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Fake Vaccine Passports Pose Risk But Controllable For Vietnam: Experts

Rosie Nguyen Rosie Nguyen

ngtrang12.ftu@gmail.com

July 17, 2021 | 07:00

Vaccine passport is a solution to ensure safety and control travelling, however, the situation of fake vaccine passports is bringing many risks.

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Fake Vaccine Passports Pose Risk But Controllable For Vietnam: Experts
Foreigners are at Tan Son Nhat Airport in HCMC in March, 2020. Photo: VnExpress

Covid-19 vaccine passports are being forged in many countries, but Vietnam can reduce the risk by continuing quarantine requirements and cooperating with others to digitize them, experts said.

The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism is working to put in place later this month a trial vaccine passport program to get foreign tourists back to Phu Quoc Island.

The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism is closely working with authorities in the Mekong Delta province of Kien Giang, home to Phu Quoc, on the pilot program’s content, which will allow tourists from Europe, America and some Asian countries to visit the island.

While several localities have proposed the vaccine passport program for themselves, Phu Quoc has more advantages, deputy tourism minister Doan Van Viet told VnExpress.

Phu Quoc, Vietnam's largest island off the southern coast, is relatively isolated from the mainland with adequate infrastructure such as airport and accommodation facilities, so it is convenient to pilot the vaccine passport program there, he said.

The health ministry is preparing to vaccinate for all residents on Phu Quoc Island so that it can reopen its doors to foreigners.

Situation of fake vaccine passports

Assessing the possibility of people coming to Vietnam with fake vaccine passports, Oded Vanunu, head of products vulnerability research at American-Israeli Check Point Software Technologies, said there is a high risk because of the big supply of fake certificates on the Internet.

Vanunu cited his company's statistics on an application (Telegram) showing that in May there were more than 100 channels selling fake vaccine certificates, mainly from the U.S, U.K, Germany, and India, with the number growing at 500 percent from March.

Dr Krutika Kuppalli of the Medical University of South Carolina, the U.S., said the risk of fake vaccine passports has been growing particularly as countries allow individuals who have been vaccinated to travel. Fake vaccine passports are being sold online on the dark web at extremely cheap prices, reported VnExpress.

In Europe, though the digital vaccine certificate was approved in early July, it lacks credibility, according to Thomas Siebert, head of protection technologies at G Data, a German software company focusing on cybersecurity.

In May, it was reported that more than 100 people a day are trying to enter the UK using fake Covid test certificates as individuals attempt to get around current entry requirements, which include tests before and after travel and can cost individuals hundreds of pounds, according to The Guardian.

Israel-based researchers found evidence of forgeries of vaccine cards by the NHS and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) alongside fake test certificates, all available for sale on the dark web and through easy-to-access platforms including the messaging apps WhatsApp, Telegram and Jabber.

Fake NHS vaccine cards. Photo: Checkpoint Research
Fake NHS vaccine cards. Photo: Checkpoint Research

Siebert said Vietnam needs to have an agreement with the EU to be able to check the EU digital certificates for authenticity.

Highlighting the lack of synchronization among countries' vaccine certificates, Mark Stevenson, professor of operations management, Lancaster University, the U.K, said paper-based certificates are different around the world, and so it is very difficult to check their authenticity.

Fake Vaccine Passports Pose Risk But Controllable For Vietnam: Experts
A plane lands at the Van Don Airport in Quang Ninh. Photo: VnExpress

Dr Sulfikar Amir of the School of Social Sciences, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, said the risk of fake vaccine passports is high especially in countries where counterfeit practices are rampant.

"When a vaccine passport becomes mandatory for people to travel, the risk of counterfeit is even higher because there are individuals who are reluctant to be vaccinated but desire to travel both domestically and overseas."

Fake vaccine passports could be manageable

Stevenson said in the U.K. there is still a lot of discussion about how the vaccine passport would work, and there are still basic rules such as tests and quarantines for people coming from other countries. The U.K. classified countries based on their pandemic status as green, amber or red nations to handle visitors.

Kuppalli, also vice chair of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, Global Health Committee, said she has urged countries to develop techniques to make it more difficult to forge vaccine cards and to develop stringent penalties for offenders, cited VnExpress.

Amir said in the long term a strong regime of vaccine passports is needed. Digitization is key to this because it allows the passport to be easily used, and this digital system has to be supported by solid databases and secure information systems that are not vulnerable to cyberattacks, he said.

Dr Marten Brelen of the Chinese University of Hong Kong and his team are currently working with industry collaborators to finalize a blockchain Covid passport in Hong Kong in the next few months. Using blockchain technology could help protect people's privacy.

The passport is issued by a trusted party like the Department of Health or a hospital, and once the data is issued it is decentralized, which means that all private information is protected, he said.

It would be "really interesting to explore whether Vietnam will be interested to cooperate with Hong Kong to use this application," he said.

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Rosie Nguyen