Vaccine Passports Face Security Challenges

Scan to travel may be coming soon

Key Takeaways

  • International Health and Wellness says its vaccine passport for travelers could protect users' privacy by offering biometric security. 
  • Many countries are expected to soon require COVID-19 vaccination passports for travel. 
  • VAX Passcard is a credit card-like tool that incorporates a proprietary biometric fingerprint technology on the card.
An International Certificate of Vaccination displayed on a smartphone with a laptop and cup of coffee displayed in the background.
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A proposed vaccine passport for travelers could protect users' privacy by offering biometric security, its developer says.  

International Health and Wellness says its vaccine passport could allow travelers to present their immunity status and identify them by scanning their fingerprint. Many countries are expected to soon require such vaccination passports for travel. 

"In order to reopen the economy, many organizations will require COVID-19 vaccine verification," International Health and Wellness CEO Isaac Daniel said in a news release

"VAX Passbook and Passcard provide this service with convenience and user-privacy in mind. At this time, there is no national organization that maintains vaccination records, not even the CDC. VAX Passbook and Passcard are an essential component in the global efforts to restore normalcy."

"The increasing difficulty in safeguarding consumer data and the continued development of biometric identification could be the perfect storm waiting on the horizon."

Scan Your Finger to Travel

VAX Passbook is a vaccination record booklet with a document confirming the vaccinations that the owner of the booklet has received. The manufacturer says it uses patented technology to maintain the security and privacy of users. VAX Passcard provides similar documentation to the user, but in the form of a credit card-like tool, which incorporates a proprietary biometric fingerprint technology on the card.

But some experts say that introducing biometric security to passports could lead to the loss of privacy. "A fear—and time will tell whether it's well-founded or not—is whether fingerprint metadata will end up being the basis for an advanced 'credential stuffing' type of attack as biometric authentication becomes more commonplace across many services," Phil Leslie, the co-founder and chief growth officer of cybersecurity firm Havoc Shield, said in an email interview. 

Biometric security offers other challenges, as well. Biometric identifiers such as fingerprint or facial recognition markers are immutable forms of data and, once exposed in a data breach, cannot simply be changed like a password, Jason Johnson, co-founder and lead penetration tester of cybersecurity firm Predatech, said in an email interview. 

Someone in a car displaying a vaccination card for Covid 19 immunization.
Vasil Dimitrov / Getty Images

"With service providers becoming increasingly reliant on third-party solutions to store and process their customer’s data, the potential surface for data exposure grows dramatically," Johnson added.

"It makes policing the privacy of personal data an almost impossible endeavor for consumers. The increasing difficulty in safeguarding consumer data and the continued development of biometric identification could be the perfect storm waiting on the horizon."

Growing Movement for Vaccine Passports

Vaccine passports may be required of travelers once international borders reopen, experts say. The Common Trust Network has partnered with several airlines, including Cathay Pacific, JetBlue, Lufthansa, Swiss Airlines, United Airlines and Virgin Atlantic, as well as many health systems across the United States, and the government of Aruba.

The network’s CommonPass app lets users upload medical data, such as a COVID-19 test result or proof of vaccination. The app also lists health pass requirements at the points of departure and arrival, based on a user's itinerary.

"You can be tested every time you cross a border. You cannot be vaccinated every time you cross a border," Thomas Crampton, chief marketing and communications officer for The Commons Project, told CNN

Other companies are developing apps to check COVID-19 status. IBM is working on a Digital Health Pass, which would allow venues to set health requirements for entry, such as a negative test, vaccination, or a temperature check. Results would be stored in a digital wallet.

An immunity passport.
MF3d / Getty Images

For those who don’t have a smartphone handy, there also are smart cards in the works that could store health information.

“For us it’s [about] how that digital credential can be stored, can be presented, not only through smartphones but also in other ways for those people who don’t have access to stable internet and also who don’t own smartphones,” Lucy Yang, co-lead of the COVID-19 Credentials Initiative, told the New York Post. “We’re looking into it, and there are companies who are doing really promising work.”

With vacations, work trips, and family reunions put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic, there’s sure to be a rush back to travel once vaccines are widely distributed. Vaccine passports may be one way to help make travel safe again, but it’s important that data privacy isn’t overlooked.

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