How to Choose the Right e-Passport Chip Operating System

The passport is a rather peculiar identity document — unlike most other documents, it is issued by one country and checked in another country. A passport’s sole purpose is to prove that a person is who he or she claims to be, making this identity document and the information stored in it important to a country’s national security.

blue chip operating system

An electronic passport, or e-Passport, offers enhanced security with a microchip that stores and manages digital information, securing access to both the data on the passport’s chip and the communication protocols between the device itself and external systems connecting to the device. The microchip uses a software called a chip operating system (COS) as an interface layer between the hardware itself and the digital content on the chip. It also manages the protection of the biometric and biographic data. There are many COS in the market. How should countries that want to move from non-electronic to electronic passport know which one to choose?

Three Criteria for Choosing the Right Chip Operating System

There are many criteria to assess the value of a COS, considering they deliver as expected on their basic functionalities and do what they are coded to do. However, three of them are fundamental:

  1. A Certified Level of Security — A COS for electronic identity documents such as e-Passports should reasonably be certified against well-established security standards. The level of security for a COS is tested against a series of penetration and hacking tests following a methodology set up by commonly shared evaluation standards called the Common Criteria for Information Technology Security Evaluation (CC). Identity documents such as an e-Passport are sensitive documents and should have the highest certification levels. It is generally accepted by the various players on the market that an ID document should use at least CC EAL6+ certified hardware and CC EAL5+ certified software.

  2. Maximized Performance With the Right COS — A COS not only impacts how quickly citizens can get through e-Gates with their e-Passport, it can save a country millions of dollars depending on the speed of personalization - the process during which the biometric and biographic data of a passport holder is transferred to the datapage and the chip. As the time to personalize is directly linked to the amount of personalization machines and the output per day, the financial impact of the performance of the COS can be massive.

  3. A Smaller COS Saves Costs — The performance of the COS also lies on the efficiency of the code. The smaller in kB the chip operating system will be when it is loaded onto a chip, the more efficient it will be. The memory saved means countries can choose to insert smaller, less expensive chips or use the additional storage space for more data.

Thinking about upgrading your country’s travel document from a non-electronic Passport to e-Passport? Read more about what the benefits are in our white paper, The Benefits of e-Passport Migration.

Frederic Jacquot is HID Global’s product manager for e-Passport solutions. Frederic has worked in this position for HID Global for 4 years after a few years in Sales in APAC. He recently relocated from Hong Kong to Spain to better support our global team.