Why Alberta’s New COVID-19 Vaccine Card Could Lead to Counterfeits
The Alberta government launched its COVID-19 vaccination record on Sunday so those vaccinated can print a card-sized copy – but it turns out it’s not hard to affix it her name.
After the site was launched, many took to Twitter to exclaim that the PDF was not locked and that virtually anyone can edit the information it contains if they have access to Adobe Reader.
The news comes after the province announced the restriction exemption program on Wednesday, which has required some non-essential businesses to implement a vaccination system for customers or be subject to additional rules.
Besides the printable copy, the province has also made a digital version available on the MyHealthRecords smartphone app, but many have been warned of the long wait times to access the website and app.
So, for those who need to show proof of vaccination, it seems printing is the easiest option, but experts say it is also too easy to edit for unvaccinated people.
According to cybersecurity expert Ritesh Kotak, besides editing the PDF, apps like Photoshop can also be easily used to manipulate the card and ultimately it runs on the honor system.
“We hope people don’t abuse the system. But again, you let the public self-govern and self-regulate,” he said.
“There aren’t really any security measures in place to prevent fraud from happening.”
According to a statement from the Government of Alberta, printable cards are an easy and convenient way to directly access immunization records.
“PDF is now as secure as it gets; however, a motivated person can modify the document to create a new record, ”the statement read.
Cards are illegal to modify
Falsifying these medical records is also an offense under the Health Information Act, said the province.
“That said, we know the vast majority of Albertans will use the system correctly and meet the legal requirements set out in current public health orders. “
Kotak said the government had more than a year to come up with a better method of proof of vaccination and that it seemed like a “quick fix” to the problem.
In many provinces, a QR code has been included to prove vaccination, which the Government of Alberta says will be available in the coming weeks.
Manitoba, for example, has plastic vaccination cards with a scannable QR code on the back.
And British Columbia offers a printable hard copy similar to Alberta’s; However, it also includes the QR code.
“QR codes are a solution where information is embedded, it is encrypted in some cases and you need a complementary application to scan and verify it. This therefore minimizes potential fraud and manipulation of these types of documents.” , Kotak said.
He said that while QR codes may be the best method to verify a person’s vaccination and identity, there must always be a hybrid solution in place.
“When it comes to this kind of technology… access to the technology is also very important. So you may have areas that have connectivity issues. Individuals may not own smart phones. There is a segment of the population that would prefer paper, ”he said.
He believes that a national strategy should also be put in place.
“People will travel, they will go from province to province,” he said.
“We need something federal, but because it’s been split in each province and some haven’t even released anything, it’s going to create a real challenge.”