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Digital driver's licenses gaining momentum amid pandemic

Americans may soon be able to pull out their phones instead of a plastic card to prove their identities, as multiple states develop digital driver’s licenses.

HARRISBURG, Pa. — From boarding a plane to purchasing alcohol, Americans may soon be able to pull out their phones instead of a plastic card to prove their identities, as multiple states develop digital driver’s licenses.

But a growing number of cyber attacks has some cyber security experts worried about putting more personal information online.

At least 17 states have considered or implemented digital driver’s licenses: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.

“More and more states are interested in them because it does make it more convenient to roll in your driver’s license whenever you need to get it,” said Shelia Dunn, communications director for the National Motorists Association.

Benefits include the fact that you can’t lose a digital license and fewer trips to the DMV to renew.

During the coronavirus pandemic interest has heightened in contactless information, from event tickets to vaccine “passports.”

Cybersecurity experts warned there is a downside, though.

“Anything can be hacked. The bad guys are always going to be one step ahead of us,” said John Sancenito, president of Information Network Associates, an international risk management, investigative and security consulting firm based in Harrisburg.

The software isn’t always the softest target for hackers. Often, it’s the people using the software.

“We do have encryption that is unbreakable. If somebody at the driver’s license center clicks on a link, they give that hacker access to all of our information again,” said Angel Kern, a cyber security lecturer at Penn State Harrisburg.

Some digital license apps allow users to hide some information and only show what is applicable for the current usage. For example, a person could hide their address when using the digital license to prove age.

But any information on a license, including age, address, and eye and hair color, could be released even without being hacked.

“DMVs are already selling data and it will be a lot easier for them to sell it and then marketers will be able to market you a little easier,” Dunn said.

For those who value the convenience of the digital card, experts suggested not to worry too much. A breach of the information on a driver’s license would likely not be as harmful as a breach of credit card or bank information, which experts said happens disturbingly often.

“Quite frankly there are a lot of easier way in which the bad guys can go about getting your information other than trying to hack into your phone to get a copy of your driver’s license,” Sancenito said.

Pennsylvania officials have discussed digital driver’s licenses in recent years, but as of yet the state is not piloting any digital license program.

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