Entries Tagged "sports"

Page 2 of 5

Boston Red Sox Caught Using Technology to Steal Signs

The Boston Red Sox admitted to eavesdropping on the communications channel between catcher and pitcher.

Stealing signs is believed to be particularly effective when there is a runner on second base who can both watch what hand signals the catcher is using to communicate with the pitcher and can easily relay to the batter any clues about what type of pitch may be coming. Such tactics are allowed as long as teams do not use any methods beyond their eyes. Binoculars and electronic devices are both prohibited.

In recent years, as cameras have proliferated in major league ballparks, teams have begun using the abundance of video to help them discern opponents’ signs, including the catcher’s signals to the pitcher. Some clubs have had clubhouse attendants quickly relay information to the dugout from the personnel monitoring video feeds.

But such information has to be rushed to the dugout on foot so it can be relayed to players on the field—a runner on second, the batter at the plate—while the information is still relevant. The Red Sox admitted to league investigators that they were able to significantly shorten this communications chain by using electronics. In what mimicked the rhythm of a double play, the information would rapidly go from video personnel to a trainer to the players.

This is ridiculous. The rules about what sorts of sign stealing are allowed and what sorts are not are arbitrary and unenforceable. My guess is that the only reason there aren’t more complaints is because everyone does it.

The Red Sox responded in kind on Tuesday, filing a complaint against the Yankees claiming that the team uses a camera from its YES television network exclusively to steal signs during games, an assertion the Yankees denied.

Boston’s mistake here was using a very conspicuous Apple Watch as a communications device. They need to learn to be more subtle, like everyone else.

Posted on September 22, 2017 at 6:21 AMView Comments

Defeating a Tamper-Proof Bottle

Here’s an interesting case of doctored urine-test samples from the Sochi Olympics. Evidence points to someone defeating the tamper resistance of the bottles:

Berlinger bottles come in sets of two: one for the athlete’s “A” sample, which is tested at the Games, and the other for the “B” sample, which is used to corroborate a positive test of the A sample. Metal teeth in the B bottle’s cap lock in place, so it cannot be twisted off.

“The bottles are either destroyed or retain visible traces of tampering if any unauthorized attempt is made to open them,” Berlinger’s website says about the security of the bottles.

The only way to open the bottle, according to Berlinger, is to use a special machine sold by the company for about $2,000; it cracks the bottle’s cap in half, making it apparent that the sample has been touched.

Yet someone figured out how to open the bottles, swap out the liquid, and replace the caps without leaving any visible signs of tampering.

EDITED TO ADD: There’s a new article on how they did it.

In Room 124, Dr. Rodchenkov received the sealed bottles through the hole and handed them to a man who he believed was a Russian intelligence officer. The man took the bottles to a building nearby. Within a few hours, the bottles were returned with the caps loose and unbroken.

One commenter complained that I called the bottles “tamper-proof,” even though I used the more accurate phrase “tamper-resistance” in the post. Yes, that was sloppy.

Posted on May 16, 2016 at 6:03 AMView Comments

Cheating in Bicycle Races with Tiny Hidden Motors

If doping weren’t enough, cyclists are cheating in races by hiding tiny motors in their bicycles. There are many detection techniques:

For its report, Stade 2 positioned a thermal imaging camera along the route of the Strade Bianche, an Italian professional men’s race in March held mostly on unpaved roads and featuring many steep climbs. The rear hub of one bicycle glowed with almost the same vivid orange-yellow thermal imprint of the riders’ legs. Engineers and antidoping experts interviewed by the TV program said the pattern could be explained only by heat generated by a motor. The rider was not named by the program and could not be identified from the thermal image.

[…]

Cycling’s equivalents of the Zapruder film are online videos that show unusual patterns of bike changes that precede or follow exceptional bursts of speed by riders. Other videos analyze riders’ hand movements for signs of switching on motors. Still other online analysts pore over crashes, looking for bikes on which the cranks keep turning after separation from the rider.

Unlike the thermal images, however, the videos have only implied that a motor was present.

In a statement, the cycling union, which commonly goes by its French initials, U.C.I., said it had tested and rejected thermal imaging.

“The U.C.I. has been testing for technological fraud for many years, and with the objective of increasing the efficiency of these tests, we have been trialling new methods of detection over the last year,” the governing body said. “We have looked at thermal imaging, X-ray and ultrasonic testing, but by far the most cost-effective, reliable and accurate method has proved to be magnetic resonance testing using software we have created in partnership with a company of specialist developers.”

Posted on April 22, 2016 at 6:22 AMView Comments

Cheating in Marathon Running

Story of Julie Miller, who cheated in multiple triathlon races:

The difference between cheating in 1980 and cheating today is that it’s much harder to get away with now. What trips up contemporary cheaters, Empfield said, is their false assumption that the only thing they have to worry about is their timing chip, the device they wear that records their time at various points along a course.

But the use of additional technology ­ especially the ubiquitous course photos taken by spectators and professional photographers, which provide a wealth of information about athletes’ positions and times throughout a race ­ makes it difficult for people to cover their tracks after the fact.

“What these people don’t understand is that the photos contain so much data ­ they don’t know that this exists,” Empfield said of cheaters. “They think that if they hide in the bushes and re-emerge or take the chip off or whatever, they’re in the clear. But the problem is that people can now forensically recreate your race.”

Reminds me of this 2012 story about marathon cheating.

EDITED TO ADD (4/27): An update with proof of cheating.

Posted on April 14, 2016 at 6:44 AMView Comments

Metal Detectors at Sports Stadiums

Fans attending Major League Baseball games are being greeted in a new way this year: with metal detectors at the ballparks. Touted as a counterterrorism measure, they’re nothing of the sort. They’re pure security theater: They look good without doing anything to make us safer. We’re stuck with them because of a combination of buck passing, CYA thinking, and fear.

As a security measure, the new devices are laughable. The ballpark metal detectors are much more lax than the ones at an airport checkpoint. They aren’t very sensitive—people with phones and keys in their pockets are sailing through—and there are no X-ray machines. Bags get the same cursory search they’ve gotten for years. And fans wanting to avoid the detectors can opt for a “light pat-down search” instead.

There’s no evidence that this new measure makes anyone safer. A halfway competent ticketholder would have no trouble sneaking a gun into the stadium. For that matter, a bomb exploded at a crowded checkpoint would be no less deadly than one exploded in the stands. These measures will, at best, be effective at stopping the random baseball fan who’s carrying a gun or knife into the stadium. That may be a good idea, but unless there’s been a recent spate of fan shootings and stabbings at baseball games—and there hasn’t—this is a whole lot of time and money being spent to combat an imaginary threat.

But imaginary threats are the only ones baseball executives have to stop this season; there’s been no specific terrorist threat or actual intelligence to be concerned about. MLB executives forced this change on ballparks based on unspecified discussions with the Department of Homeland Security after the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. Because, you know, that was also a sporting event.

This system of vague consultations and equally vague threats ensure that no one organization can be seen as responsible for the change. MLB can claim that the league and teams “work closely” with DHS. DHS can claim that it was MLB’s initiative. And both can safely relax because if something happens, at least they did something.

It’s an attitude I’ve seen before: “Something must be done. This is something. Therefore, we must do it.” Never mind if the something makes any sense or not.

In reality, this is CYA security, and it’s pervasive in post-9/11 America. It no longer matters if a security measure makes sense, if it’s cost-effective or if it mitigates any actual threats. All that matters is that you took the threat seriously, so if something happens you won’t be blamed for inaction. It’s security, all right—security for the careers of those in charge.

I’m not saying that these officials care only about their jobs and not at all about preventing terrorism, only that their priorities are skewed. They imagine vague threats, and come up with correspondingly vague security measures intended to address them. They experience none of the costs. They’re not the ones who have to deal with the long lines and confusion at the gates. They’re not the ones who have to arrive early to avoid the messes the new policies have caused around the league. And if fans spend more money at the concession stands because they’ve arrived an hour early and have had the food and drinks they tried to bring along confiscated, so much the better, from the team owners’ point of view.

I can hear the objections to this as I write. You don’t know these measures won’t be effective! What if something happens? Don’t we have to do everything possible to protect ourselves against terrorism?

That’s worst-case thinking, and it’s dangerous. It leads to bad decisions, bad design and bad security. A better approach is to realistically assess the threats, judge security measures on their effectiveness and take their costs into account. And the result of that calm, rational look will be the realization that there will always be places where we pack ourselves densely together, and that we should spend less time trying to secure those places and more time finding terrorist plots before they can be carried out.

So far, fans have been exasperated but mostly accepting of these new security measures. And this is precisely the problem—most of us don’t care all that much. Our options are to put up with these measures, or stay home. Going to a baseball game is not a political act, and metal detectors aren’t worth a boycott. But there’s an undercurrent of fear as well. If it’s in the name of security, we’ll accept it. As long as our leaders are scared of the terrorists, they’re going to continue the security theater. And we’re similarly going to accept whatever measures are forced upon us in the name of security. We’re going to accept the National Security Agency’s surveillance of every American, airport security procedures that make no sense and metal detectors at baseball and football stadiums. We’re going to continue to waste money overreacting to irrational fears.

We no longer need the terrorists. We’re now so good at terrorizing ourselves.

This essay previously appeared in the Washington Post.

Posted on April 15, 2015 at 6:58 AMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.