Entries Tagged "Hong Kong"

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Young Man in "Old Man" Mask Boards Plane in Hong Kong

It’s kind of an amazing story. A young Asian man used a rubber mask to disguise himself as an old Caucasian man and, with a passport photo that matched his disguise, got through all customs and airport security checks and onto a plane to Canada.

The fact that this sort of thing happens occasionally doesn’t surprise me. It’s human nature that we miss this sort of thing. I wrote about it in Beyond Fear (pages 153–4):

No matter how much training they get, airport screeners routinely miss guns and knives packed in carry-on luggage. In part, that’s the result of human beings having developed the evolutionary survival skill of pattern matching: the ability to pick out patterns from masses of random visual data. Is that a ripe fruit on that tree? Is that a lion stalking quietly through the grass? We are so good at this that we see patterns in anything, even if they’re not really there: faces in inkblots, images in clouds, and trends in graphs of random data. Generating false positives helped us stay alive; maybe that wasn’t a lion that your ancestor saw, but it was better to be safe than sorry. Unfortunately, that survival skill also has a failure mode. As talented as we are at detecting patterns in random data, we are equally terrible at detecting exceptions in uniform data. The quality-control inspector at Spacely Sprockets, staring at a production line filled with identical sprockets looking for the one that is different, can’t do it. The brain quickly concludes that all the sprockets are the same, so there’s no point paying attention. Each new sprocket confirms the pattern. By the time an anomalous sprocket rolls off the assembly line, the brain simply doesn’t notice it. This psychological problem has been identified in inspectors of all kinds; people can’t remain alert to rare events, so they slip by.

A customs officer spends hours looking at people and comparing their faces with their passport photos. They do it on autopilot. Will they catch someone in a rubber mask that looks like their passport photo? Probably, but certainly not all the time.

Yes, this is a security risk, but it’s not a big one. Because while — occasionally — a gun can slip through a metal detector or a masked man can slip through customs, it doesn’t happen reliably. So the bad guys can’t build a plot around it.

One last point: the young man in the old-man mask was captured by Canadian police. His fellow passengers noticed him. So in the end, his plot failed. Security didn’t fail, although a bunch of pieces of it did.

EDITED TO ADD (11/10): Comment (from below) about what actually happened.

Posted on November 8, 2010 at 2:55 PMView Comments

Counterfeiting an Entire Company

We’ve talked about counterfeit money, counterfeit concert tickets, counterfeit police credentials, and counterfeit police departments. Here’s a story about a counterfeit company:

Evidence seized in raids on 18 factories and warehouses in China and Taiwan over the past year showed that the counterfeiters had set up what amounted to a parallel NEC brand with links to a network of more than 50 electronics factories in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

In the name of NEC, the pirates copied NEC products, and went as far as developing their own range of consumer electronic products – everything from home entertainment centers to MP3 players. They also coordinated manufacturing and distribution, collecting all the proceeds.

Posted on May 1, 2006 at 8:02 AMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.