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Scholar: Taiwan's new eID a juicy target for Chinese hackers

'It is erroneous and ignorant to say that the security of the cards is unquestionable because they sport TSMC chips': NCKU professor

New eID design (MOI photo)

New eID design (MOI photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — As the Taiwanese government proudly presents its new electronic national identification cards (eID), a prominent engineering professor has lambasted the project as an infringement of privacy and a potential single point of failure (SPOF).

Outspoken National Cheng Kung University professor Li Jung-shian (李忠憲) also criticized Minister of the Interior Hsu Kuo-yung (徐國勇) over his "ignorant" support for the new ID system and his lack of knowledge of the potential security risks of chips regardless of their manufacturer.

Hsu had said recently that the cards will be manufactured by the Central Engraving and Printing Plant at a secure location under strict supervision and include chips supplied by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC). The ministry plans to issue a small number of the cards in three select areas (New Taipei, Penghu, Hsinchu) in early 2021 as a trial run.

To reassure the public of its security, Hsu emphasized that the electronic version of the ID reveals less personal data than the traditional one and comes equipped with anti-counterfeit features.

However, some authorities on cybersecurity think otherwise.

Li said the experts in his circle oppose the launch of the eID given how hackable similar cards have proven to be in other countries and in light of intensive cyberattacks from China. "Under such circumstances, it is not wise to roll out the eID to make it a 'single point of failure' for our enemies," he commented, suggesting it would become an easy target for Chinese hackers in the future.

"It is erroneous and ignorant to say that the security of the cards is unquestionable because they sport TSMC chips, as a data breach could happen at any point in the cards' life cycle — from design to manufacture to shipment to use to disposal."

"Moreover, the company has also manufactured chips for several Chinese tech companies, including Huawei, hasn't it?"

Meanwhile, Li expressed privacy concerns over omniscient, invasive ID cards, saying the digital ID could provide convenience not only for everyday people but also for dictatorships through monitoring and manipulating votes. "This is a dystopia I dread to think of."