Schneier on Security
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December 22, 2009
Wow, is this a bad idea:
The Luggage Locator is an innovative product that travellers or anyone can use to locate items. It has been specifically engineered to help people find their luggage quickly and can also be used around the home or office.
A battery operated, two unit system, the Luggage Locator consists of a small transmitter about the size of a key chain and a lightweight receiver that attaches to any luggage handle. With the simple push of a button, the transmitter activates the receiver causing a bright flashing light and loud chirping sound. Locating your luggage after a long trip has never been quicker nor easier.
Anyone care to guess what's most likely to happen if a piece of luggage in an airport starts flashing and chirping? I think it'll be taken out to the tarmac and blown up using remote controlled bazookas.
Posted on December 22, 2009 at 12:20 PM
• 55 Comments
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I think every suitcase should come equip with one. Would be amusing to see the scatter if 50 people were using them at the same time at the baggage claim.
Or you could just attach it to someone else's suitcase, grab a security guard and push your button saying "that is my bag!" Great way to get someone else detained for a while.
Seriously, I've been noticing a lot of "worse than useless" products hit the market. They are even coming out with wi-fi in cars (why not just get it for your laptop). Don't even get me started on the so-called child-locators to put in your kid's pockets/coats/backpacks (which would be more accurately labeled "High Tech Stalking Devices").
Having worked for a cruise line, I can see the necessity for this. When a cruise ship "disembarks" all of its passengers (usually in groups of 200), most of the luggage (2-3 pieces per passenger) was just laid out randomly. And guess what? Almost everybody's luggage looks the same! Or at least, there are a few variations of what luggage looks like, and each one x50 or so. Thus for each group of 200 passengers, finding all luggage to its rightful owner took much time. And if someone's luggage found its way into a different group, well even more fun.
Granted, this was 10 years ago (perhaps a better system is in place, now), but we often said it'd be great to have some kind of beacon / locator device. It would have saved lots of time & effort.
Is it as bad an idea as the talking luggage locator: http://gizmodo.com/5412983/...
Imagine the tower of Babel effect in baggage reclaim.
Amusing that the Gizmodo article is complaining about the mere 45ft range. I would think that is more than adequate for mischief.
While I'm willing to believe that chirping, flashing luggage is more likely to be exploded than not, do real terrorist bombs usually chirp and flash? I thought that was just in the movies. I mean, the thing is supposed to explode and kill people, not warn them to move to minimum safe distance. Why bother with speakers, lights and LCD displays?
What's wrong with tying a distinctive ribbon to your luggage? Works for us. People seem to love the gadgets though.
@Mithrandir Terrorist bombs don't usually glow in the shape of Mooninites either, but that didn't stop Boston from freaking out.
Create a device that sniffs out the signals they transmit and then use the device to make all of them in a certain proximty go off. Hilarity ensues.
From the same page: "The possible applications of this product are limited only by our imagination."
Yes, they are. I wonder if they've really thought out the implications of that statement...
How do they ensure that the receiver is disabled from the moment the plane leaves the gate until it arrives at the gate -- during which it is illegal for a passenger to operate even purely passive RF receivers?
Umm, Flight Attendant, what is that chirping sound I'm hearing?
I loves me some Schneierian sarcasm!
If you're worried about an airline losing your luggage, just pack some fresh seafood inside.
Guaranteed, they'll find that bag within two or three days. Whether you want it back after that is a different problem....
The ONLY bombs most people have seen were in movies. Drawing attention to an explosive device is a huge tactical error. Even if the idea is to get people to gather around it before you detonate it, no one is stupid enough to stand next to something they think is a bomb.
This device is designed exactly backwards. The way it should work is that the transmitter is attached to the suitcase and the receiver is in the owners hand. When the suitcase is in reasonable proximity to the owner, the receiver will chirp or flash or even vibrate. That way, you find a spot somewhere two people back from the carousel, and when your receiver goes off you can barge in to grab your bag. For cruise passengers, you will still have to wander a bit, but you wont need to check every single bag.
Not quite. A device that transmitted all the time would soon exhaust any reasonably battery. What you need is a transponder system: You push the button on your remote, which wakes up the transmitter in the bag, which then transmits for, say, 5 minutes. Your remote then beeps when it hears the return signal.
Admittedly, this will cost more, which puts it at a marketing disadvantage for people who don't understand the flaws of the advertized system.
I was hoping it was a GPS lo-jack deal that would 'phone home' when your luggage landed in the wrong airport and maybe send you a text message with coordinates where it has landed.
@Hobbes "no one is stupid enough to stand next to something they think is a bomb". Worked in an office that had an anthrax scare once. People went over to look at all the white powder. Yup, evolution works in reverse
@Hobbes "no one is stupid enough to stand next to something they think is a bomb".
@Gary: "Worked in an office that had an anthrax scare once. People went over to look at all the white powder. Yup, evolution works in reverse"
That's why they teach people in self-defense class to yell "fire" instead of "help." Scream fire and everyone comes running, scream help and everyone ignores it.
Of course, "help" might mean responsibility or danger (like an encounter with a perpetrator) and "fire" just means you get to watch someone else in danger.
The anthrax thing puzzles me, but then again, unless you yell "bomb" people seem to want to see.
How about a directional RFID transceiver? If it sends a directional ping, and it responds specifically to your luggage's RFID tag, you could still find your own luggage fairly quickly, and the issue of a pile of chirping, flashing bags wouldn't arise (and if you give the directional transceiver a nice, practical gun configuration, you can get arrested or shot with greater efficiency as well).
"I think it'll be taken out to the tarmac and blown up using remote controlled bazookas."
Saddly nothing as entertaining.
These days they are more likly to use a "disrupter" which unlike the ScFi device is a stainless steel gun that fires between 2 and 10 ounces of sailine solution at very high velocity into anything that looks like a control unit or main body of explosives.
On another issue do not under any circumstances attach a battery powerd device to your "hold lugage" if flying. The chances are you would spend quite some time explaining it to airport security who take a dim view of battery powered devices in luggage.
And if it uses radio frequencies and not say ultra sound then Opps offence number two on the charge sheet.
Chances are you would not be flying for quite some time...
So not a very good idea.
HJohn: what is wrong with WiFi in cars? That's a great idea for carpools, or any scenario where more than one person regularly in the car can use the net.
Of course, I would buy a general WiFi solution like a Verizon MiFi (in fact, I have one and love it) instead of a dedicated in-car system. It's nice to be able to carry your Internet around with you.
@yacoob I favour the sentient pearwood luggage that Terry Prachett dreamed up in The Colour of Magic. Loyal, determined, moderately intelligent, and apparently no fan of authority.
"no one is stupid enough to stand next to something they think is a bomb."
You think so?
A couple of stories for you (with the names of the parties removed).
The first happened in London not so long ago, as some people may know there is the wreak of a US ship from WWII with enough munitions on it to rival a small tactical nuke or ten should it go off. Occasionaly some of the munitions turn up on the river banks or other unexploded bomb from that period etc.
UXB Cptn, aproaches a largish device with two police officers standing next to it. He ask's what on earth are you two standing here for?
To which one constable replies "guarding this bomb"
UXB Cptn, "why are you not guarding the perimiter?"
To which the other constable replies "incase somebody unauthorised gets through".
UXB Cptn "who ordered you to stand next to the bomb?"
1st Constable "nobody, we where first on the scene".
As you will apreciate from this sometimes training gets the better of common sense...
Secondly an incident that happened in Brighton a good few years ago but has a funny side to it.
A retiered army officer had a very bad case of decending piles, and he used the handle of a WWII milles bomb he had in his possession to work them back up inside.
Unfortunatly on one occasion the bomb got stuck in his back passage and he was taken to A&E (ER) where the examining doctor felt that the situation required proffesional help, on discovering the bomb was most probably live, the A&E Dept and a large part of the hospital where cleared.
Imagine if you can this poor old officer lying face down on a trolly with a surgeon on one side and a UXB officer on the other assisiting in what at the best of times would have been a delicate operation.
As the old saying has it "It's a bum job but somebody has to do it"...
@ Anderer Gregor -- during which it is illegal for a passenger to operate even purely passive RF receivers?
No it's not.
I think it'll be taken out to the tarmac and blown up using remote controlled bazookas.
Promise? Man, that would be worth the price of the device, used luggage, and an airline ticket if I could get a recording.
And I think Mr. Montreuil has a much better idea for a product.
Err, one of the problems for the non-suicide bomber is triggering the explosion at the best possible time. Normally this requires a certain amount of bodging with some kind of hobbyist radio control hardware.
Now, they can buy the entire mechanism in one easy shopping trip without even looking suspicious.
Even better, if they can manage to access a passenger and swap their trigger device, they can get some innocent traveller to trigger the bomb.
I would be the first to admit there is a difference between "prohibited" and "illegal" but due to the complex nature of the way things work in law then it may well be illegal.
Many years ago operating any wireless equipment without a licence was an offence in the UK and the same in many other countries.
It is still an offence to operate equipment for radio bands that are not either "broadcast bands" or "licence excempt bands" and for which you do not have a required licence or permit "to operate" issued from one government semi-independent organisation or another (OfCom, JFMG, etc).
In Europe you further have the R&TTE Directive and other subsiduary legislation and type aproval test requirments for equipment.
The R&TTE has a number of requirments one of which is that equipment has to be correctly type aproved and marked.
There are exceptions but the only one that could be said to be in place for such a piece of equipment is if the "operator" had constructed the equipment it from "a kit of parts" which clearly does not apply in this case.
FCC legislation has similar requirments.
Further the aircraft safety legislation recognises various prohibitions as having legal status.
Now arguably some of these restrictions are out dated (ie mercury thermometers). But that on radio equipment still makes sense. A radio receiver can be of two basic forms Direct Conversion (DC) or Super Hetrodyne (SH).
Both types require an oscilator to work, invariably the design of low cost equipment alows this oscilator to leak out of the equipment. Worse the oscilator normaly has distortion of one form or another that leads to harmonic radiation be it an integer multiple or sub multiple. Then there is the mixer to be considered...
If such a piece of equipment emits RF energy in a frequency band used for aero communications or navigation then the operator of the equipment may be putting the aircraft safety at risk which is an offence liable to prosecution in just about any part of the world. A charge once raised against you is going to be very hard to prove otherwise, and in most places the onus is put on you to prove your inocence not the other way around.
@"it'll be taken out to the tarmac and blown up using remote controlled bazookas."
My money is on "dropped in a pool teeming with sharks with lasers on their heads"
@Bruce "remote controlled bazookas"
Now I know what I want for christmas; keep yer sharks with frickin' lasers.
Never mind the security implications, what happens if this device becomes popular? Every second suitcase would be wailing and flashing away at the baggage claim, and you'd be no closer to figuring out which one is yours.
@Andre: "what is wrong with WiFi in cars? That's a great idea for carpools, or any scenario where more than one person regularly in the car can use the net. Of course, I would buy a general WiFi solution like a Verizon MiFi (in fact, I have one and love it) instead of a dedicated in-car system. It's nice to be able to carry your Internet around with you."
Anyone who is a big enough Internet user that they would want to tap into a car's WiFi while moving is probably someone who would have it on their laptop without the car anyway.
So my concern is with the driver using it while driving. He would own it, and chances are it would only be purchased by a driver that didn't have it on his laptop already.
I think nomen publcus got it right, you wont have to send this out to get it blown up, the obvious use of this devise and a large battery with a relay connected where the speaker on the thing is supposed to be, yeah, think up a million uses for that.
"Every second suitcase would be wailing and flashing away at the baggage claim, and you'd be no closer to figuring out which one is yours."
It reminds me of mobile phones in the days befor customisable ring tones and when they where still to big to carry in your pocket so you had a holster on your belt.
You would be standing in a bar in Broadgate London and somebodies (Nokia) phone would ring.
It was like watching the gunfight at the OK Coral as everebody would reach for their hip to get to their phone...
I'm gonna vote with my dollars and wait for remote-controlled bazooka shaped luggage.
@small cabin: "They will accuse that sound as a bomb ready to explode if all luggage has this. This is just too dangerous to use."
I know! They could have it say "THIS IS NOT A BOMB. DO NOT PANIC. YOU WILL NOT DIE. THIS IS NOT A BOMB." in a loud, deep voice. And that will make it okay! Right?
Guys? Where you all going?
WRT passenger radio receiver user on aircraft:
A close reading of FAA PAR §91.21 indicates that the regulatory landscape has some catching up to do with reality. I highly doubt that many (US) airlines have gotten around to specifically exempting the use of deep brain stimulation technology or for that matter simple checkbook calculators yet the language of the regulation clearly would require the carrier to do so. The same could be argued to apply to insulin meters and pumps as well (the latter being something you don't want to have to keep stopped the three hours you spend waiting for them to decide that they should have let you off the plane already).
Besides, once upon a time the carriers actively encouraged passengers to listen to the ATC traffic. That was stopped in many cases not due to RFI concerns but because the lawyers were afraid of passengers actually listening to ATC traffic lest something less than optimal be utterred over the air.
Mercury prohibition on aircraft is not outdated. Have you ever seen what the stuff does to aluminium?
These gadgets will be banned once some joker smuggles a disguised transmitter aboard the aircraft and uses it to set off all the receivers in the hold at 11,000 metres.
The real problem is that from an enforcement point of view, the easiest way to ban such things is to ban ALL electronic gadgets from the cabin.
So yes, it's a really, REALLY bad idea.
I bet the TSA and DHS would have a field day with Santa's sleigh. Rudolph's nose my trigger a call to the bomb squad.
"no one is stupid enough to stand next to something they think is a bomb...."
Really? You'd think no one would be stupid enough to hang around staring at a guy waving a gun whom they think is a random wacko, but have you seen the videos of that DC snowball fight?
"Mercury prohibition on aircraft is not outdated. Have you ever seen what the stuff does to aluminium?"
Yes under rather specific circumstances it causes elemental aluminium to turn to dust rather rapidly by disloging the bond the aluminium oxide has at the surface of the aluminium.
However to do this the mecury has to come into direct contact with the aluminium not the molecule thick layer of aluminium oxide on it's surface. It is also reputed that water needs to be present for the reaction to happen.
Which is why the aircraft manufactures use aluminium aloys where this (is supposadly) not an issue any longer. However there are still cases of "insurance write offs" where mercury has come into contact with an airframe.
It is said that glass files of mercury where used as a sabotage weapon during the second world war. However I've yet to see confirmation evidence.
However if you do have a yen to fly a DC3 then maybe you should take a red alcohol thermometer instead, or one of those dinky little digital ones (just check the battery type first ;)
I think an rfid would work and would add many benefits. When you check luggage, the system could associate your rfids with your account and give you access to see where your luggage is through a web browser. Kinda like UPS. This may add some security concerns though. A bomber could potentially use this info to decide when to detonate.
Quoted in the Detroit Freepress today regarding the attempted bombing of the Delta airplane. New technology needed....yep, start getting T-ray up to speed.
I foresee a comsit where a gang of thieves uses RFID locators to track tourists in order to steal or con them out of their wealth, and tourists rent-a-gun along with their unmarked rent-a-car.
Set it in Miami. Hmm- - -
I'm astounded more people don't do this very simple thing; tie a strip of cloth across your handles. Pick something with some color and a pattern, not a solid. Makes it incredibly simple to spot your (black) luggage in a sea of similar suitcases, on the conveyor or in a stack by a cruise ship or puddle jumper.
Somehow I don't think the designers meant for this to be used in airports. More likely they had trains or ships in mind.
Bright red duct tape on each bag. Stands out, and works. Have used it for years.
This reminds me of something I used to do years ago (pre 9-11). There was a nifty science store near my home (sciplus.com), and I would send people care packages with a box full of random stuff.
The one step too far was a cute little gadget that, when the light level went up, would start chirping and blinking LEDs. It was not very sensitive, so I figured it would stay off until the package arrived and give the person a nice shock.
Well ... postal scanners apparently use bright lights in some places, and just enough light leaked in to set the alarm off, which it did through the night until the postal inspector finally found it and had the package opened. I got all the stuff back in a clear baggie, with a note from the post office to Never. Do. That. Again.
A device to remotely "set off" a device inside a piece of luggage...
Didn't anyone else think, "off-the-shelf remote detonator"?
Better yet, attach it to someone else's luggage, with recording, "I'm a 30-second bomb! I'm a 30-second bomb! 29... 28... 27..."
Hilarity ensues. (Yes, I stole the idea)
My mother-in-law uses a much better and cheaper system. She ties a big red ribbon to the handle. There is no way to miss it. I did the same myself many times and never had any trouble to find my black samsonite among the other 237 identical ones on the baggage claim.
I wonder if the transmitter will have the range to activate the locator when my bags are in Abu Dhabi.
"no one is stupid enough to stand next to something they think is a bomb."
Not a bomb, but same basic idea: Was once on the observation level of the Florida capitol and watched a semi crash into an overhead train tressle. Said semi and container both caught on fire. Police did a very good job blocking traffic at the scene. And yet people were driving around side streets to get close, then getting out of their cars to scramble closer to the blaze. Even though what the semi was carrying could have been anything (turned out to be gunpowder) people were so damn insistant to get right up next to the big burning thing.
Sometimes, I think the most successful terrorist attack would be to start a small fire in a trashcan or somesuch; then, when 99% of the people within 100 miles gather around to watch, slit their throats one-by-one - low-tech, cheap, and you'd probably get well over half before anyone even noticed (and that's including the ones already gurgling on the ground, straining urgently to see the little orange flame one more time).
As far as I know this thing has been approved by the FAA. This would seem to indicate that it is legal to use. As to whether it is useful or not...
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