Vaccine passports: Expert says B.C. should be 'on standby to get hacked'

A successful cyberattack targetting Quebec’s digital vaccine certificates may portend to challenges ahead for the upcoming B.C. vaccine card, an expert says.

“The B.C. government needs to be on standby to get hacked, it’s probably going to happen,” said David Masson, the director of enterprise security at cyber-defence firm Darktrace PLC.

The Journal de Montreal reported that hackers obtained some QR codes tied to Quebec’s vaccine passport campaign, including those belonging to Premier François Legault and Health Minister Christian Dubé. Quebec’s vaccine passport is scheduled to roll out on Wednesday.

B.C.’s vaccine card is set to roll out Sept. 13 and users will need at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to be permitted entry into events and locations like concerts, sports games, pubs, restaurants and certain types of fitness activities. Grocery stores, retail outlets and health-care centres are exempt. By Oct. 24, users are expected to be fully vaccinated at least seven days after getting their second dose to access businesses and events.

“The B.C. government is in a difficult position because they’re trying to second guess what the future holds. And nobody really knows what the future holds,” Masson said.

“[Quebec] figured they covered all the angles, but guess what? They hadn’t. There’s always clever people out there who will find a way to get around things. And the B.C. government should be considering that.”

Individuals will receive a link to their proof of vaccination, which can be saved onto a phone to be shown to businesses. Those unable to access proof of vaccination online will be given “a secure alternative option,” according to a government statement.

B.C. Premier John Horgan has said the government is working with the privacy commissioner, the Ministry of Health and the office of the provincial health officer to ensure the information is kept secure.

“We’re confident that every tool we can use to protect this information and to make sure it can’t be duplicated or forged will be put in place and we’ll see how we unroll it on the 13th [of September] and can be judged at that time,” he said.

Masson praised the province’s decision to roll out an alternative for those without access to a smartphone.

“We can’t have a society where people are now being excluded from it because they can’t afford technology,” he said.

“Can it be forged? Yeah. Or counterfeited? Yeah, of course it can. But everything can be. And don’t forget, your smartphone can be forged.”

Masson said the province must prioritize where the data are stored and what kind of data are included on the app.

The federal government revealed this month it was partnering with the provinces on deploying a vaccine passport suitable for international travellers by the fall.

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