New SA ID card is at risk of theft, expert warns

2013-10-07 10:30
The onus of proving identity theft lies with consumers, an academic has said. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

The onus of proving identity theft lies with consumers, an academic has said. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Cape Town - The technology behind the new South African identity documents may leave citizens vulnerable to identity theft, a security expert has warned.

"The only real way to protect your Identity in South Africa is to have it stored in a highly secure privately managed environment, as the Department of Home Affairs have now proved beyond a doubt that their system is untrustworthy at the least," Dawid Jacobs, general manager of Independent Identity Verification told News24.

Independent Identity Verification has built a secure records system with no internet connectivity that the company says makes its database more secure than an online one.

Jacobs said that the new home affairs method of capturing data for ID cards is problematic.

"All new registrations on this system will be done electronically; this includes biometric fingerprints - what happens if the system is hacked? It is easy to then manipulate the data on the system or worst case scenario delete data (biometrics) from the system - How will an individual prove who he or she is?"

Biomentric data

The department of home affairs moved to the new ID card system to limit the fraud that was taking place in the old system and the new methodology involves a secure smart card with biomentric data.

Gemalto, headquartered in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, won a contract to supply secure IDs for the department of home affairs that promises to make it more difficult to forge the document through a variety of technologies.

"It's not simple to delaminate and it's very difficult to forge. And when you add something - modifying the picture for example - it's very difficult," Eric Billiaert, communications director for government programmes at Gemalto told News24.

Jacobs went further, saying that the corruption in the department was an indicator that the security of the new card would be compromised.


"The Department of Home Affairs has proved they are the most corrupt institution in South Africa, even if they put every mechanism in place to combat this, there will be corrupt officials and fraudulent ID cards will be available soon," he said.

Gemalto also warned that government systems had to retain their fidelity to ensure the security of the cards which will be locally processed by Allied Technologies Limited, in partnership with the Government Printing Works.

"It's a good point to renew and to re-enforce the quality of the security documents but if the processes before are weak, fraud will happen there," said Billiaert.


Jacobs said that biometrics alone was a risky way to capture personal data and that it potentially may escalate fraud scams if criminals were able to compromise the system.

"There is no back-up if the biometrics should fail, as there is no physical attribute to reference to. No physical archive which hasn't been corrupted. You only need a birth certificate to apply for the new ID, the fraud starts here."

In SA, driving licences were moved to a card system with the promise that it would eliminate fraud, but recent experience has shown that there are shortcomings.

Aspiring drivers in Khayelitsha on the Cape Flats can pay around R2 500 to obtain a driver's licence community news network GroundUp reported this year.

In Gauteng, Star journalists reported that the cost of a fake licence ranged from R4 500 at Langlaagte, R2 500 at Randburg and Florida, and R2 700 in Sandton.

The issuing of new card IDs implies that the department of home affairs will need to comply with the provisions of the Protection of Personal Information (Popi) bill expected to become law this year.

Jacobs warned that criminals are aware of the technology on the new card and would work to bypass the weakest link in the security chain.

"The potential identity thief has already been made aware of all the security aspects in and on the card, and as mentioned, they are highly sophisticated and can do a lot more than what is believed."

- Follow Duncan on Twitter
Read more on:    online privacy  |  cybercrime
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