Schneier on Security
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March 12, 2012
Video Shows TSA Full-Body Scanner Failure
The Internet is buzzing about this video, showing a blogger walking through two different types of full-body scanners with metal objects. Basically, by placing the object on your side, the black image is hidden against the scanner's black background. This isn't new, by the way. This vulnerability was discussed in a paper published last year by the Journal of Transportation Security. And here's a German TV news segment from 2010 that shows someone sneaking explosives past a full-body scanner.
The TSA's response is pretty uninformative. I'd include a quote, but it really doesn't say anything. And the original blogger is now writing that the TSA is pressuring journalists not to cover the story.
These full-body scanners have been a disaster since they've been introduced. But, as I wrote in 2010, I don't think the TSA will back down. It would be too embarrassing if they did.
Posted on March 12, 2012 at 4:30 PM
• 51 Comments
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Good to know our security depends on what is embarrassing to the TSA or not.
A small change to procedures would fix the problem; getting people to turn around while in the scanner would reveal an edge-on object.
If the people won't turn around (as if), just rotate the scanners by 90° during use.
ANY government agency that allows it's actions to be dictated by what would be embarrassing more than by what actually gets their job done should be disbanded instantly. Even just being influenced by what would be embarrassing should be highly suspect.
@bcs That would pretty much cover the majority of government agencies.
The last couple times I've flown (in the last 2 weeks), I've noticed that they haven't been using the scanners, but have been directing everyone through the old metal detectors. I wonder if this is happening elsewhere.
The only problem with your common-sense solution, Jim, is that they already have a speed issue with these things. I've been through 3 security lines with these scanners in the last year (most recently 1 week ago) and every time I've not had to opt-out because they start waving people through the metal detectors when the backup starts. Doubling the amount of time (or more if it results in more positives) would create even more issue for them.
Thanks for the commentary Don, I haven't been to the US for a good few years. A series of differently-oriented scanners in a line would provide the equivalent view, and it's 'just' an engineering problem to integrate the views into a 3D model in real time. I mean, if they actually cared :-)
As you say, detecting more things doesn't necessarily help the situation, as there are other inefficiencies in the whole system.
I'm a little surprised he got this past the MMW ATD machine. The antennas spin around you to create a 3D image, unlike the x-ray backscatter machines.
Of course, this does nothing to find things taped to the bottom of your feet (which you can hide beneath socks). In order to make pat-downs "equivalent" to an AIT scan, it seems that they no longer check your feet. You could make the argument that you can't hide anything useful under your feet (not enough explosives, and no one is going to be able to hijack an airliner with a knife anymore), why are they still scanning shoes?
And finally, the last time I opted out, they were so busy trying to get my bags off of the xray conveyor belt that I was out of their sight for at least a good minute or so, surrounded by lots of passengers. I could have easily handed something off to an accomplice. CCTV coverage seemed inadequate to detect this.
a terrorist organization doesn't need to fit all the explosives under one person's feet. They can send dozens, or hundreds of people through. Or send the same few through many times. Just need to find a good hiding place for the explosives until you've stockpiled enough in the sterile area.
Doubling the time in the scanner also doubles the doseage. With the backscatter x-ray scanners this is ionizing radiation, and thus dose is cumulative.
This was never about security. it was about Chertoff and other Bush cronies cashing in. Scum.
Why on earth would terrorists bother going through as passengers? Airport workers are screened a lot less and have more time to setup nefarious plans.
We can't keep drugs and weapons out of prisons despite there being no civil liberties, lots more screening time etc. Anyone determined enough will be able to make it through airport screening. If the point you pick up the bad guys is by some low paid grunt at the airport staring at a screen then the system has failed. The point of airport security should be to catch occasional idiots and that is about it - something any metal detector can do.
The response is to not be terrorised. It is to live well and not in fear. It is to have made terrorist actions completely pointless. As a bonus this works whether they go via plane, train or shopping centers.
The response is to not be terrorised. It is to live well and not in fear.
Amen, Brother Roger.
I'm in an ugly mood right now so don't take this rant personally. I just despise it when people say the solution is "not to live in fear". If only it were that easy the world would be a vastly different place. The human mind is easily conditioned, especially in childhood, and once conditioned those habits can be damn difficult to break. Exhibit A is chemical rehabilitation of criminals which has never worked as desired. Some of the bravest people I know are people who struggle to hold down a steady job because of the hell they have been through in their lives. I god damn wish there was a little box in the software of the human mind labeled "fear" that a person could uncheck and that would be the end of the matter. It would make psychotherapy a whole hell of a lot more efficient. Point being: many people who leave in fear have a damn good reason to live in fear. Chest thumping about "not living in fear" disparages the real hurdles many people face with fear in their everyday experience. It ignores the fact that for many people fear functions as a necessary survival mechanism. Simply tossing around verbal amorphisms is about as useless as a bucket of sand on Mars.
Without presuming to speak for roger, and with full respect for the reality of the painful psychological consequences of trauma, I believe that those of us who are emotionally & intellectually capable must resist the self-harming FUD distractions that are proffered by the powers-that-be. (My frame of reference is as a citizen of the USA, so I refer to those P-T-B.)
Like many people in NYC and elsewhere, I lost friends on 9.11. I watched the buildings crush them. I understand trauma. That being said, I do not claim to "own" that catastrophic crime, nor mean to play it as a trump card here. (Further disclaimer: I did not lose a spouse or parent.) But I'll be damned before I quietly watch the aforementioned powers-that-be abuse the memory of my friends, or even the simple fact of their murders, by encouraging the populace to succumb to the FUD that has been manufactured by those who cynically profit from it, e.g. producers of full-body scanner snake oil.
I agree w/ you that fear is a necessary and reasonable survival mechanism. I believe that my innate fear of heights is rational and evolutionarily justifiable. But I think that the reasonable fear you are describing is based on legitimate personal experience, not the BS that is hawked to make us subservient.
I submit these thoughts respectfully, and apologize if I misunderstood your posting.
Daniel, of course fear is a powerful emotion and it is wrong to trivialize it. And of course the attacks that led to the TSA's formation instilled great fear into the hearts and minds of countless Americans. People who directly witnessed the attacks may indeed be scarred for life. And a reorganization of airport security checkpoints might have made sense at the time, to restore confidence in aviation security. (Never mind that the 9/11/01 attacks were not caused by a failure at any checkpoint.)
But I believe Roger was referring to the role of the US government in fostering and perpetuating that fear.
There are so many instances where Homeland Security has warned us that attacks are imminent. When Bin Laden was killed, we learned that there were scribblings about attacking trains. As the tenth anniversary of 9/11/01 approached, we were bombarded with reports of an imminent attack on Manhattan, and the NYPD was out in full force performing warrantless vehicle searches. How many times are we told on the looping airport announcements, and at subway and train stations, to "See something, say something"?
We therefore have a populace that is convinced that we are now living in a dark and dangerous world, with potential terrorists lurking at every corner. By corollary, these same people have short memories and seem to believe that prior to 9/11/01, there was no terrorism, and that the world was a blissful place.
The US government has a direct role in instilling that mindset in so many Americans.
I was actually addressing people all over the world. The actions taken by governments are on behalf of their people - as a result of the fear of their people. People would see the TSA for the nonsense it is if they had lost the fear, or put it in context.
There is some rationality to fear, but it is obviously completely misplaced. A 9/11 worth of deaths happen on US roads every month. Has the fear over roads been 120 times that of the fear of 9/11?
And yes I have lived where there were "bomb blankets" on shopping centre walls, narrowly missed being in the WTC on 9/11, and missed other attacks around the rest of the world by less then 24 hours.
By giving in to terrorists you are giving them the very currency they want. Make their actions count for nothing.
Why would it be more embararssing for the TSA
to end the use of nude scanners
than for a sovereign Eurocountry?
It's very charitable to call the TSA response "uninformative." Blogger Bob, who is otherwise a masterful propagandist in the Goebbels "Big Lie" mode, wrote an uncharacteristically amateurish post. It begins with two sentences attacking the blogger and the video, but making no attempt to refute what the video reveals. The rest of the post seems to be an attempt to distract with a smokescreen, including unsubstantiated claims about the safety and effectiveness of the scanners, followed by a reminder that the TSA has "20 layers of security."
I'd can only guess that Pistole and company must have found the video severely embarrassing and damaging to the TSA's already abysmal credibility. The TSA's Best and Brightest probably had several classified groupthink sessions, where they decided to order Bob to attack the blogger and then attempt to convince the press to "responsibly" stop any further discussion of the video. The desperation of the damage control measures can only suggest that the damage was significant.
The Mystery of the Duqu Framework
Igor Soumenkov | Kaspersky Lab Expert
Posted March 07, 15:58 GMT
"While analyzing the components of Duqu, we discovered an interesting anomaly in the main component that is responsible for its business logics, the Payload DLL. We would like to share our findings and ask for help identifying the code."
Sounds like we should all look for ways to make the TSA's antics more visible to people who will laugh at them. When the TSA's very existence starts making personal laughingstocks of all of its supporters in Congress, it will go away.
Amy Alkon's confrontation with them is a good place to start.
Plenty of good points laid out here, I especially love the one by Saul that 9/11 was NOT caused by check-in screening issues, the terrorists stayed at a hotel next to the NSA, and had an intricate plan that froze financial markets and instilled lots of fear in our people..
"See Something, Say Something" is akin to saying YOU should be on constant lookout for your own security, and report taxi cab drivers that talk on their cell phones and open their trunks (look at their PSA's, it's there)...so why are we paying for that agency and those f$%king PSA's?!?!
There's always that little conspiratorial side in me that these brain-dead security procedures leave the door open for more spending on security contractors and new agencies (DHS is fairly new) once the next strike happens.
All this being said, yes the world could blow up tomorrow...but I also get the sense that not a lot of people are really capable of carrying out a single murder, much less mass murder.
Of course I can't leave without saying...
Hey, Blogger Bob! You imbecile, 20 layers of security with people that actually inspect radioactive dirty bomb materials and let it through is beyond stupid!!! The next embarrassment will end with some dead Americans...
Thanks for your comment. I'm one of those people who glibly say things like "don't live in fear" as though this were an easy matter -- your counterpoint is a very important corrective.
I'd like to reframe my own ideas, in what I hope is a more constructive form. I believe that it's better to make decisions -- guiding one's own life, influencing family, governance etc. -- primarily on a positive basis ("this is where we want to go"). Fear-based decision making is inherently and necessarily focused on where we DON'T want to go. My own life experience seems to bear this out: in the great majority of cases, my decisions based on fear just don't work well for me.
I don't believe that fear is worthless, or should be ignored. It is natural, valuable, and often life-saving. But people are at their most primitive level of perceiving, processing information, and reasoning when scared. Our natural fear reactions are best suited to the rain forests and savannahs of our forebears, and in the modern world often impel us to do EXACTLY THE WRONG THING.
I also don't believe that it's helpful to tell people, "don't be scared." Our control over our emotions is limited, though over the years I have learned how focusing my thought, attention and reason can go a long way to calm my fears. But almost everybody often feels fear, and for a lot of us, it is a constant companion.
It is crucial to keep in mind, that feeling fear, and giving in to fear, are not the same thing! We may not rule our emotions, but neither are we doomed to be ruled by them.
For me, all of this is greatly multiplied when it comes to terrorism. In the world as a whole, and in the West particularly, the physical violence of terrorism is microscopic compared to other sources of bodily trauma (like transport-related incidents). In turn, all of these violent events are absolutely dwarfed by the horrific consequences of smoking, drug abuse, poor diet, and sedentary lifestyle.
For most people, the danger from terrorism is somewhere in a range (roughly estimating here) between lightning strikes and bee stings. These maim and kill people, and call for a certain degree of care and precaution. But it would be a tragedy for human dignity and constitutional protections of liberty to be stripped away from an entire country because of such hazards.
If a person is so terrified of lightning that it inhibits normal functioning, most of us can agree that such a person would benefit from being able to develop a proportional sense of the magnitude of lightning risk, and to be able to live life accordingly.
But there's yet another special dimension to terrorism. In general, the murderers who commit such atrocities have a definite intention to cause vast numbers of people to feel scared, and to have the path of their lives be swayed by that fear. When we react in the most natural and spontaneous ways to terrorism, WE make the terrorists successful.
Personally, I don't like terrorists, I don't approve of them, and I literally would prefer death to giving them what they want. If I buy into becoming terrorized, I am part of the problem -- and a component of their diseased system. No way!
@Jim and @Don
My prediction is that the TSA will investigate and find the problem is due to a lack of proper investment in body scanners... doubling the number of scanners in use would 'obviously' make everything twice as quick and twice as safe.
Having established that any dose from the scanners is negligible the TSA can double it safe in the knowledge it's twice as negligible!
You guys just don't get the numbers...
What I particularily do not like about security people is their behavior in an international place (like inside the airport international area). If you are in transit, you did not enter the country, that place is a "no law area", you cannot go to court against anyone: there is no court anyway there. It is particularily important on these places that everyone is perfectly respectable, mostly people being paid to do stuff there, the whole world transportation is based on that fact.
With that in mind, I do not think someone who looks like a security agent at something which looks like a security check should be able to touch my balls as a routine check (maybe to see if they contains liquid?).
these body scanners are a blatant attempt to sell crap to the govt that nobody needs and to condition those traveling in and through the US to tolerate violation of their 4th amendment.
body scanners, etc, have a place in military or combat areas, where smuggling has a reasonable likelihood of being a life or death matter. it does not make sense to do this for all travelers.
the TSA should look at the passive millimeter wave scanners since they don't emit radiation and can be used over a larger area.
That was discussed before multiple times: what is priority? invest money & resources in equipment which make people safer (fighting actual dangers - real risks) or to make people feel safer (imaginary risks).
Money allocation is based primary on latter, because "Most of our thinking is emotionaly based. We then use logic to justify our actions"(David J. Lieberman, Ph.D).
I'd include a quote, but it really doesn't say anything.
Then quote any one of the commenters—the responses to blogger bob's double speak FUD are hilarious!
@Jim Another issue with side-on scans is that you need both sides, arms (and legs) need to be raised, and you might even need a top and bottom shot as well for a full 360 view (really hard to spot a metal object in the underwear from the side). With the metal detector, you can't even get a sufficiently large, metallic object through in a body cavity.
The TSA abandoned the puffer machines. They can abandon the nudatrons.
And anyway, ongoing public ridicule doesn't seem to be a driver for their behavior.
Individual cases of trauma, PTSD, and long term recovery from serious loss notwithstanding, the fear we must encourage people not to succumb to is the sort being deliberating packaged, promoted, and in many cases sold at a handsome profit, by the government, a complicit news media, and highly placed business leaders to an otherwise emotionally healthy citizenry which ought to know better than to succumb to the peddlers of FUD. As a people we've spent a decade cowering in front of our televisions and angrily shouting "Amen!" to talk radio entertainers, while we've been lied to by those who want us to be afraid because it makes us easier to herd. It's long since time for all of us to wake up, and refuse to be terrorized.
Since they already have the metal detectors as a backup, wouldn't a cheap & no-additional-radiation solution be to just run everyone through the metal detector first, pull anyone who trips it for personal inspection, and pass the rest through the imager? Line 'em up in a row and just send everyone through the corridor of security theatre.
I sometimes suspect that Pistole (and his predecessors) actually want the public to have a low regard for the TSA, and particularly to hate and fear it. That's the only reasonable explanation for their behavior, and particularly their clear lack of interest in correcting systematic deficiencies that lead to failure and embarrassment.
That may come from an authoritarian mindset inherent to "security" bureaucrats the world over. John Pistole was a deputy director of the FBI, an organization well known for its contempt for civil liberties and constitutional constraints that impede its mission. The TSA differs from the Stasi, KGB, or DINA only in that it has yet to completely extricate itself from from the constitutional system of government. But the more they bully Americans into docile acceptance of increasingly intrusive measures meant to "keep them safe," the more the TSA will be able to assert their authority to exempt themselves from bothersome constraints.
Another possibility is that they're well aware of the low quality of their screeners, and recognize they can't do much about it. The only practical recourse is to treat the rampant incompetence as a "security strategy." Presumably, if they cause needless "unpredictable" difficulty for everyone guilty of wanting to fly, they'll make things sufficiently difficult for terrorists to (perhaps) work as an effective deterrent. If the innocent have reason to fear the TSA, presumably the guilty will have even more reason to choose some other target outside the TSA's jurisdiction. That's a "successful" strategy, as when a terrorist attack inevitably occurs someone other than the TSA will be blamed.
The most likely possibility is that official TSA policy essentially defines "security" as measures that are intentionally as intrusive, invasive, and above all visible, as possible. That provides the maximum amount of Security Theatre, sufficient to convince a significant number of people that the government is indeed Doing Something to keep aviation safe. Those Believers will eagerly defend the TSA from its detractors.
But if the measures are sufficiently intrusive and invasive, even Believers will grumble about them. And those who don't Believe will complain and make noise about what they perceive as "improper" behavior. Under this theory, the grumbling, complaining, and embarrassing news reports are music to Pistole's ears, since they show the agency is doing a good job of hassling passengers, which means they're providing effective security! Thus, security (as the TSA defines it) is most effective when the TSA does everything they can to earn the derision, scorn, and fear of the public they claim to serve.
Blogger Bob is the TSA's equivalent of Rush Limbaugh, spewing forth a distracting smokescreen that excites the Believers and enrages the non-Believers, all with the goal to prevent rational discussion that might some day threaten the TSA's authority and expansion.
I can't think of any better explanations for the TSA's long-standing behavior. It's not something any American should tolerate, but it unfortunately it's now so firmly entrenched that nothing can stop it.
The simplest face-saving solution would be to do what the House of Representatives passed just before the Underwear Bomber required "heightened security." Use the nude scanners and/or groping for secondary screening when the metal detector or some other "layer" indicates the need for more intrusive screening.
But of course, that would be inconsistent with the TSA's need to deploy costly intrusive technology that enhances the security theatre and enriches well-connected contractors. They also have a need to appear infallible, as admitting to making mistakes is a weakness terrorists can exploit. So they can't back down.
The scanners are a joke! Just looking at the photo's lets you see how easily they could be circumvented.
The pat downs are equally hilarious too, I routinely opt out of the scanners for health reasons and I'm familiar with effective search techniques. The pat down misses key areas 100% of the time.
As a previous poster mentioned, feet are wholly ignored by the TSA, it is their Achilles heal, if you will.
@Karl: The MMW scanner does not actually capture a 3D image; its two sides take two 2D images and the computer then uses an algorithm to construct the approximate 3D image. That's why Jon's exploit was successful, and why any such exploit will confound either MMW or BKSX.
Indeed, the emperor has no clothes, but his military-security-industrial complex is enriched.
I used to be a 50K/year frequent flier, and last year flew only twice. Just this weekend I agreed to attend a conference where I could fly through Orange County, thinking it a safe WTMD-only airport ... but in the past month they have installed MMW scanners, and were putting everyone through them and a follow-up frisking. In my opt out I did not go as far as Amy, but I did embarrass my frisking screener by pushing her to name the body parts that constitute "resistance", and when she wouldn't, I named them in my normal loud, clear voice so that all passers-by could hear. And I dragged out the process to slow everything up so that she couldn't move on to other passengers. If nothing else, I have to hold out hope that reducing their morale and raising passenger awareness will enable us to reclaim at least a shred of our rights.
The TSA boondoggle continues because the United Sheeple of America want it to continue. They're willing -- some are even eager -- to be abused. So the abuse will continue.
Couldn't this vulnerability be corrected for by simply imaging people from the side as well?
@Steve: yes ... but the per-passenger time would double or triple, and the 54% false positive rate on MMW that has led Germany to ban them would still mean a high share of post-MMW frisking. Still invasive, still unconstitutional, still doubling or tripling already-long passenger lines at security, which Schneier blog denizens accurately recognize as a security threat in and of itself. Are you willing to take that tradeoff? I'm not.
Creator of the video here. As a technology entrepreneur and (very) amateur cryptographer, it's an honor to see a post dedicated to my work here.
Many have suggested that "moar scans" from different angles will solve the problem. I addressed the issue more fully on my blog, but the short story is: 1) it would take double the time, and therefore require double the screeners, machines, and floor space, none of which are possible, 2) it would require double the dose of radiation... ick, 3) it would double the opportunity for a false-positive, increasing the rate from about 40% (though some countries have reported higher) to about 64%, and finally 4) this is but ONE flaw with the nude body scanners, and therefore this "fix" is about as effective as XORing the cyphertext of a broken algorithm with "FAIL" in order to prevent decryption.
Imaging is simply not the way to go about searching for explosives, for efficacy, safety, and privacy reasons.
It's a simple choice. You can either be the "Land of the free, home of the brave" or you can be a land of cowards who meekly submit while your government strips away the civil liberties that were won for you at considerable cost by a previous generation. On the day of 9/11/2001, as I watched the TV media replaying footage of planes crashing into the WTC, I desperately hoped for the former but sadly predicted the latter.
The UK's reaction bombings in London on 7/7/2005 showed the response that a civilised nation SHOULD have, when attacked by a small group of extremist savages. People were shocked, angry, afraid, etc. but they shrugged it off and got back to their normal lives. They were commuting on the same trains the next day.
In contrast, the USA's reaction after 9/11/2001 was to inflict grievous harm on itself in slow-motion for *years*. It invaded two foreign countries, it created the DHS and the TSA (two incompetent, out-of-control clusterfuck bureaucracies), it increased secretive surveillance of the Internet, it gave up on habeus corpus, it authorized the killing of American citizens abroad via drone strikes, and on and on. Looking on from outside the USA, watching a once-great nation do this to itself, is really disappointing.
The UK is hardly a paragon of virtue given that they inflict the same humiliating procedures on fliers with the exception that travelers have no opportunity to opt out of the nudoscope.
I don't know what's more frightening--that the United States is a pale shadow of the state that Jefferson and Madison envisioned, or that we nevertheless have significantly more freedom than the rest of the First World.
Whats worse is that the Australian government have installed these things at international airports now (probably because the US and UK and other governments said "install these machines or we wont let airplanes from your country land in ours", just as happened with the liquids ban and other measures)
Mike Masnick at Techdirt has expressed doubts about the significance of the video. Among other things, Masnick mentioned that at least some of the scanner displays use a white background without nudity and that the scanners may in a sense simply indicate areas to be further checked. (Even so, Masnick has and still is opposed to the use of the scanners.)
You don't have to think about this so rationally. The TSA and the Congressmen who oversee them and the Presidents who administer them are the ones who are terrorized.
We can rationally say we will choose not to live in fear and should another large scale attack come, we will not be terrorized, but they already are.
It is not the public who is terrorized. It is the leaders. They know they can truly do nothing, but they are trying to put on an appearance that they are doing everything humanly possible. They want to avoid the narrative that an attack "could have been prevented". When looking back with perfect hindsight, the media will likely find scapegoats whose lives they will ruin. They will never work again.
Considering people have families with mouths to feed and the witchhunts that took palce after 9/11, I see no choice for the TSA and everyone to at least pretend they are going beyind the call so that they aren't left careerless after the next big attack, should it ever happen. They don't actually CARE that scanners work or do not. They simply need to be able to deflect the idea that "it could have been prevented."
I have been saying for years that a fat suit could hide a multitude of sins from a scanner, the pat down would not miss it..I hope.
Why not have a striped background rather than black?
There is a problem with these scanners, I went through two of them in a week and after each one I had a headache. I am somone who doesn't get headaches and that is worrying. At first I thought it was the plane, but the people traveling with me had no problems. To have the same effects after the second full body scan is troubling.
Opt out, and take the free "massage".
The long term effects of these backscatter
and millimeter electromagnetic radiation
is not well researched. Come to think
of it, you are part of the experiment.
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