Estonia blocks eID card services after security flaw found

November 08, 2017 16:29
Estonia has blocked access to the digital services of its electronic ID card, after a security flaw in the chip of the card was discovered. Photo: e-estonia

Estonia has suspended its digital ID cards for residents and overseas "e-residents" after discovering a security flaw that could lead to identity theft.

It is estimated that about 760,000 people in Estonia were affected, or about half of the nation’s population.

According to Reuters, the eID chip was manufactured by German semiconductor manufacturer Infineon Technologies.

For security reasons, Estonian authorities immediately blocked access to the digital services of the eID card until owners can update to a new security certificate, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reported. They have until March 2018 to do so.

Estonia’s police and border guard service offices have reportedly been swamped with people seeking to obtain new eID cards.

About 12 years ago, Estonia, a country in the Baltic region of Northern Europe, launched its eID programme which can serve as an ID card to travel within the European Union and can be used for filing tax claims, online voting, electronic prescriptions and logging into bank accounts.

It is also used in the nation's e-residency programme, which is intended to attract foreign investors who want to set up an operation in Estonia as a base to tap the EU market.

It is popular with British entrepreneurs who want to set up their company within the EU, particularly after the Brexit vote, Business Insider said.

More than 1,000 UK entrepreneurs have applied for the programme so far, Wired reported.

The eID has to work with a smartphone SIM card, with a built-in key encryption. An eID card does not use a card reader but a specific mobile app for verification and digital signature purposes.

During the nation's parliamentary election in 2015, over 30 percent of Estonian voters used their eID cards to cast their ballots digitally.

Estonia plans to issue eID cards with near-field communication at the end of 2018.

Eliisa Sau, chief expert of the police and border guard board, said 99 percent of the government’s services have been digitalized in Estonia. Nearly 95 percent of Estonian taxpayers file their tax returns via the eID.

To boost cooperation between the Estonian government and its citizens, authorities have released the programme codes of its eID system to GitHub, an online repository system, for public review.

Estonians can report any flaws in the codes to the government for further fixing.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov. 7

Translation by Jonathan Chong with additional reporting

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