In California, if you want to buy a police uniform, you’ll need to prove you’re a policeman:
Assembly Bill 1448 by Assemblyman Roger Niello, R-Fair Oaks, makes it a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $1,000 fine for vendors who do not verify the identification of those purchasing law enforcement uniforms. Previous law made it illegal to impersonate police but did not require an ID check at the point of purchase. The measure takes effect Jan. 1.
Niello said AB 1448 is necessary because many law enforcement agencies require officers to purchase uniforms through outside retailers rather than their own departments.
I’ve written a lot about the problem of authenticating uniforms. This isn’t going to solve that problem. But it’s probably a good idea all the same.
Posted on October 4, 2007 at 1:08 PM •
I’ve written about forged credentials before, and how hard a problem it is to solve. Here’s another story illustrating the problem:
In an apparent violation of the law, a controverisal aide to ex-Gov. Mitt Romney created phony law enforcement badges that he and other staffers used on the campaign trail to strong-arm reporters, avoid paying tolls and trick security guards into giving them immediate access to campaign venues, sources told the Herald.
When faced with a badge, most people assume it’s legitimate. And even if they wanted to verify the badge, there’s no real way for them to do so.
Posted on July 20, 2007 at 1:37 PM •
I’ve previously written about how official uniforms are inherent authentication tokens, even though they shouldn’t be (see also this and this for some less deadly anecdotes).
Now we see this tactic being used in Baghdad:
The armored sport utility vehicles whisked into a government compound in the city of Karbala with speed and urgency, the way most Americans and foreign dignitaries travel along Iraq’s treacherous roads these days.
Iraqi guards at checkpoints waved them through Saturday afternoon because the men wore what appeared to be legitimate U.S. military uniforms and badges, and drove cars commonly used by foreigners, the provincial governor said.
Once inside, however, the men unleashed one of the deadliest and most brazen ambushes of U.S. forces in a secure, official area. Five American service members were killed in a hail of grenades and gunfire in a breach of security that Iraqi officials called unprecedented.
Uniforms are no substitute for real authentication. They’re just too easy to steal or forge.
Posted on January 29, 2007 at 1:37 PM •
Banks are spending millions preventing outsiders from stealing their customers’ identities, but there is a growing insider threat:
Widespread outsourcing of data management and other services has exposed some weaknesses and made it harder to prevent identity theft by insiders.
“There are lots of weak links,” said Oveissi Field. “Back-up tapes are being sent to offsite storage sites or being mailed and getting into the wrong hands or are lost through carelessness.”
In what many regard as the biggest wake-up call in recent memory for financial institutions, thieves disguised as cleaning staff last year nearly stole the equivalent of more than $400 million from the London branch of Sumitomo Mitsui.
Posted on December 8, 2006 at 8:39 AM •
In an effort to deal with the problem of imposters in fake uniforms, Iraqi policemen now have a new uniform:
Police Colonel Abdul-Munim Jassim explained why the new uniform would be difficult for criminals to fake.
“The Americans take a photo of the policeman together with the number of the uniform. If found elsewhere, it will immediately be recognised as stolen,” he said.
Bolani promised tough measures against anyone caught counterfeiting or trading in the uniforms and praised his officers, telling them their work had begun to turn back the tide of violence around Iraq.
I’m sure these things help, but I don’t see what kind of difference it will make to a normal citizen faced with someone in a police uniform breaking down his door at night. Or when gunmen dressed in police uniforms execute the brother of Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi.
Posted on October 11, 2006 at 12:28 PM •
Another in our series on the security problems of trusting people in uniform:
A thief disguised as a security guard Tuesday duped the unsuspecting staff of a top Italian art gallery into giving him more than 200,000 euros ($253,100), local media reported.
The thief showed up Tuesday morning at the Pitti Palace, a grandiose renaissance construction in central Florence and one of Italy’s best known museums, wearing the same uniform used by employees of the security firm which every day collects the institution’s takings.
After the cashier staff gave him three bags full of money, he signed a receipt and calmly walked out.
Posted on May 12, 2006 at 6:10 AM •
An improv group in New York dressed similarly to Best Buy employees and went into a store, secretly video taping the results.
My favorite part:
Security guards and managers started talking to each other frantically on their walkie-talkies and headsets. “Thomas Crown Affair! Thomas Crown Affair!,” one employee shouted. They were worried that were using our fake uniforms to stage some type of elaborate heist. “I want every available employee out on the floor RIGHT NOW!”
Since the people did not actually try to impersonate Best Buy employees, could they be charged with any crime?
Posted on May 4, 2006 at 1:39 PM •
You can’t detect them, because they look normal:
One type is the exact size and shape of a credit card, except that two of the edges are lethally sharp. It’s made of G10 laminate, an ultra-hard material normally employed for circuit boards. You need a diamond file to get an edge on it.
Another configuration is a stabbing weapon which is indistinguishable from a pen. This one is made from melamine fiber, and can sit snugly inside a Bic casing. You would only find out it was not the real thing if you tried to write with it. It’s sharpened with a blade edge at the tip which Defense Review describes as “scary sharp.”
The FBI’s extensive Guide to Concealable Weapons has 89 pages of weapons intended to get through security. These are generally variations of a knifeblade concealed in a pen, comb or a cross—and most of them are pretty obvious on X-ray.
Posted on March 29, 2006 at 6:58 AM •
This seems like a really important development: an anonymous operating system:
Titled Anonym.OS, the system is a type of disc called a “live CD”—meaning it’s a complete solution for using a computer without touching the hard drive. Developers say Anonym.OS is likely the first live CD based on the security-heavy OpenBSD operating system.
OpenBSD running in secure mode is relatively rare among desktop users. So to keep from standing out, Anonym.OS leaves a deceptive network fingerprint. In everything from the way it actively reports itself to other computers, to matters of technical minutia such as TCP packet length, the system is designed to look like Windows XP SP1. “We considered part of what makes a system anonymous is looking like what is most popular, so you blend in with the crowd,” explains project developer Adam Bregenzer of Super Light Industry.
Booting the CD, you are presented with a text based wizard-style list of questions to answer, one at a time, with defaults that will work for most users. Within a few moments, a fairly naive user can be up and running and connected to an open Wi-Fi point, if one is available.
Once you’re running, you have a broad range of anonymity-protecting applications at your disposal.
Get yours here.
See also this Slashdot thread.
Posted on January 20, 2006 at 7:39 AM •
Did you know you could be arrested for carrying a police uniform in New York City?
With security tighter in the Big Apple since Sept. 11, 2001, the union that represents TV and film actors has begun advising its New York-area members to stop buying police costumes or carrying them to gigs, even if their performances require them.
The Screen Actors Guild said in a statement posted on its Web site on Friday that “an apparent shift in city policy” may put actors at risk of arrest if they are stopped while carrying anything that looks too much like a real police uniform.
The odds that an actor might be stopped and questioned on his or her way to work went up this month when police began conducting random searches of passengers’ bags in New York’s subway system. The guild said two of its members had been detained by security personnel at an airport and a courthouse in recent months for possessing police costumes.
This seems like overkill to me. I understand that a police uniform is an authentication device—not a very good one, but one nonetheless—and we want to make it harder for the bad guys to get one. But there’s no reason to prohibit screen or stage actors from having police uniforms if it’s part of their job. This seems similar to the laws surrounding lockpicks: you can be arrested for carrying them without a good reason, but locksmiths are allowed to own the tools of their trade.
Here’s another bit from the article:
Under police department rules, real officers must be on hand any time an actor dons a police costume during a TV or film production.
I guess that’s to prevent the actor from actually impersonating a policeman. But how often does that actually happen? Is this a good use of police manpower?
Does anyone know how other cities and countries handle this?
Posted on August 25, 2005 at 12:52 PM •
Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.