Technology

DFAT releases app to verify international vaccine certificates

In preparation for international borders reopening, the federal government has launched an app to enable border officials to verify international vaccination certificates.

The new application, first reported on by The Sydney Morning Herald, appeared in the Apple app store this week and was developed by the Australian Passport Office under The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).

Named after the tech it makes use of, the VDS‑NC app is in line with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)’s specifications.

VDS-NC, which stands for Visible Digital Seal for Non-Constrained Environments,  is designed to read QR code cross-border digital health certificates including COVID-19 vaccination and testing certificates.

According to the app’s page in the Apple Store, it was developed in conformity with World Health Organization guidance on digital secure vaccination certificates, and will be compatible with digital wallets and with COVID-19 travel apps such as the IATA Travel Pass.

“[The app can] leverage the ePassport public key infrastructure (PKI) that ICAO member states around the world have been using since 2004,” the description says.

“VDS-NC certificates are like a passport chip in QR format, with the same high level of security against forgery.”

The app can also be used by border officials if the government’s QR code-based international vaccine certificate is not ready by the time borders reopen.

Its initial release authenticates VDS-NC vaccination certificates issued by Australia; however, future updates will authenticate VDS-NCs issued by other countries.

The government plans to roll out the new certificate by October, but it is still in its testing phase, according to SMH.

The new certificates will play a key role in getting Aussies back on overseas trips and are expected to be a leverage point for travel bubble negotiations.

Australia’s current digital COVID-19 certificates, available through the Medicare app, has faced some backlash for its “high-school grade” security.

Earlier this month, a Melbourne-based software developer claimed the certificate can be easily copied or altered by anyone who is fairly qualified in this field.

“One could argue that this means these [documents] are not certificates, in that they fail to meet the definition of being certified as authentic,” Finn Bailey said.

“You can make it say whatever you want.”

In August, Sydney-based software engineer Richard Nelson posted to Twitter about an “obvious” security flaw that made it possible to forge the vaccine certificates in just 10 minutes using free software including anti-forgery animation used in the background.

Nelson notified the government with details about the flaw, but ABC News reported that he had still not heard back.

Forging proof of vaccination appears to be on the rise overseas, with a 24-year old woman facing charges for using a forged COVID-19 certificate to skip quarantine requirements while travelling to Hawaii.

And she may have gotten away with it if she hadn’t misspelt the name of the vaccine she claimed to have received.

Reuters has reported a booming market for fake vaccine certificates has cropped up online, with the head of a cyber intelligence firm telling the news outlet he has seen “hundreds” of websites on the dark web selling the forgeries for as little as $12.


Featured image source: iStock/Onfokus


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