Schneier on Security
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August 6, 2010
Yet Another Way to Sneak Liquids onto an Airplane
Coffee cup disguised as a camera lens.
Posted on August 6, 2010 at 11:01 AM
• 49 Comments
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Oh noes! I already hate the way security check personel always seem to select my cameras for 'random' explosives checks (never heard of camera bombs, but here you are) and manipulate them in careless ways, this is going to make it worse!
I once had to discard a nearly full cup of coffee (purchased after going through security) while boarding a plane in Glasgow. I asked "Don't they serve coffee on the plane anyway?" and was met by a cold stare. Go figure.
On the other hand, it's a cheap way to have some of that fancy Canon L glass poking out of your camera bag. Would go nicely with fake press credentials...
Awwww crap, really? Did we have to point this out? Now they'll try to unscrew my lenses at the airport to make sure I'm not sneaking through extra shampoo. *sigh*
Don't they usually find the liquid due to the density showing up on the X-Ray? I'm not about to leave some cheap 'cup' on a bag to spill everywhere just to bring in a soft drink in their 'war against moisture'. Having it look like a lens really doesn't seem to change anything.
I once had to demonstrate my camera in Germany letting the security guy look through the view finder and show it could take photos ... why is this so blurry brown?
I remember in the early days of airport security screening, when the screeners encountered a viewfinder camera (remember those? seemingly a solid block of plastic with a little lens assembly near the top, that showed you more-or-less where the camera was pointing, and film inside - remember film?). They would hold the camera up to their eyes, look through the viewfinder, and pass the camera as "safe" because they could see through the viewfinder, ignoring the large chunk of opaque plastic to which the tiny, straight-through viewfinder was attached. Maybe "looking through the camera" makes some sense with an SLR camera, but how hard would it be to make a block of C4-equivalent with a viewfinder attached? Or just replace the film with C4? Do the fake-camera-lens-coffee-mugs have a viewfinder installed so the inspector will see light when he looks through the lens?
Sometimes the best way to deal with stupid rules is simply to ignore them.
My own policy vis-a-vis liquids (toothpaste, etc.) is to just put them in my carry-on luggage and be prepared to hang an innocent, befuddled expression on my face (the mark of the herd animal) if they are ever discovered. Don't know how well that works, because so far they've never been discovered. Perhaps one day I'll earn a strip-search. Of course, if I were a smuggler or terrorist I'd avoid anything that might lead to a closer search, including being sure to put my liquids in the prescribed 1-quart plastic bag and otherwise keep a low profile (not neglecting the innocent, befuddled look of course).
Just explain to them that it's kind of like a sepia filter, just much moreso.
I wonder if the body-mount works - if this could actually be attached to a camera. btw, I've had airline inspectors look through my camera, also.
You get caught coffee smuggling, you're not going to white-collar resort prison. No, no, no. You're going to federal POUND ME IN THE A** prison.
I thought this was cool... It won't work, of course, because the liquid will be nice and visible on the x-ray, but it still looks pretty neat-o...
@chris; I think I've been guilty of letting the view-finder cameras through after looking through the little lens... That was before I took up photography as well, though. A chunk of C4 plus viewfinder would probably work a lot of places still. ;)
Hahaha. Indeed it would. And, unfortunately, the threat is all too real.
@ Mike B.
It is about the density of the liquid within a container, you're completely right. However, certain items have similar density to liquids, or contain liquids, and we just, usually, do not stop to think about them. Also, it isn't difficult to mask density by graduating items with relative densities. And, by chance that they do notice, the open it, find a camera, and put it back, and keep looking, thinking that it wasn't the item that set off the machine anyway.
I think that it's just wonderful how you "just ignore" rules; classifying them as stupid because they may inconvenience you in some manner. If you were getting on a plane, and the security officials found an individual with explosives or some other potentially plane-crashing substance, coupled with a hatred for America, I'm sure that you wouldn't be fine the "stupid" rules "just being ignored."
Too bad shipping is $30 flat for an $8 mug...I would get one otherwise though...not for smuggling coffee, but for drinking of course :).
Can't be a security professional 365 24/7, have to have some sort of escape (i.e. hobbies/photography)
Shortly after the ban on liquids, I went through security (for an international flight) with a camelback backpack that was filled up with 3 liters of water. I had forgotten that it was full. They didn't catch that.
If this lens were in a camera bag with a few others, I doubt they would catch it. Security theater is about making it appear that something is being done. It doesn't have to catch everything for it to be successful security theater -- just look at the trash cans full of confiscated items. We MUST be more secure. Those cans are full of stuff.
@anon re: chris, they aren't stupid just because they inconvenience the innocent. They're stupid because they don't sufficiently do what they're supposed to, which is inconvenience potential attackers. Rules and regulations are stupid when the downsides outweigh the benefits, and the 3 oz rule seems to be a pretty clear example of that.
I'm going to guess that the risk they were guarding themseelves against by denying your coffee is that of having it spill during take-off, pissing off the person in the seat next to you, and forcing them to clean it up.
Skip the coffee and go straight to the duty-free booze instead :)
I think I'll stick to taking a quart-sized bag of 3oz containers. That's a total of 12oz, in case you're counting.
When I saw the ad, my first thought was who would want it. Other than a terrorist, I suppose.
- Why would I pay $50 for a coffee mug?
- Why would I "disguise" something worthless (a coffee mug) as something expensive and desirable (a camera lens)?
1. It's just a travel mug with a clever outside design. I would not risk putting it in with my camera gear any more than I would any other travel mug with coffee or any liquid. I'm much more worried about spills than getting caught.
2. I travel every week and carry a steel Thermos. I always go thru with it empty and in the tray for X-ray with my shoes. (then fill it airside.) Once or twice a year an agent picks it up to see if anything sloshes around. I have no idea if the X-ray can see a density change through the metal.
@anon - Perhaps I sounded arrogant to you, but actually I'm willing to accept considerable inconvenience for even a tiny increase in safety. An example from last night: I'll wait minutes for a red light to turn green in the middle of the night, not another car for miles. I recognize that I might have missed seeing a car because it had its lights out, etc.
It's not the inconvenience of the 3-1-1 rule that makes it a stupid rule worthy of being ignored, it's that it's so easy to circumvent that it does not increase safety, it only increases inconvenience.
Try googling, then reading, then thinking about the article featuring Bruce titled "The Things He Carried". Look for the anecdote with the punch line "Two eyes". Bruce also points out that not only is there an exception to the 3-1-1 rule for "saline solution", but that in effect there's an exception for anything LABELED "saline solution" (ditto "breast milk", etc.). One could also place multiple one-quart bags in multiple plastic tubs then collect them after the screening, or have multiple terrorists (with fake or real boarding passes, endless combinations) each carrying a small amount of liquid explosives to be combined later, etc. Any what if the TSA were totally successful at eliminating liquids? Then terrorists would simply revert to plastic explosives disguised as everyday objects - think handles for suitcases and hairbrushes, camera bodies, belts, gel insoles, batteries, MP3 players, cell phones, bars of soap, or (with Lockerbie back in the news) Toshiba cassette decks. Have you ever seen the explosion of a quantity of C-4 that approximates a laptop battery?
The sad truth about radiology is that an airport X-ray cannot distinguish explosives from other low-Z materials with a similar density, and virtually all organic or liquid materials have similar density. The sad truth about the TSA is that they can't protect you against a determined adversary who's willing to die for his cause, but to protect itself the TSA has to do things that they can point to after an event while shouting "We tried our best!"
You can fence in a goat, but not if you leave the gate open. Terrorists, at least many of them, are dedicated, not-stupid adversaries, constantly probing our defenses and sharing information and techniques. Much smarter than goats at figuring ways past obstacles.
Your safety doesn't depend on having me follow the TSA's "security theater" rules. Nor does it depend on having the terrorists follow the TSA's arbitrary rules - which I submit they are prepared to either ignore or bypass.
I have one of the lens mugs. I rarely use it as a mug, mostly as a conversation piece with other photo nuts like myself. I definitely wouldn't put liquid in it in my camera bag since it leaks.
Obligatory TSA story: Last year when returning from a trip to Colorado I was asked how I like my Canon camera. The DSLR was in a camera backpack along with several lenses. Apparently the x-ray resolution is good enough to identify the brand of camera. We chatted for a minute about cameras and then I ran off to my flight.
Looks like a perfectly good way to have a neat looking coffee mug stolen by camera thieves...
A quart sized bag holds how many 3 oz containers?
One could put at least 8 or 9, or even 10 artfully done.
"but actually I'm willing to accept considerable inconvenience for even a tiny increase in safety. An example from last night: I'll wait minutes for a red light to turn green in the middle of the night, not another car for miles. I recognize that I might have missed seeing a car because it had its lights out, etc."
Wow. When the sheeple speak, they roar. You're willing to accept a considerable inconvenience for even a tiny increase in safety? Ok, well, you could be hiding plastic explosives in your body cavity. This might not even be picked up by the body scanners. It could, after all, look like a bowel movement. Clearly then, the only viable option is to give everyone on the flight a quick sigmoidoscopy. But really, what if 50 terrorists board the same flight? Even w/o weapons, they could easily overpower the flight staff and crash the plane. Clearly control of the passengers on the plane is paramount. That's why we need locking seat belt restraints. When you need to go to the loo, the flight safety control officer will release you.
Btw, your traffic light comparison is totally ill-reasoned. By the same "reasoning" you accept the TSA liquid nonsense, we should lower the speed limit on highways to 25 mph and require all passengers to wear helmets, because it will almost completely eliminate the possibility of traffic fatalities.
Someone needs to make a tshirt:
front: Full body TSA scans
back: the terrorists have won
chris - sorry, I was confusing your post with Anon's writing. I see you were agreeing with me, basically. Of course, it makes sense to not run red lights at night (or at any time). The 3-1-1 rules patently do not make sense.
I have a suspicion that the X-ray doesn't actually see colorize liquid, rather the security staff just look for bottle-shaped things.
That would explain why you have to take your liquids out and place them separately in a sealed transparent bag.
But then, I'm never stopped when I leave my empty water bottle in the bag.
If only one day I had plenty of time to discuss, I'd bring a giant ice-cube. It's a not liquid! It's a solid, did you flunk physics?
Somebody should make a t-shirt with a torso X-ray image all the way round and then nicely fitted with all the prohibited items...
Funny, first look at this headline, I saw "Yet Another Way to Sneak Squids onto an Airplane." Must be Friday...
Being a Friday post, I briefly misread this as: "Yet Another Way to Sneak Squids onto an Airplane". I suppose it will work for that as well.
If you freeze your, say, water, before hand, it's now clearly not a liquid. Do they let you through?
...and as many things become liquid if the temperature rises enough, does the rule really mean 'liquid at room temperature'?
...and if so, which room? At your departure or arrival point? Is it heated? ...air conditioned? Water will be a solid in an unheated room in much of the northern US for half the year, other solids a liquid in the summer heat in Death Valley.
Do you simply get arrested anyway for possession in a designated pubic place of an IQ higher than the examining TSA agent?
Well, amusing as the discussion is, the solution is quite simple: Subvert or ID-steal a doctor and carry your nitroglycerin on board as a prescription....
They actually do let you through with ice - my family regularly freezes bottles of water to take on the plane. We take them out of the freezer as we head out the door to the airport - they're still frozen by the time we go through security, and we haven't been stopped once. Of course, they eventually melt, and we have nice cold water to drink at the gate/on the plane.
Anything in a bottle that is solid and "ordinarily cold" (as opposed to skin-blisteringly cold) is clearly pure (more or less) water and not a component of a liquid explosive, which wouldn't freeze solid at anything near 0C.
So it's perfectly reasonable to allow frozen bottles of liquids as an exception to the liquids ban, and it's not just sophistry to argue that "it's a solid, not a liquid".
Hopefully no one will mention to TSA a well known hospital chemical that crystalizes clear and into an explosive given time at room or chill temperatures - - -
I have never before and never since carried shampoo or something like this on an airplane. What I do use is an empty 500cc plastic water bottle in my shoulder bag to fill after the security check. Never had a problem in Australia, Middle East and Europe.
It only makes sense to arrest anyone with an IQ higher than the average TSA agent (regardless of your possessions): If you're brighter than they, then you can think up more imaginative dangerous plots than those in their book of common terrorist attacks. Authorities cannot assume such a responsibility.
The lens filled with coffee would surely betray its presence, either by leaking or making a sloshing sound. Whether the trained professional TSA screener would notice is another matter entirely.
I think the TSA completely undermine any possible belief in the danger of liquid explosives whenever they toss a confiscated bottle into an ordinary trashcan, which is occasionally emptied by an ordinary janitor, in full view of everyone. If they really want We the Sheeple to be Very Very Afraid of the liquid explosive threat, and to Believe with Pure and Mindless Faith that 3-1-1 provides valuable effective protection from that threat, the TSA should at least pretend to treat the contraband as hazardous material. Inept security theatre is worse than no security theatre at all!
@Erik Nørgaard: "If only one day I had plenty of time to discuss, I'd bring a giant ice-cube. It's a not liquid! It's a solid, did you flunk physics?"
Won't work. My "last straw" experience with the TSA involved "Crystal" brand deodorant. As the name implies, it's a SOLID crystal. Or at least it's a solid everywhere but at TSA checkpoints, where the laws of physics are different. The chimp-brained screener saw it when he decided he didn't like the way my toiletry kit looked on the x-ray and opened it for inspection. He said deodorant needs to be in the Victory Baggie. I informed him it's a SOLID. He repeated more loudly that deodorant needs to be in the Victory Baggie. When I offered to put it in my Victory Baggie (there was room for it), he got angry and told me that he's going to take it so that next time I'll be sure to remember that deodorant needs to go in the Victory Baggie! And that was that.
My best guess is that whoever was in charge of training at that airport decided to "interpret" the rules on liquids to make them simpler for chimp-brained screeners to understand. Thus, ALL deodorant is "liquid" and thus is contraband if it isn't in a Victory Baggie. That's what my chimp-brained screener dutifully memorized, and that's the rule that was in effect at the moment. So for the convenience of training chimp-brained screeners, at that checkpoint (but nowhere else in the universe) a solid crystal is a liquid. And I therefore needed to be punished for foolishly assuming that the rules on the other side of the TSA looking-glass still applied. And for even more foolishly ARGUING with the chimp-brained screener instead of immediately surrendering with the proper remorse my sol.... uhhh... LIQUID.
Oh great, that's just fantastic *sarcasm. Maybe in a few years from now, we wont be allowed to bring anything at all inside a plane.
@frans "never heard of camera bombs"
Ahmad Shah Massoud a leader of the Northern Alliance was taken out by two suicide bombers pretending to be journalists and their bomb was packed into their video pak.
@Curby re:anon "3 oz rule seems to be a pretty clear example of that. "
As has been pointed out here many times this assumes the number of hijackers/bombers on any flight to be 1. The number of hijackers on the 9/11 flights was what...5? So 5 hijackers carry 3oz each and you've got 15oz of liquid. Add to this the medicine exceptions and the 3oz rule becomes/remains meaningless. Remember attackers don't follow rules - they cheat.
@Michael Seese "Why would I "disguise" something worthless (a coffee mug) as something expensive and desirable (a camera lens)?"
It's a honeypot of course.
I had my camera bag checked carefully (all lens caps removed, etc) at Belfast on a domestic flight a few years ago - I suspect this will get more common and slow down security even further
@chris: "An example from last night: I'll wait minutes for a red light to turn green in the middle of the night, not another car for miles. I recognize that I might have missed seeing a car because it had its lights out, etc."
I suppose you'd be stuck until daylight if you came to a stop sign at night, then.
This is a resource better allocated for bringing liquor into a football game.
How about this scenario, that happened to me leaving Sydney for Hawaii on 18 July this year.
…People queuing for carry-on X-ray checking: in front of me is a Mother plus baby plus full plastic water bottle.
…Mother puts water bottle into tray for screening.
…Security officer says “The water’s for the baby isn’t it?”
…Mother says, “No, it’s mine”.
…Security officer says, pointedly “It’s for the baby, isn’t it?”
…Mother is silent, thinking…
…Mother says ”Oh, yeh, it’s for the baby”.
…Security officer hollers to guy on the X-ray machine “This water coming through’s for the baby”.
End of story.
End of any security whatsoever, or am I misssing something?
Why bother with liquids, when it's so easy to take solid explosives on-board?
Rochdale man 'took 200 fireworks on US plane'
what you guys dont really seem to realise is the fact that hese small inconveniences make it so much safer and easier enviroment to control... i will gladly support any measure taken to uphold saftey and as for the camera bombs theyre out there... ive gone through 3 deployments to the middle east and seen just about everything you can think of turned into an explosive device
PFC: "ive gone through 3 deployments to the middle east and seen just about everything you can think of turned into an explosive device"
So why not just ban just about everything that you can think of? Let's allow absolutely nothing on the plane. Hell, let's ban passengers too, they might be explosive.
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