In today’s electronic passports, the contactless smart card IC used to
store personal information about the traveler is usually embedded in the
stiff, multi-layer cardboard used for the booklet’s cover. Having the
IC in the cover has proven itself to be an effective approach, given the
enormous number of secure border crossings that cover-mounted ICs have made
possible, but moving the IC to the inside of the ePassport, to the data page,
would be an even more secure approach.
Forensic crime experts have expressed concern over having the chip in the
cover, since criminals could, in theory, swap a fake cover for a real one or
insert counterfeit pages into a genuine cover. Placing the chip inside the
data page would create a stronger link between the passport holder and the
printed information, and would give the electronically stored information an
extra level of protection against physical attacks.
Why hasn’t the smart card IC already moved to the data page? Because,
until now, the module that houses the IC has been too thick to work with a
Moving ID circuitry from the cover to the inside pages increases
Now it’s possible
The goal of being able to place an IC in the data page of an ePassport has
been one of the reasons why our ID engineers focus on miniaturization. And
now, with our latest contactless module, the MOB10, the data page is within
reach. Measuring just 200 µm – roughly four times the thickness of
the average human hair, the MOB10 is an impressive 20% thinner than its
predecessor, and ideally suited for use in ePassport data pages.
The NXP path to thinner packaging
The MOB10 is amazingly thin, but it’s also designed to withstand the
mechanical stresses of ID production and in-field use. The module can sustain
the micro-cracks associated with naked flip-chips, and can hold up in the face
of environmental stresses, such as exposure to humidity, chemicals and
solvents. Increased product quality also makes the MOB10 less susceptible to
thermal stress and reverse engineering tactics, including light and laser
attacks. What’s more, the antenna pads of the MOB10 are still large
enough, despite the smaller footprint, to support efficient connection
technologies, so there’s no loss of reliability.
All this combines to create a smart card IC that is thin enough, durable
enough and secure enough to be embedded in the data page. The IC can become
part of the page itself, which means any attempt to peel off the IC or
re-insert it would destroy the page and make the entire passport unusable.
Having an ultra-thin yet durable module also means that the data page can be
made out of something stronger than paper, like polycarbonate. Using
polycarbonate creates a more resilient data page, able to withstand all the
rigors of real-world use for at least a decade or more and also opens up
possibilities for adding extra security layers.
Room for extra security layers
With polycarbonate as the basis for the data page, ePassport manufacturers can
take advantage of new production techniques that make eIDs even more secure.
The German eID card, for example, is embedded with a secure contactless chip,
but also uses layers of polycarbonate to include more than 20 different
security features. Some of these security features, such as images that change
depending on the viewing angle, can be seen with the naked eye, while other
features, such as UV printing and micro text, can only be viewed with special
Packing all those layers into a single, standard-sized eID card takes a lot of
innovation and requires a sophisticated mix of visual effects, special
printing technologies, secure lamination and electronic personalization. Now,
with an ultra-thin module like the MOB10 embedded in the data page, ePassports
can begin taking advantage of these advanced, polycarbonate-based security
features and still include the secure microcontroller and its antenna,
without adding bulk.
The secure microcontroller housed in the MOB10 can be programmed to support
additional security features without adding steps to the production process or
the thickness of the data page. The secure microcontroller becomes an integral
part of the data page and can evolve as security requirements change, yet
continue to support easy document verification on different inspection levels,
with or without special tools.
The MOB10 is the first ultra-thin platform designed to be compatible with
existing production lines. This helps manufacturers keep costs low, and makes
it easier to evolve production capacity as requirements change.
The MOB10 is available in the MOA8 footprint, so it can be integrated into
existing manufacturing processes without modifying or replacing the in-place
setup. Also, because the MOB10 module can accommodate a number of different
secure ICs, the designers of ePassports can support a range of ICs without
increasing production costs or slowing down the production line. Manufacturers
often produce eIDs and ePassports on the same production line, so having a
single module support multiple formats helps streamline operations and
The MOB10 is designed for high volume, and offers higher density per reel.
This optimizes machine throughput and storage space, so the producers of
ePassports can operate more cost-efficiently while producing more resilient
end products. To ensure full flexibility for the implementation, the MOB10
solution is compatible with ICAO 9303 and ISO/IEC 14443.
Paving the way
For nearly a decade, our proven MOB modules have set the industry standard by
focusing on production, productivity, quality and security. With the MOB10,
we can look forward to lighter, more durable and more secure ePassports, with
smart card ICs embedded in their data pages instead of their booklet covers.
What’s more, the MOB10 will have an impact beyond ePassports, since the
ultra-thin format can be used to boost security in other types of eIDs, too.
The result will be smarter, more convenient ways for us to identify ourselves,
while ensuring the highest levels of privacy and protection.
To learn more about the MOB10, NXP will host a webinar on Wednesday, November
8 between 12-8 a.m. PST.
To register for the free webinar, click here.