when the passport book is open.

Some who don't like the idea of having an electronic chip that could be compromised suggest microwaving the passport to deactivate the chip or even smashing it with a hammer.

It's a criminal offense to "alter" a passport or its chip, though, and could lead to penalties. According to the Bureau of Consular Affairs, "Any degradation of the passport book may lead to invalidation of that book."

Some consumers figure it's easier to use a fraud-proof case, just in case. Companies such as REI sell thin, waterproof, sleeves — $6.50 for three — that block RFID signals similarly to Hardy's wallet.

.Credit cards

New microchip format spreading

Most U.S. cards have a magnetic stripe on the back that contains individual account information. Major credit card providers are switching to microchipped cards, which use encryption technology to protect personal data.

Widely used in more than 80 countries, credit cards with microchips are harder to counterfeit than magnetic stripe cards and are safer to use for point-of-sale payment transactions. The chip appears as a small square on the front of the credit card.

U.S. card issuers and retailers face an October 2015 deadline to have microchipped credit cards and readers in place. A number of major banks, such as CitiBank, already offer microchipped cards

to customers.

Microchips in our passports and credit cards: Are they safe? 06/20/14 [Last modified: Friday, June 20, 2014 6:48pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Tribune News Service.

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Gourmet food fight between top chefs raises $200,000


    ST. PETERSBURG — The chefs came armed with their secret ingredients — pork rinds, truffle butter, pork bellies.

    (From left to right) Chefs Ryan Mitchell, Michael Buttacavoli, Ted Dorsey and Matthew Brennan compete during Tampa Bay Food Fight at The Coliseum in St. Petersburg on Tuesday. The event features chefs from the Tampa Bay area and benefitted Metropolitan Ministries. EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times
  2. HSN star Joy Mangano promotes new book: Inventing Joy


    ST. PETERSBURG — After more than 30 years, Joy Mangano knows a thing or two about promoting products. Now she's promoting herself.

    Inventor and entrepreneur Joy Mangano is releasing her first new book, Inventing Joy on Nov. 7. [TIERRA SMITH | Times]
  3. Moffitt CEO Alan List, new chair of Tampa Hillsborough EDC, outlines goals for 2018

    Economic Development

    Moffitt Cancer Center CEO Alan List was officially elected the 2018 chairman of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. at the EDC's annual meeting held Tuesday night at the Amalie Arena. He endorsed a stronger pursuit of life science business for the region and praised ongoing efforts to raise the national …

    Dr. Alan F. List, CEO of Tampa's Moffitt Cancer Center, now wears an economic development hat as the 2018 chairman of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. [Special to the Times]
  4. Demolition begins on wing of Channelside Bay Plaza, making way for Water Street Tampa (w/video)


    TAMPA — The original developers of Channelside Bay Plaza at first wanted the name of the complex to include the word "Garrison." That would have fit, because the center turned out to be fort-like, inwardly focused and unwelcoming.

    A pedestrian bridge in the southwest wing of Channelside Bay Plaza was demolished in Tampa on Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017. [Gabriella Angotti-Jones  | Times]
  5. Sunday Supper returns with 25 chefs, food fests galore

    Food & Dining

    Save the date: SUNDAY SUPPER

    This just might be the dinner of the year. The Bern's family of restaurants has organized a James Beard Foundation fundraiser to fund the Bern Laxer Memorial Scholarship for culinary students in the state of Florida for a number of years. But this week they announced the …

    Bern’s Steak House located at 1208 S Howard Ave, Tampa on Wednesday 2/19014