How fake COVID-19 vaccination certificates are adding fire to the pandemic

As the vaccination process continues to gain momentum in various parts of the world, a new trend has surfaced on the dark web. Fake vaccination documents are reportedly being sold at about $250. These fake documents allow buyers to masquerade as vaccinated individuals who are now free to travel to various parts of the world despite the lockdown restrictions.

A new report by Check Point Research has highlighted the trend of forged negative COVID-19 test results and fake vaccine certificates offered on the Darknet and various hacking forums. These are reportedly being purchased by people seeking to board flights, cross borders, attend events as well as start new jobs.

The fake documents risk spreading the virus to more people across country borders. People who indulge in buying and misusing these fake documents continue to endanger the lives of themselves and those around them.

What are these ‘fake vaccine passports’?

The documents offered in these forums use the template derived from an original vaccination certificate. The forgers then use the buyers’ details to create fake vaccination documents which are then sent to the buyers.

The buyers are then free to use these fake documents in their digital or printed formats to convince authorities that they have been vaccinated, making them eligible to travel overseas. Apart from fake vaccination documents, fake COVID-19 test results are also available for prices of about $25.

The report also states that the Darknet advertisements for COVID-19 vaccines have increased by over 300% in the past three months. Further, the fake vaccination documents are available for various different vaccines, one of which is likely to be in use in the buyers’ countries. The options to choose from for buyers include AstraZeneca, Sputnik, SINOPHARM and Johnson & Johnson.

“Buy 2 fake certificates and get 3rd one free”

As the fake vaccination scandal has risen as a quick money-making scheme for a lot of people, multiple forgers have come into play to provide these fake documents. As a result, competing forgers have even come up with schemes to attract buyers.

One such scheme depicted in the report is offering a third fake document for free when you purchase two fake documents. “We do negative COVID tests, for travellers abroad, for getting a job etc. Everything is done within 24 hours, without big collaterals,” a hacking forum reads.

Awareness against fake documents

Amidst the fake document scandal, it is crucial that people understand that by using such false measures to fool authorities, they are not just putting their own lives at risk, but also those of people around them, including their family members. Here are a few ways by which the fake documents can be countered.

People should watch for authenticity indicators on documents such as misspellings, errors, low-quality logos, and errors in terminology (e.g. ‘corona disease’ or ‘the covid epidemic’).  Every country should internally manage a central repository of tests and vaccinated people, which can securely be shared between relevant authorised bodies within the country, according to Check Point.

Other recommendations from the cyber-security firm include: All data of tests and vaccination population should be digitally signed with encrypted keys. Airports, border keepers and any official enforcement agent should have the ability to scan a QR or bar code (which is digitally signed) on the certificate. The code should link to a secured repository that can validate the authenticity of the paper and whether the name on it did got the vaccine or was actually tested for COVID and got a (negative) result.

Going forward, countries should be able to share the digitally signed data to enable certificate holders to safely roam and cross borders. For example, Greece and Israel have already agreed to recognise each other’s vaccination certificates (also known as ‘green passports’).

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