Babies are cute, cuddly and worth a lot of money if you know how to exploit their existence. While the babies being virtually birthed by Kustodian CEO Chris Rock (no, not that Chris Rock) may not inspire the sort of bond found only between a parent and real child, they can be a financial windfall in the wrong (or right) hands. During a presentation at Def Con, Rock demonstrated how easy it was to get doctor and undertaker credentials from publicly available databases and use those credentials to register birth and death certificates. In fact, you don't even need to create a fake baby to kill; you can kill one of your friends (or enemies) thanks to a system that doesn't verify the identity of medical professionals.
Rock said during the presentation that this "end-of-life vulnerability" isn't so much a vulnerability, but more of a "fuckup. A global fuckup."
Creating virtual humans and filing death certificates for both fake and real people isn't new. The Anarchist Cookbook details the practice and hackers have been doing it for years. What is new is how placing the entire system online has streamlined the process.
The lifehack (in the most literal of terms) involves exploiting the Electronic Death Registration System (EDRS) and Electronic Birth Registration System (EBRS) using public physician databases to gather license numbers to create accounts. Once someone has an account, they could file a birth or death certificate with a state or national government. Rock highlighted the United States and Australian systems during the talk.
For births, the hack ends there. For deaths, a second account is needed; a funeral director. Like physicians, online databases of funeral directors are available with license numbers needed to create an account. Rock took it one step further by creating a site for a fake funeral home and used that to apply to be a funeral director in Australia. Three days after filing out the required online form, he was accepted.
Depending on where you live, becoming a funeral director in the US is just as easy. While some states require a degree to become a funeral director, other states just want you to pay a fee. The entire system is set up to make keeping track of new and recently deceased citizens easier at the expense of making sure the individuals filing the death certificates are legit.
Because governments let parents file for birth certificates years after a baby is actually born, in some instances you can fast-track a virtual child to 13 years old. After a few years, that kid with its own social security card could get loans, trade on the stock market, have its own social networking presence and, of course, get signed up for life insurance for its inevitable demise and cash-out by the parent.
Rock -- who has four real children
and four virtual children -- had fun with his talk indicating that virtually killing an enemy could make their lives a mess (it's hard to travel when the system thinks you're dead). He even spoke about virtually killing yourself in order to disappear and cash out your own life insurance. But, he noted that virtual or "designer" babies could be used by organized crime syndicates to create an army of fake humans that could get loans, trade on the stock market and rake up huge life insurance policies. It's a practice he discusses in his book.
Update: An earlier version of this article indicated that Chris Rock had virtual children of his own. He does not have any virtual children.
While this isn't technically identity theft, using a doctor's identity to create an account that issues death and birth certificates has to be breaking at least some laws including impersonating a physician.
To make it so regular folks can't create birth and death certificates, Rock told Engadget that government agencies need to have verification that includes a phone call that's linked to a physician's license. "That will stop the whole registration process," he added. So no chance of fake kids being added to the Rock family.
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