Electronic Vaccination Certificates

It is becoming increasingly important to have a way to easily prove being vaccinated against Covid-19 in a way that works at least throughout Europe.

This can be a piece of paper and it can be an app.

People are very concerned about faking the certificate.

This can happen and it is of course a serious crime.

The problem is that this is needed really fast and thinking about a typical software project it is very ambitious to be live in two months if it has not really started yet.

But leaving that timing issue aside, is it a reasonable idea?

Actually there are apps for railway tickets, boarding passes and of course for helping to prove ones identity when logging into some ebanking systems.

In Switzerland railroad tickets are either bought for a specific ride. Or people buy a „flat rate“ and can use any train within Switzerland as often as they want and they have already paid it with the annual payment. And there is a combination of both that makes the ticket cheaper for people who pay a much lower annual rate.

Now there is a mobile app and a chip card. Both provide a QR-code. This allows the trainmen to scan it with the app on their phone and to see the photo of the person and the person’s subscriptions. The actual ticket for guys without the flatrate is another QR-code. This has been in use for a few years now and seems to work quite well.

Of course it is based on the fact that railroad trainmen are a relatively small, trusted group that has access to this kind of information about travelers. That is another issue than having a terminal to scan the app at every cinema, restaurant etc. throughout Europe. The photo is convenience, but it could be provided by showing an ID. The QR-code could be signed with the private key of a health agency, whose public key is available to the public and allows to verify that it is correct. This way it could just provide all the information without using a server. The other variant would be that the QR-code is a key for a lookup on the server. But not depending on storing the important data on a server but having it all in the QR-code is actually a good idea. If it is desired to provide test results as well, then it might be a bit easier to provide access to a server and store all the information there. But since vaccinations and tests can be done in any country and it probably is not a reasonable or desirable idea to implement some mutual data exchange pattern between the servers and it is probably also not possible to tap the NSA-servers for this information, it will probably anyway end up having one QR-code for each event, where events are tests and vaccinations and maybe recoveries of the actual sickness from Covid19. In this case they could work without accessing the server.

The whole functionality is probably not too difficult to build, but these security related software projects tend to require working even more thorough than usual. Also it is probably important to look into the issue of data privacy, which might complicate issues a lot, especially due to the fact that anybody in the world can read the certificate if it is shown and by that access sensitive data of the user. And users have to show it every day on many occasions…

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