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Testing the ePassport testing

Week 04, 2007

These new ePassports operate at a variety of content from just a digitized picture of the cardholder to several fingerprints or an iris scan. There are also a variety of security schemes: passive or active authentication, basic or extended access control.

ePassports can be manufactured by different ways, from an all integrated manufacturing process to a system where the inlay, the data page and the passport booklet are only bound together just at the time of passport issuance.

Of course, the key in ePassports use, like in other smart card applications is security and interoperability. An ePassport has to be tested in many regards: the passport has to comply with electrical requirements, logical test requirements, and functional requirements. There is also the need to test reliability, as a passport is expected to remain fully functional for its whole life span, generally 5 or 10 years.

In order to fulfill these security and interoperability needs, the ICAO has issued a series of specifications. ICAO tests include signal and radio frequency, application interface, and also a series of tests for the proximity coupling device, or in other terms the passport reader. These tests are still all in draft mode, which means they are still subject to evolutions. And even worse, the part 1, describing the global passport operation framework is still under development.

The test tools developers work on the basis of draft specifications, and supply testing tools to test labs. The test labs run the tests, and certification bodies validate the compliance of ePassports with specifications.

But aren't we a bit too quick? We all know that even if ePassports have been issued by all European countries, there are very few ePassport readers at border posts in Europe. The situation is similar in the US where US-Visit program is proud to announce ePassport readers have now been deployed to 33 airports in the country.

The only actual proof that the system is working will happen after months or years of operation, where a significant sample of ePassports will have been read successfully at all border posts in the world. Unfortunately, if something is discovered wrong at this time, the cost of retrofitting tens or hundreds of millions of passports will be unbearable.

Thierry Spanjaard
Chief Editor
Smart Insights