New ID cards
The German government is introducing new ID cards from November. The new cards, the size of a standard credit card, will have additional functions alongside the standard personal information. An embedded chip will contain a digital photo and encrypted personal data. This new feature will allow card-holders to make online transactions with state authorities.
German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere is confident that the new cards will be more secure than older versions:
"With these new ID cards, we'll have the highest-ever level of security for all legally binding online activities," de Maiziere said.
Danger from hackers
But experts have raised doubts about this assertion. Some are worried that the new cards are not secure enough, and that widespread identity misuse may be just around the corner.
IT specialists from the Chaos Computer Club, a German-based hackers' organization, have scrutinized the new cards on behalf of German public broadcaster ARD. They found that the card readers being issued by the government to enable users to make online transactions were not as secure as they should be.
Hackers from the "Chaos Computer Club" claim that simple spying malware could put sensitive data slip into the wrong hands, because the card readers require external keyboards. If hackers get past the computer's firewall, they can see everything the user is typing, including, potentially, the pin-code for their ID card.
Once they have a pin-code, hackers could access all sorts of other personal information stored on the cards. Consumer protection activist Michael Bobrowski is concerned about such identity theft.
"ID card owners stand to incur huge losses," he said. "And they'd have to prove to the bank or other institutions that a given transaction was not initiated by them. For ordinary PC users, this will hardly be feasible."
The scheme is proving costly
The opposition Free Democrats' legal affairs spokesman, Christian Ahrendt, is also worried about identity theft. He believes that the chips in the new ID cards are a waste of taxpayers' money.
"This was our main point of criticism when ID cards equipped with chips were first debated and later decided on in the previous grand coalition government of Christian and Social Democrats," Ahrendt said. "There's simply no need for the state to sponsor private institutions' efforts to make on-line services more secure."
Interior Minister de Maiziere, of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats has not said whether the state would finance safer, more expensive card readers. The basic readers have already cost the government 24 million euros ($30.5 million).
Author: Hardy Graupner/ji
Editor: Chuck Penfold