COVID-19 Vaccine Passports: 5 Security Tips for You and Your Family

Depending on where your travels take you, you might need a new passport—a COVID-19 vaccine passport. 

In an effort to kickstart travel and local economies, these so-called vaccine passports are more accurately a certificate. Such a “passport” can offer proof that the holder has been fully vaccinated against the virus, and there are several of these passports developing in the wings. With all of this in motion, I wanted to give families a look at what’s happening so that they can protect their privacy and identity online. 

What is a COVID-19 vaccine passport? 

Broadly speaking, a vaccine passport works like this: information such as name, date of birth, date of vaccination, vaccination type, and vaccination lot number are used to create a digital certificate stored in a smartphone or a physical card. The holder can then offer up that proof of vaccination (or a recent negative test result) to businesses, travel authorities, and the like. 

The notion of a vaccine passport has actually been around for a while now, such as the “Yellow Card” issued by the World Health Organization (WHO), which documents vaccination against diseases like cholera and yellow fever for travelers. Note that currently there’s no widely accepted standard for COVID-19 vaccine passports. What’s more, conversations continue around the concerns that come with documenting and sharing vaccine information securely. Understandably, it’s a complex topic. 

Who is using COVID-19 vaccine passports? 

As of this writing, the European Union has started issuing the “EU Digital Covid Certificate,” which allows its holders to travel throughout the EU freely without quarantine restrictions. The UK has its own version in the works, as do other nations in Asia, along with airline carriers too. In the U.S., “passports” appear to be in development on the state levelrather than on the federal level. For example, the state of New York has its Excelsior Pass program and California has its Digital COVID-19 Vaccine Record available to residents. Private airlines and air travel industry groups have launched their own efforts as well, such as the International Air Travel Association’s IATA Travel Pass 

How these passports are rolled out and how they get used will vary, yet vaccine passports may have an impact on the way people can travel as we recover globally from the pandemic. In some cases, they may even determine if people can attend large events that can help localities reboot their economies and public life in general (i.e., concerts, sporting events, and so on). 

The development of vaccine passports and all the rules businesses and local authorities set around them may feel a bit out of our hands. However, in terms of your privacy and your family’s privacy, plenty is still very much in your hands. The common denominator across all these vaccine passports is the exchange of personal information—you and your family’s personal information. And where personal information is shared, hackers are sure to follow. This presents a perfect opportunity for you and your family to review your online privacy practices and close any gaps, whether you plan on traveling or not. 

Protect your privacy and identity along with your COVID-19 vaccination passport 

I put together a few things you can do to make sure that you and your family can navigate the future use of these passports with your privacy in mind: 

1. Don’t post pics of your vaccine card online: 

What seems like an innocent celebration of your vaccination could put your personal information at risk. The information captured on these cards varies by nation, region, and locality, with some of the cards containing more information than others. However, even basic info such as birthday, vaccine manufacturer and lot number, location of immunization, or doctor’s name can provide the basis of a scam, such as a phishing email or phishing text message. Likewise, such information could get scooped up by a hacker and  used to create phony vaccination credentials. Instead of posting that pic of you and your vaccine card, go with a happy selfie instead. And if you’ve already posted, go ahead and delete the image, better to remove it now and stay safe.  

2. Watch out for scammers asking for personal information: 

As mentioned above, the uncertainty around vaccine passports, and the general uncertainty around the latter days of the pandemic overall, creates opportunities for hackers and cybercrooks. Just as the early pandemic saw phony offers around miracle cures and today we’re seeing offers for phony vaccination cards, you can bet that scams revolving around vaccine passports will follow. The best advice here is to go to a trusted source for information, like the NHS in the UK or the American Medical Association in the U.S. Granted, cybercrooks will launch their phishing campaigns regardless. Here’s what to do if one heads your way: 

  • If you receive a request or offer via email or text from an unrecognized source, delete it.  
  • If you receive a request or offer that looks legitimate, don’t click any links. Instead, go directly to the organization and see if that same information is on its webpage too. 

In all, if someone is asking for any kind of personal or financial information via an email, text, instant message, or the like, chances are it’s a scam. For more, check out this article on how to spot the warning signs of a phishing attack. 

3. Check your credit report (and your child’s report too): 

In a time of data breaches large and small, checking your credit regularly is a wise move. Doing so will help you quickly spot issues and help you address them, as companies typically have a clear-cut process for dealing with fraud. You can get a free credit report in the U.S. via the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and other nations like the UK have similar free offerings as well. 

Do the same for your children. They’re targets too. High-value targets at that. Their credit reports are clean, which gives cybercrooks a blank slate to work with. Even more attractive is that child identity theft often goes long unnoticed until years later when the child gets older and rents an apartment or applies for their first credit card. 

4. Protect your family by protecting your devices: 

It’s that simple. Given that these vaccine passports will likely involve a digital certificate stored on a smartphone, app, or possibly other devices, protect them so you can protect yourself. Select comprehensive security software that will protect multiple devices so that everyone in your home is covered. 

5. Keep tabs on what’s happening in your region: 

You can bet that rumors will abound as to who is issuing what “passport”, under what restrictions, and with what implications for traveling, dining out, and visiting shops. All of that amounts to plenty of falsehoods and scams that attempt to rob you of your privacy, identity, and even your money. Turn to trusted news sources known for their even-handed reporting, such as Reuters or the Associated Press, and get your information from there. Knowing what the facts about vaccine passports are in your locality will arm you against fear-based attacks. 

Your privacy is a puzzle to cybercrooks—keep it that way 

A few months back, the FTC posted its own blog about sharing vaccine card photos. It’s a great read, in part because they used a helpful analogy to discuss privacy and identity theft: 

Think of it this way — identity theft works like a puzzle, made up of pieces of personal information. You don’t want to give identity thieves the pieces they need to finish the picture. 

Likewise, any vaccine passport you acquire will become yet another puzzle piece that you have to protect. 

In all, with post-pandemic recovery measures evolving before our eyes, keep an eye on your family’s security. Don’t give away any snippets of info that could be used against you and stay on the lookout for the scams hitting the internet that play on people’s uncertainty and fears. COVID-19 passports may be entirely new, yet they give cybercrooks one more way they can play their old tricks. 

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