Why is COVID-19 spreading despite negative RT-PCR test reports?

The authenticity of the test certificate is probably a more significant reason than the accuracy of an RT-PCR test

Many countries looking at preventing the spread of COVID-19 use RT-PCR tests and corresponding test reports to identify those having Covid and then manage their isolation and treatment while allowing others to go about their normal activities.

That the RT-PCR test itself may not be reliable against new mutations is one obvious challenge. However, the major problem lies elsewhere. Governments are increasingly finding it difficult to verify the authenticity of COVID negative certificates and reports. The fraudsters are printing the reports and certificates in thousands. It is causing a monumental challenge in containing the spread of the pandemic.

RT-PCR negative reports are one of the critical documents that enable safe travel. But the irony is that there are ‘factories’ that manufacture these reports for a price. The reports are easily faked and tamperable. The current systems to make the results available online make verification ineffective due to inadequate security, URL phishing, unstable connection or lack of network connectivity at the verifier’s end.

A simple string search of “fake rt pcr report” on Google throws up the magnitude of this fraud.

screen shots of news articlesspate of news articles on fake Covid test reports

It is widely known and accepted that only a fraction of the cases are ever caught, and they are the tip of an iceberg. In the current situation, in most places, probably the authenticity of the certificates is at best a toss of a coin.

What are the causes, and why do fraudsters take advantage of the situation?

  1. One of the key reasons is that the current reports even if they have QR codes, work on URL redirection. Hence, the verifier could be redirected to a phishing website.

  2. In many countries, the internet connection is not always available or steady. In many cases, Internet connectivity can be poor/non-existent. Hence, the capability to do Offline Validation is a must. RT-PCR certificates are carried as physical reports in many cases. It is impossible to differentiate a fake document from the real one. The current solutions are not Physical-Digital, whereas they need to be.

  3. One of the critical challenges that goes unheeded is about the security and privacy of the healthcare information of all those that have tested. Usually results are stored in a centralised way and databases can pose a vulnerability. The more the number of people and certificates, the more is the possibility of a hack and a compromise of privacy.

This is how RT-PCR reports should look and work

Secure QR codes offer a 100% tamper-proof solution.

  1. No URL redirection whatsoever. Every piece of data on the report or certificate is stored within its tamper-proof QR code.

  2. It works offline even without network connectivity.

  3. The report is simple and has a similar look and content when presented on a smartphone or paper and is thus Physical-Digital allowing people with low digital skills to also carry and use them as required.

  4. Since no verifier or external entity is given any access to the database of any person (s), the solution has inbuilt security and privacy for healthcare data.

How does a secure QR code do that?

A secure QR code solution uses PKI based mechanism enabling de-centralised validation. The sophisticated technology uses established cryptography for quick, efficient, and effective verification using ubiquitous QR code. Unlike traditional QR, ‘secure QR code’ has an inbuilt fail-safe mechanism. Only authorised issuers can generate it, and the QR is digitally signed with a private key. The Qryptal Secure QR code encapsulates the critical information that needs to be communicated and verified and is generated in a small size with the help of a proprietary algorithm. This secure QR code is tamper-proof. It is signed by the issuer’s private key and can be easily verified by the corresponding public key.

A simple smartphone app or a desktop camera to scan this document can validate the information in both paper and digital format. The verification takes less than a second.

Sample Covid test report with secure QR codeSample Covid Test Report with Secure QR Code

Secure QR code provides an easy and foolproof way to create and verify RT-PCR certificates.

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