As international tourism begins to open up once again, forged vaccine passports sold on the dark web threaten further Covid outbreaks.
Would you believe it’s been 18 months since global air travel was restricted? No wonder people are desperate to jet off for the remainder of the summer.
After the initial chaos caused by Covid in 2020, the world is finally working out the kinks of living with the virus.
Beyond the obvious loss of life and global economic fallout, a major secondary drawback of the pandemic is that travelling abroad will continue to be an upheaval for the foreseeable future – with good reason, mind.
As May’s emergence of the Delta strain showed, new variants of the virus continue to crop up unexpectedly over time. In essence, airports have now become the last line of defence to stop them spreading internationally and extra precautions have to be taken.
Holiday goers in the UK are now being asked to provide proof of full vaccination and record of a Covid negative PCR travel test before turning up with luggage in hand.
The entire preparation takes time and can be expensive (especially with private testing), plus there’s the niggling prospect of having to isolate upon returning if your destination hops to amber on the traffic light system.
For this reason – and others we’ll explore – people are turning to the infamous dark web to cut mandatory corners and in the process are putting our progress at risk.
The growing business of fake vaccine passports
You’ll no doubt have heard of the dark web, the underground marketplace where illicit digital content, recreational drugs, unlicenced weapons, and falsified documents are put up for auction like eBay. You’ll find the odd stolen Pokémon card too.
Well, according to a cyber security firm called Check Point, the platform’s latest booming business involves the sale of forged vaccine passports.
Certifying both vaccine status and negative Covid tests, the majority of these bogus documents are nearly impossible to distinguish from the real thing – as UK border staff recently warned to government MPs.
Outside the EU, many countries accept PDF certificates which are alarmingly simple to edit. Returning up to £850 a pop, self-described ‘PDF artists’ lift QR codes from legitimate documents and doctor the attached adobe files to fit the buyer.
Some cybercriminals are even savvy enough to produce digital fakes that sync directly to the NHS app, though this is where the majority of forgeries are caught.
In early July, Italian police discovered and shut down a bunch of telegram channels where anonymous sellers were brazenly advertising their services for fake vaccine passports. Milan’s cyber-fraud police unit revealed as many as 250,000 users had registered and attempted to contact the sellers in that month.
In response to growing international concerns, several US states including New York and New Jersey have now put forward bills to escalate their Covid forgery cases directly to the FBI. Local authorities will continue to deal with other counterfeit offences.
Lucy Moreton from Immigration Service Union tells Sky News what the current #COVID19 border checks are and says 'the burden of proof is on the border officer', adding there is no way to tell whether a #coronavirus test result is legitimate.
— Sky News (@SkyNews) January 26, 2021