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Backscatter X-Ray Machines Easily Fooled

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the my-pants-pockets-are-not-bombs-stop-grabbing-my-@&# dept.

Security 342

Pinckney writes "A paper by Leon Kaufman and Joseph W. Carlson in the Journal of Transportation Security asserts that x-ray backscatter machines are not very effective (PDF) even in their intended role. While carelessly placed contraband will be detected, the machines have glaring blind-spots and have difficulty distinguishing explosives from human tissue. As they write, 'It is very likely that a large (15–20 cm in diameter), irregularly-shaped, cm-thick pancake [of PETN explosive] with beveled edges, taped to the abdomen, would be invisible to this technology. ... It is also easy to see that an object such as a wire or a boxcutter blade, taped to the side of the body, or even a small gun in the same location, will be invisible.'"

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Using Linux (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34524576)

Linux makes you gay.

Re:Using Linux (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34524760)

True, but it's still better than being a nigger.

Re:Using Linux (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34525082)

But using OS X or Windows gets you fucked in the ass anyway.

Better technology (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34524596)

This obviously means that we are going to need better technology. We'll need technology that will be able to give us a full color representation of your completely nude body, but only if you're a hot chick. - Your Friendly local TSA Agent

Re:Better technology (5, Funny)

Lunoria (1496339) | more than 3 years ago | (#34524660)

This obviously means that we are going to need better technology. We'll need technology that will be able to give us a full color representation of your completely nude body, but only if you're a hot chick. - Your Friendly local TSA Agent

Bah, There's nothing for the female TSA Agents. I suggest only hot guys get scanned. I don't think slashdotters need apply.

Re:Better technology (1)

Scarletdown (886459) | more than 3 years ago | (#34524786)

This obviously means that we are going to need better technology. We'll need technology that will be able to give us a full color representation of your completely nude body, but only if you're a hot chick. - Your Friendly local TSA Agent

Even better, implement beer goggle technology into these full body scanners, so no matter how the passenger really looks, the TSA agent will never need eye bleach at the end of his or her shift.

Re:Better technology (2)

fooslacker (961470) | more than 3 years ago | (#34524972)

Maybe we can just give the watchers machines that randomly download porn...I mean a laptop with some porn downloading scripts have to be much cheaper than a scanner that doesn't work and angers a bunch of people.

How about the opposite? (1)

hoytak (1148181) | more than 3 years ago | (#34525152)

"Yes, the TSA will see you naked, but the image is digitally altered so you look 200lb heavier, and, well, chunky."

Re:Better technology (1)

dougmc (70836) | more than 3 years ago | (#34525046)

This obviously means that we are going to need better technology. We'll need technology that will be able to give us a full color representation of your completely nude body, but only if you're a hot chick. - Your Friendly local TSA Agent

Couldn't we do this with a lot cheaper technology?

Skip the X-ray machine entirely, and rather than a screen just tape a Playboy up.

Re:Better technology (1)

HAKdragon (193605) | more than 3 years ago | (#34525188)

A la Airplane 2?

The next generation... (2, Interesting)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 3 years ago | (#34524606)

...will automatically detect suspicious areas of the image and rescan them slowly at high power.

Or they'll just go to transmission x-ray scanners concealed in the metal detector frame.

Re:The next generation... (2)

HumanEmulator (1062440) | more than 3 years ago | (#34524680)

And considering there are already questions of health and safety of the current machines, higher power, more complicated machines are clearly a great idea. It'll be interesting to see how the public reacts the first time someone gets a radiation burn from a broken or misconfigured machine.

Re:The next generation... (1)

Haedrian (1676506) | more than 3 years ago | (#34524688)

The next generation will hopefully be removing this piece of junk and choosing a better way of detecting terrorists which does not involve making normal travellers irritated.

Re:The next generation... (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34524780)

The next generation...

Is called 'last generation' detective work, and has so far been the only tech proven effective in stopping legitimate terrorists. It has the added bonus of not inconveniencing Mom with a touch of the gate-rape on her way to see the kids for the holidays.

Re:The next generation... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34525076)

Wait: "legitimate terrorists"? As opposed to bastard terrorists? Or are we talking certification here? Some kind of multiple choice exams involved? Like CompTIA, but for violent morons? Oh, wait...

Re:The next generation... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34525166)

It's a cert thing. University of Phoenix offers the nations best Ter'rist Certification correspondence courses.

Re:The next generation... (5, Interesting)

MoonBuggy (611105) | more than 3 years ago | (#34524860)

Thing is, we don't even really need "a better way of detecting terrorists". The incidence of terrorism against airlines is practically a rounding error and as we've seen, the TSA has been unsuccessful in preventing the (very few) attempted bombings in the recent past yet the attacks still failed. If we removed the theatre and replaced it with nothing, maybe keeping a few basic and effective measures to discourage obvious attacks, we'd be better off, and the risk would still be negligible. If we replaced it with something actually effective then that'd theoretically be even better, but most effective methods are expensive, invasive or both and I'm unconvinced that they would be worthwhile considering how low the risk is.

Re:The next generation... (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34525016)

Precisely. The shoe bomber got through, and his bomb didn't work. Ditto the underpants bomber. Airport security failed miserably. It didn't matter.

As for the liquid bombers, it's still debatable whether their bomb would have worked, but who cares? They never even made it as far as the airport!

I am still waiting for the TSA to present the American people with any evidence -- even the tiniest shred of evidence -- that they have ever once in their entire history caught an actual terrorist.

Re:The next generation... (3, Interesting)

jfengel (409917) | more than 3 years ago | (#34525246)

the TSA has been unsuccessful in preventing the (very few) attempted bombings in the recent past yet the attacks still failed.

Arguably, the failures were caused by the fact that they had to go to such great lengths to conceal the explosives. If they had brought on a nice, simple stick of dynamite, they'd almost certainly have succeeded.

You don't actually have to prevent 100% of attacks for security to be useful. A few foiled attacks are extremely handy in providing information and causing your opponents to waste time and energy. But when an attack is partially successful, you do need to increase security to some degree to foil a repetition.

It may not perfectly foil repetitions, but forces your opponents to change tactics, and that doesn't happen instantaneously.

It's not enough to posit that there's something both less intrusive and more effective. You have to actually show such a thing. I don't know if backscatter is optimal for the purpose, but I know it's more effective than taking no action.

Re:The next generation... (1)

Internetuser1248 (1787630) | more than 3 years ago | (#34525138)

The next generation will hopefully be removing this piece of junk and choosing a better way of detecting terrorists which does not involve making normal travellers irritated.

I know of a better way of detecting terrorists. Get a pair of binoculars and sit outside the government buildings of any of a majority of western countries. It's like bird watching, cheap and easy. But don't get to close you don't want to scare them.

Re:The next generation... (5, Insightful)

mellon (7048) | more than 3 years ago | (#34524690)

It's highly questionable whether the machines are even capable of identifying "suspicious areas of the image." But suppose for a moment that they are. These scanners are already, in themselves, more of a safety hazard than actually flying. They have been through nowhere near the degree of rigorous safety testing and analysis that any component of an aircraft has to go through. While exposure to the intended dose of radiation for a scan may be safe (even that is debatable), the scanning process is software controlled. Imagine if the software crashes in the middle of a scan, or the scanner mechanism sticks.

And now, suppose that it is possible to detect suspicious areas of an image and do a more thorough scan. This simply increases the safety risks of these machines. X-ray scanners? How is that exposure going to be controlled? Is testing ever going to be held to the degree of rigor required for aircraft? If not, why should we be willing to accept the risks of using these machines?

The fact is that if we really care about people taping explosives to their stomachs, the only way to detect this is with a thorough search (a.k.a. "enhanced patdown"). If we are really that concerned about security, that is what every traveler should be subject to. And if we aren't comfortable with searching passengers like that, then we really ought to stop being such cowards and accept the quite minimal risk that someone is going to get one of these Rube Goldberg explosive devices past security and actually succeed in harming an aircraft with it (unlike the shoe-bomber and underwear bomber attempts, which did not harm either aircraft).

Re:The next generation... (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 3 years ago | (#34524934)

And now, suppose that it is possible to detect suspicious areas of an image and do a more thorough scan.

They will come up with a heuristic that will work in 90% of their rigged demos.

This simply increases the safety risks of these machines.

The risks will be redefined as required.

X-ray scanners? How is that exposure going to be controlled?

The usual way: by promises by the government, which knows what's best for you (the remark about transmission x-ray machines hidden in the metal detector was intended as hyperbole).

Is testing ever going to be held to the degree of rigor required for aircraft?

The TSA has already written a standard and gotten it rubber-stamped. No doubt it is every bit as rigorous as the Federal standard for voting manchines.

If not, why should we be willing to accept the risks of using these machines?

Because, like three-quarters of the population of the developed countries, you are so terrified of "terrorism" that you pee yourself at the thought.

Re:The next generation... (3, Insightful)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 3 years ago | (#34525214)

I basically agree with you, but I'd go one step farther.

It's highly questionable whether the machines are even capable of identifying "suspicious areas of the image." But suppose for a moment that they are.

Suppose we live in a world of fluffy pink unicorns and candy canes. The fact that we're even posing such a hypothetical scenario is part of the problem; we shouldn't even give them the benefit of the doubt. These pieces of garbage should never have been ordered at taxpayer expense until there was consistent, demonstrable proof of their effectiveness. The safety debate shouldn't even be happening now. The safety, privacy, and medical records debates should be happening ten years from now when they finally build a machine that is effective (read "full body CT scan or MRI scan"), and these worthless, overpriced toys shouldn't even be here.

The fact of the matter is that people described in great detail a number of fairly straightforward attack vectors for circumventing these things before the government even ordered them. The whole "body cavity" problem is so obvious that our government buying these things verges on pure comedy. And before anyone makes the irrelevant claim that you can't hide enough explosives in a body cavity to bring down a plane, I would point out that 9/11 involved 19 people. How much explosive material could you fit in 19 body cavities? If the answer is, as I suspect, "plenty", then these scanners are worthless even if they can detect explosives on the outside of your body.

The only way to reliably detect such things is by knowing your passengers. Even enhanced patdowns are useless against organized terrorist attacks. Profiling really is the only effective means of combatting terrorism, and those who say otherwise are kidding themselves.

It won't need to (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34524970)

A security measure that is not perfect can still be good. Okay it can be circumvented by a limited set of actions. Even if that's true, a potential terrorist/hijacker is even more limited in his actions (may only use weapons that get past through this measure, which is a smaller set than all weapons), even more prone to errors (perhaps the weapon isn't attached just the right way?) and his life is just generally made more difficult (perhaps he is more nervous due to added measures? perhaps the risk of failure rose by just enough that he decided to not even try?).

Now, I'm not saying that we shouldn't question the effectiveness of security measures (Note: I'm not defending the effectiveness of these, just attacking a certain flawed argument that is very common on this site) but I'm sure that if the concept of fingerprint now came up, people would shout "WHAT?! Is this what our tax money is used to? This can be circumvented by WEARING GLOVES!! And it's easy enough to set someone up using these!"... Yet the history has shown us that while it's - in theory - extremely easy to avoid leaving fingerprints (and many criminals succesfully do so), they're not useless in solving crimes because the real world is complicated. There are so many possible points of failure that you might fuck up such a simple thing as wearing gloves. I think that you are being intellectually dishonest if you think that "Only for crimes made out of passion and without planning!" is a valid counter-argument. Pretty much every single crime solving and/or prevention tool we have can be circumvented somehow (and usually, easily) if you forget that the world is a complex place with numerous points of failure and you are likely to be very nervous, etc. when implementing it. "You can easily circumvent this by using a small set of object and carefully attaching them in the optimal way and walking through in the right angle, without looking especially nervous and... Look, we replicated that in our simulation!" is downright silly.

And while I'm at it, I could also attack the "These haven't prevented a single terrorist attack!" claim. You don't really know that, do you. If a terrorist or hijacker thinks "I should do X... Oh wait, X isn't possible any more due to this precaution. Oh well, nevermind then." it won't show up in any statistics. (Yes, there are plenty of other ways they could harm people with but every time someone has to give up their preferred course of action for a plan B is a small victory... Because it should be assumed that there were reasons for preferring plan A in the first place.)

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not defending these specific devices - or even the insane security theatre in general - but it always makes me sad when people use the "This can be circumvented using this set of actions that I just came up with - with no other context about the intended plan, the people involved, etc. etc. etc. - so it's obviously worthless" -argument.

Security is only as good ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34524614)

... as the people enforcing it.

Solution (4, Funny)

Arancaytar (966377) | more than 3 years ago | (#34524638)

Passengers and cargo are a security risk. Prohibit them from boarding planes, and everyone will be safe.

(Pilots are also a security risk. In the future all planes will fly autonomously, controlled by AIs.)

(Programmers writing the AIs are also a security risk. You know what? Scrap those planes, they're not carrying anything anyway.)

Re:Solution (1)

Haedrian (1676506) | more than 3 years ago | (#34524708)

The solution is much simpler than that.

Naked people on a transparent plane - while your suitcases are sent by train/boat. You try hiding a weapon now mister terrorist.

Solution: Eye bleach. (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34524740)

Considering how a lot of you look naked, that would be enough to force anyone to give up terrorism.

Re:Solution: Eye bleach. (1)

peted56 (1842988) | more than 3 years ago | (#34525180)

I am particularly concerned that you know what we all look like naked..........

Re:Solution: Eye bleach. (2, Funny)

Haedrian (1676506) | more than 3 years ago | (#34525232)

Must work with the TSA...

Re:Solution (1)

olsmeister (1488789) | more than 3 years ago | (#34524792)

The idea being that anyone with wires hanging out of their bottom would not make it through security?

Re:Solution (1)

Ismellpoop (1949100) | more than 3 years ago | (#34524852)

You hoop the bomb may as well hoop the button.
Come on it's like like two seconds before you blow yourself up "Ohh nooosss I might get poop on my finger."

Re:Solution (2)

NoSig (1919688) | more than 3 years ago | (#34524998)

You joke, but that wouldn't even work even if you include rectal and oral examinations for every passenger. Take out a kidney and surgically replace it with a bomb in the shape of a kidney - you won't be detecting that. Doing that isn't going very far for the terrorist seeing as he is going to be blowing himself up shortly anyway. Since we are not going to be able to detect something like that, any security measure we might institute is only going to stop a terrorist that cannot access a trained doctor within his organization. He doesn't have to be all that skilled since the patient only needs to live for a short while - infection? No problem! So all of this expense and inconvenience is for stopping the isolated crazy people with no backers. That is all we can ever accomplish through increased airplane security.

Re:Solution (2)

DavidTC (10147) | more than 3 years ago | (#34525088)

So all of this expense and inconvenience is for stopping the isolated crazy people with no backers.

...which explosives testing catches just as well.

It's hilarious that we're having to limit the amount of liquids we take on planes, because of undetectable 'binary explosives'. (Which wouldn't work anyway, because, um, duh, multiple people can carry them in.)

Meanwhile, in actual fact we've decided to stop swabbing for actual nitrogen-based explosives. You know, the only explosives that are easy to make or buy, and safe to carry around?

"You won't be detecting that"?! (1)

pjt33 (739471) | more than 3 years ago | (#34525242)

Given that the plan involves all passengers being naked, the incision where they replaced the kidney should be fairly noticeable.

Re:Solution (1)

xnpu (963139) | more than 3 years ago | (#34525158)

People themselves aren't transparent. They'll swallow their weapon.

Re:Solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34525196)

The solution is much simpler than that.

Naked people on a transparent plane - while your suitcases are sent by train/boat. You try hiding a weapon now mister terrorist.

Visions of Wonder Woman dancing thru my head...

Re:Solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34524820)

(Programmers writing the AIs are also a security risk. You know what? Scrap those planes, they're not carrying anything anyway.)

You can't scrap the planes! You'll sacrifice American jobs... and oil revenue!

Re:Solution (1)

clone52431 (1805862) | more than 3 years ago | (#34525110)

Not to worry, just give them desk jobs doing paperwork. Some of them could also work on environmental models showing that the planet is better off without planes anyway.

Slashdot will now be shut down in.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34524640)

3....2....1....

Don't you know you can't leak information like this? There are several people making millions of dollars off the sale of these machines....er...um...I mean our national security is at risk when information like this is leaked.

Wow they don't work and (4, Insightful)

Ismellpoop (1949100) | more than 3 years ago | (#34524652)

the former head of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff helped sell them to the government and the government mandated them and removed everyone's rights.
American anthem playing in background.

Re:Wow they don't work and (3, Insightful)

Mojo66 (1131579) | more than 3 years ago | (#34524822)

Exactly. Those machines were not installed to make flying more secure, but to make a few select people a bit more richer than they are already. This is how goverments work nowadays.

Re:Wow they don't work and (2)

Martin Blank (154261) | more than 3 years ago | (#34525014)

I propose an amendment to the Constitution prohibiting those in any position of authority in the federal government, to include at a minimum any person who is elected or subject to constitutional confirmation procedures but also those designated by Congress, to be prohibited from working in the private sector in any position of influence or interaction related to their old job, directly or indirectly, for a period of not less than five years, with Congress authorized to extend but not reduce the term by law. Hence, senior members of DHS would not be allowed to work for airline security companies, senior members of the DoD would not be allowed to work for defense contractors, etc, and neither would they be allowed to contract, consult, or advise such companies.

Re:Wow they don't work and (1)

zippthorne (748122) | more than 3 years ago | (#34525172)

the former head of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff helped sell them to the government and the government mandated them and removed everyone's rights.

Close, but not quite. They still haven't taken away your right to take flying lessons and fly your own damn plane.

It's theater... (4, Insightful)

sdo1 (213835) | more than 3 years ago | (#34524698)

Not to sound like a broken record (does that phase mean anything to people or did I just show my age), but I'm not sure why this surprises anyone. It's not about security. It's about security theater. And until the TSA fundamentally changes the way they do things, it always will be.

Re:It's theater... (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34524816)

Not to sound like a broken record (does that phase mean anything to people or did I just show my age),

"You sound like a broken MP3!" -- Professor Farnsworth.

Re:It's theater... (4, Funny)

Scarletdown (886459) | more than 3 years ago | (#34524834)

Not to sound like a broken record (does that phase mean anything to people or did I just show my age)...

That is right along the lines of "Don't touch that dial."

And personally, I have started using "Not to sound like a scratched record" instead of "Not to sound like a broken record."

If you think about it, a broken record would sound li...

Whereas a scratched record would sound like...record would sound like...record would sound like...

Re:It's theater... (5, Funny)

beakerMeep (716990) | more than 3 years ago | (#34525010)

Not to sound like a [ Buffering.... ]

Re:It's theater... (3, Interesting)

adolf (21054) | more than 3 years ago | (#34525268)

And if you actually try it instead of just thinking about it, you'll find that both broken (cracked) and scratched records can behave very similarly upon playback.

I've been around long enough that I've tried both.

So, in the interest of pedantry, I'd like to say that while your new word usement does seem to be valid, its validation does not seem to in any way invalidate the validity of the previously-valid phrase.

Please feel free to use both terms interchangeably in such contexts as this, for they are synonymous.

Thanks!

Re:It's theater... (4, Informative)

tgd (2822) | more than 3 years ago | (#34525000)

The TSA isn't the problem. Politicians scaring the public, and a public easily scared are the problem.

The TSA is just doing their job.

Re:It's theater... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34525094)

Politicians scaring the public, and a public easily scared are the problem.

The public, on the whole, is retarded.

Thanksgiving, my local NPR station went down to Hartsfield (ATL) and "surveyed" some people. Most said crap like "We're under attack." or "It sucks but I guess it's needed to stop the attackers." and many more people who parroted horseshit. There was ONE guy who said it was complete nonsense.

I don't know if people are just that gullible or they're just using those lines to rationalize to themselves why they are going to take it.

Me? I realize that I have to take it if I want to fly and that there's nothing I can do about it - abusing the TSA grunt will get me nowhere and the politicians pretty much don't give a shit because that can by-pass security or take private jets - except for the politicians who want to appear like they're one of us.

Re:It's theater... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34525234)

The TSA is just doing their job.

So were the guards at Auschwitz.

Re:It's theater... (4, Insightful)

Inominate (412637) | more than 3 years ago | (#34525068)

It's not even theater anymore, it's about the TSA buying expensive machines to make their friends rich.

Re:It's theater... (4, Informative)

Frosty Piss (770223) | more than 3 years ago | (#34525106)

... It's about security theater...

Popular to say, but pure nonsense. It's about defense contractors with connections to present and former high-level government "leaders" making truckloads of money.

Re:It's theater... (1)

Em Adespoton (792954) | more than 3 years ago | (#34525262)

Can you blame the government for wanting Monster cables for their security theatre?

Hmm... I propose a new word... securityphile.

Re:It's theater... (2)

plurgid (943247) | more than 3 years ago | (#34525202)

Here's something that pissed me off beyond words last time I flew.
I stood in line. My photo id and boarding pass were verified. Both my laptops were pulled out of their bags and scanned. My shoes were scanned. I got in the x-ray machine and got to the "secure area".

What's staring me in the face? A fucking TGI Fridays.

You tellin' me they don't have knives in the kitchen?
Or maybe some ammonia and bleach back there?

Yeah it's goddam theater, and backslapping contracts and given that you could just about drive a truck filled with explosives through the holes in this "security system" it's a fucking UNREASONABLE invasion of privacy.

Explosives detectors (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34524710)

Yup, experts have been warning about this all year. Meanwhile, explosives detectors (you know, the ones removed from airports last year because they were too much trouble to maintain) seems to be a banned topic in the news.

Unfortunately the TSA now has too much invested to suddenly admit it probably wasn't a good idea to stop using the more effective machines that are less invasive (they were the round swabs on luggage) replaced with the less effective machines that are more invasive.

Re:Explosives detectors (4, Insightful)

DavidTC (10147) | more than 3 years ago | (#34525034)

Yup, experts have been warning about this all year. Meanwhile, explosives detectors (you know, the ones removed from airports last year because they were too much trouble to maintain) seems to be a banned topic in the news.

Meanwhile, we're letting utterly unchecked luggage onto the plane.

Don't worry, we've solved that by banning wifi. Luckily, there's no other way besides wifi and by hand to detonate explosives.

Unfortunately the TSA now has too much invested to suddenly admit it probably wasn't a good idea to stop using the more effective machines that are less invasive (they were the round swabs on luggage) replaced with the less effective machines that are more invasive.

The TSA doesn't have to 'admit' things regardless.

As I've suggested, the TSA should be required to operate something like this:

There is an independent office outside the whole TSA, operated by non-TSA people. Let us all it the TSA Inspector General office.

You show up there and present some object to wish to smuggle past TSA, or take one from them. It doesn't have to be the actual banned object, but it has to be one that would 'serve the function' of the object.

They write down your name and what you're doing. You give them a $100 bond.

If you manage to get that item past TSA, you then got to the IG office on the other side, and explain how you did it, and they pay you $1000 out of TSA's budget. The TSA is not allowed to know your name or any other identifying information so they can't start searching you extra. (The IG's office, OTOH, will know your name and the plane you're going to, and you won't be let on the plane, and be in rather a lot of trouble if you don't show up at their office with the stuff.)

If you don't get it past TSA, you forfeit the bond.

REPEAT.

The very first thing people will do is smuggle 'razor blades'. By the thousands. Easy easy money-making scheme. There's all sorts of ways to hide very sharp things.

At some point, the TSA will stop banning stuff they can't possibly stop. Or go broke. Or actually get to the point where only naked people get through.

Let's call it 'privatized security testing'.

They buy first and *then* test these machines? (5, Insightful)

Dr. Spork (142693) | more than 3 years ago | (#34524726)

Why didn't the TSA test this technology first to make sure it works? I mean, it's not like cloth tape and a flattened explosive are unprecedented or amazingly cunning bits of circumvention! Why not hire 20 nerds and give them a week to figure out if they can sneak something truly dangerous through the scanner? As long as they can do so reliably, wait for the next version of the machine and test again. Only when it works should you place the order!

Re:They buy first and *then* test these machines? (4, Insightful)

drumcat (1659893) | more than 3 years ago | (#34524774)

Come on. The government? They always buy first, and maybe question later. It's your money they spend, not theirs!

Re:They buy first and *then* test these machines? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34524818)

Because then it wouldn't have gotten Michael Chertoff his money NEARLY as quickly. I mean, come on. How could you deny him his millions? He's keeping us scared^Wsafe

Re:They buy first and *then* test these machines? (4, Insightful)

meerling (1487879) | more than 3 years ago | (#34524862)

Terrorists don't care about reliability, look how many suicide bombers die from premature detonation.
(Feel free to laugh at the joke, both of them, but it's real and some statistics have been published on this.)
They are very willing to send a half dozen or more people through in the hopes that one makes it to target.

Re:They buy first and *then* test these machines? (1)

vxice (1690200) | more than 3 years ago | (#34525042)

Hell, Abdul al Mutalab the christmas day bomber didn't even detonate successfully and he has already cost the U.S. over $300 million on these worthless scanners. The scanners were sold to us as devices that would protect our privacy by obscuring private areas and catch terrorists that hide explosives in their private areas. Tell me which one is it? Do they work and violate our privacy or do they not work and you are lying to us?

Re:They buy first and *then* test these machines? (1)

Kohlrabi82 (1672654) | more than 3 years ago | (#34524906)

It has already been proven that these machines don't work on german television: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M6iBzlXar50 [youtube.com] Still german airport security is using x-ray machines now, at least in Hamburg.

Re:They buy first and *then* test these machines? (2)

MoonBuggy (611105) | more than 3 years ago | (#34524910)

Because it's about placating the public, appearing to have done something when the election rolls around, and perhaps scratching the backs of those campaign contributors in the security industry.

Reading that back I admit it sounds a little like something from the tinfoil-hat brigade, so I do hope I'm not devolving into one of them. It does seem that pandering to the voters (and perhaps a little low level corruption) is how much political business is done. It doesn't even have to be especially nefarious - "better safe than sorry" doesn't just apply to actually preventing attacks, it applies to how they're going to answer the voters if an attack does (by some million to one chance) actually occur; saying that security measures were put in place can easily save their career, even if those measures were (by definition, since this hypothetical attack occurred) ineffective.

Re:They buy first and *then* test these machines? (1)

DavidTC (10147) | more than 3 years ago | (#34525060)

See my post [slashdot.org] .

Basically, people should be able to put up a $100 bond to attempt to smuggle banned things past TSA, and get rewarded $1000 if they do so.

Re:They buy first and *then* test these machines? (1)

MoonBuggy (611105) | more than 3 years ago | (#34525176)

I like the idea a lot, but I get the impression that if the politicians/general public/TSA got their hands on it we wouldn't see the hoped-for response of "So people could get this stuff through all along and there was no attack?! Maybe there isn't such a risk after all...". I'd be more inclined to expect "For your own safety, all airline passengers shall now be required to submit to a preflight full-body MRI scan. As we have seen, it is the only way to close these numerous attack vectors that have now been exposed to the terrorists. God bless America, 9/11, 9/11. "

Re:They buy first and *then* test these machines? (1)

zippthorne (748122) | more than 3 years ago | (#34525210)

Would YOU volunteer to walk through these things dozens of times a day over the course of a week?

What I wonder is why they didn't do a risk analysis and realize that the machines and everything cost way, way, way too much for way, way, way too little improvement of the threat. Or I would wonder, if 99% of my friends, family members, coworkers, weren't freakin' scardy ninnies who actually think all this is a good thing. (or maybe just want to be pantomime spies for a day when they're on vacation...)

I hope the authors don't have travel plans (1)

damn_registrars (1103043) | more than 3 years ago | (#34524806)

Writing something like

As they write, 'It is very likely that a large (15-20 cm in diameter), irregularly-shaped, cm-thick pancake [of PETN explosive] with beveled edges, taped to the abdomen, would be invisible to this technology. ... It is also easy to see that an object such as a wire or a boxcutter blade, taped to the side of the body, or even a small gun in the same location, will be invisible.'"

Will probably put them on the do-not-fly list for the rest of eternity. Of course, that won't matter much if they are scientists, since our country is about to start eviscerating the research budgets (and hence they will want to do their work elsewhere) anyways.

The obvious solution... (1)

langelgjm (860756) | more than 3 years ago | (#34524916)

Come on, now. The obvious solution is to censor the publication of this article, so that the terrorists won't find out about the blind spots!

Re:I hope the authors don't have travel plans (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34524928)

Of course, that won't matter much if they are scientists, since our country is about to start eviscerating the research budgets (and hence they will want to do their work elsewhere) anyways.

I remember the last time a large number of scientists had to relocate, among them Albert Einstein, Edward Teller, Niels Bohr, Enrico Fermi, Otto Stern, Victor Weisskopf, Hans Bethe, and Lise Meitner...

I am rather surprised to see the same thing starting over again in the USofA however, of all places.

Scary times we live in. At least the US scientists don't have to fear for their lives, yet.

Re:I hope the authors don't have travel plans (1)

mibe (1778804) | more than 3 years ago | (#34525030)

It's not the "same thing," despite what Glenn Beck may have told you.

That's ok (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34524808)

All these guys care about is spending a shitload of money on useless junk and harassing citizens while looking at your daughter naked, I don't think they actually care about the security aspect of it.

There's a very simple solution.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34524858)

Just require all passengers/crew/staff to go through security naked... Problem solved!

let's defend ourselves (1)

FranckMartin (1899408) | more than 3 years ago | (#34524866)

by carrying guns in airplanes!

Re:let's defend ourselves (1)

Mashiki (184564) | more than 3 years ago | (#34524980)

Give everyone a knife!

Wait...ELAL already does that.

Re:let's defend ourselves (1)

Pi1grim (1956208) | more than 3 years ago | (#34524996)

It's kind of sad, that this is true.

Re:let's defend ourselves (1)

zippthorne (748122) | more than 3 years ago | (#34525236)

Aaaannd?? What would be wrong with this?

Heck, maybe there should be a complementary bowl of derringers at the gate for any non-minors who want one.

Surgical implantation of explosives. (1, Informative)

olsmeister (1488789) | more than 3 years ago | (#34524886)

Seriously, though, if someone were committed enough, and could find a sympathetic medical professional, what's to stop them from having a kidney, appendix, portion of small intestine, and anything they could do without for a little while removed, and replaced with a few pounds of high explosive? The only real problem is keeping the detonator undetectable by the metal detector. For that matter, once that were done, this 'human bomb' would probably be able to get past just about any security checkpoint, not just airports. Let's face it, if someone really wants to bring down a plane and has more than a moderate IQ, they probably are going to have a pretty decent shot at doing it. Maybe these devices and this system isn't perfect, but it's better than the alternative, which is doing nothing.

Re:Surgical implantation of explosives. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34524938)

How is it better than the alternative? The big bogeyman, 9/11? That can't happen again. It wasn't the boxcutters that let that happen. It was a) unlocked cockpit doors, and b) passengers cooperating with the hijackers. If anyone tried that today, they'd get tackled, and the worst that would happen is the plane would have to land to get the would-be terrorist medical assistance.

Apart from that, what have we had? A loonie who burns his crotch? Fear that coca-cola can be made into bombs? It's all junk to keep people afraid and submissive.

Re:Surgical implantation of explosives. (4, Insightful)

MoonBuggy (611105) | more than 3 years ago | (#34525024)

Maybe these devices and this system isn't perfect, but it's better than the alternative, which is doing nothing.

Callous as it may sound, we balance convenience and cost against people's lives every day. Reducing the national speed limit to 10MPH would undoubtedly save lives, but people's need to travel is deemed to outweigh that benefit.

Having accepted that we as a society do allow some increased risk in exchange for our day-to-day rights, profits and convenience, the question becomes: "How does the potential for an attack balance against the cost and restriction presented by the security measures?"

A measure such as this is very expensive, only moderately effective, potentially risky (I haven't had a chance to read up properly on the radiation issues) and felt by many to be an unacceptable invasion of privacy. The risk presented by terrorists is minuscule (look at all the juicy unsecured targets in the US that simply aren't being attacked, then compare that to Northern Ireland - the latter is what you see if there are actually a reasonably sized core of determined attackers). To me, this seems like an unacceptable trade-off.

Re:Surgical implantation of explosives. (1)

ThePangolino (1756190) | more than 3 years ago | (#34525114)

Taking down a plane?
Easy game, one can simply try using this [wikipedia.org] .

And in related development (5, Interesting)

hey! (33014) | more than 3 years ago | (#34524914)

The Boston Globe reported today that a the mutilated body of a teen boy found last month in a Boston suburb probably fell out of the wheel well of an airplane he is believed to stowed away on. Several articles of his clothing were found scattered along the flight's approach to Boston's Logan Airport.

Earlier this year in Japan a body was discovered in the wheel well of a flight originating at New York's JFK. Investigation later revealed that the unfortunate hadn't stowed away in New York, but in Lagos Nigeria *two months earlier*.

What does this tell you about all this body scanning hoopla? We're building a fortress that sports a fearsome looking portcullis but has open windows on the ground floor.

Easy solution: Bigger scanner. (1)

attemptedgoalie (634133) | more than 3 years ago | (#34525050)

Put a dome over the airport, or just the whole city. Scan at all times.

They'll promote some sort of biometric implants at some point. You don't have an implant? What are you trying to hide?

There's a reason these problems are never solved. There is more money in fixing/upgrading the gear than there is building it right the first time. CompanyA builds box to current specifications. Turns out those specs suck. CompanyA now given new money to build it better. Rinse. Repeat. As it's been mentioned already, the only people these systems help are the shareholders.

Re:And in related development (2)

xnpu (963139) | more than 3 years ago | (#34525192)

This has always puzzled me. The passengers are thoroughly inspected, but I see many airports where you can still reach (and compromise) the planes themselves quite easily.

Re:And in related development (5, Insightful)

Solandri (704621) | more than 3 years ago | (#34525278)

This has always puzzled me. The passengers are thoroughly inspected, but I see many airports where you can still reach (and compromise) the planes themselves quite easily.

That's because airport security is security theater. Even with terrorism and accidents, planes are already the safest way to travel between two points. The security at the airport is just a dog and pony show to reassure fliers and give the impression that the government is "doing something about it". The effectiveness of the security measure is rather meaningless because a 50% reduction in almost-never will still be almost-never.

In fact concern over the new scanners and pat-downs at airports is probably going to kill more people than any terrorists. People uncomfortable with the invasion of privacy may choose to drive to their destination rather than fly. And you're roughly 15-20x more likely to die from an automobile accident than from a plane crash/terrorist incident over a trip of the same distance.

How To? (1)

b4upoo (166390) | more than 3 years ago | (#34524918)

This report is likely to be taken as a how to do it manual for some creeps. The bad guys probably know about this sort of thing anyway I suppose.

They can't stop a lot (1)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 3 years ago | (#34524954)

Can they stop this, even if they look at it with their eyes? [youtube.com] (metal detector might get that one, but I feel like it would be easy enough to design one that makes it through any detector).

But so what? Even if they manage to keep every single weapon off the plane, it is still simple enough to hijack. All you have to do is fill the plan completely full of Al Qaeda drones. Pick a plane going to Saudi Arabia and you have a perfect cover, a plane full of people, everything you need. If you can choose your seats, you might be able to get away with only 20 people seated by the pilot door.

Or another plan, have your Al Qaeda guys become pilots. Then they don't need to hijack they plane, they can lock the pilot door and fly it wherever they want. That is a longer-term plan, but then again these Al Qaeda guys have been going at it for two decades or so, a few years of pilot school is no deterrent.

Milimeter wave RF scanners too? (4, Interesting)

hawguy (1600213) | more than 3 years ago | (#34524958)

Does this same condition exist for the Millimeter Wave RF scanners too, or do they have better resolution or discrimination abilities?

I haven't traveled much since these scanners went into effect, but so far I've only seen the RF scanners.

Last time I encountered one I asked the TSA rep if it was RF or X-ray, and she said "It's millimeter wave, and it's the same as an ultrasound". I told her that that can't be true since an ultrasound doesn't use RF energy, and she said "It *is* the same, now move along". I reported her misinformation to a supervisor, but I'm not sure he even understood the difference between ultrasound and an RF scanner.

I'm fine with the RF scanners (I don't think they are all that effective since a determined terrorist will use one of the many holes in airport security to bring in his weapon -- plus my "junk" isn't all that interesting), but I don't like being lied too (or worse someone directing me into a device that she doesn't even have a basic understanding of -- surely the difference between sound and RF energy is not too hard for a TSA agent to understand)

Re:Milimeter wave RF scanners too? (4, Insightful)

ElMiguel (117685) | more than 3 years ago | (#34525296)

surely the difference between sound and RF energy is not too hard for a TSA agent to understand.

You overestimate how much the average person knows about science, never mind a TSA agent.

And don't call me Shirley.

You can't win with TSA (1)

Sam36 (1065410) | more than 3 years ago | (#34525134)

I honestly thought about smuggling a razor blade through one of these detectors recently and then once on the other side I would use it to slit my wrists (or perhaps just shave in public sight) and cause a huge PR scene. But I am really just too lazy to get out of the house. Plus I am a minister at a local church and it probably wouldn't look too good for them either...

Regardless, this (expensive) technology is a joke. Probably just pushed to make a profit for someone.

Don' say I missed, less'n y'know where I was aimin (5, Insightful)

Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) | more than 3 years ago | (#34525184)

>not very effective (PDF) even in their intended role

You're implicitly buying in to the claim that their intended role has something to do with safety.

The purpose of a system is what it does. The ~$200,000 scanner purchases funnel tax money to a company which made payments to the former director of Homeland Security. They condition people to being treated like prisoners. The first was deliberate.

They're working perfectly.

Re:Don' say I missed, less'n y'know where I was ai (1)

xnpu (963139) | more than 3 years ago | (#34525218)

Exactly right. Not sure why this is often dismissed as a "conspiracy theory", it's right there in every ones face. He's the boss, he gets the money, and hey, he still has the friends to make it happen. I would do exactly the same if I were him.

I am concerned for the safety of congress. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34525194)

In order to "help" them we should install these x-ray scanners at the entrance to the senate and house of representatives, in order to ensure that nothing dangerous is brought into the chambers.

I bet they would refuse to be x-rayed with these machines. Which is very telling about how dangerous they really are.

Backscatter is not a bomb detector (4, Insightful)

bkmoore (1910118) | more than 3 years ago | (#34525204)

Most people don't realize that backscatter is an imaging tool and not a bomb detector. It requires a human operator to interpret the image. If the bomb is well blended into body contours, there is a high probability that the operator would miss it. If you look at the backscatter sales literature (it's on their web sites) it shows images of people with concealed knives or guns. Stuff that would also set off a metal detector.

In my opinion, it is a little disingenuous that the TSA is using the bomb threat as the justification to switch from metal detectors to backscatter. One of the reasons that the shoe and underwear bombers failed is they weren't able to conceal a proper detonator (which contains metal), and resorted to trying jerry rig a lighted fuze detonator. So in that sense, the metal detectors did do their job. But if concealed explosives were the primary threat, then x-ray in tandem with bomb sniffing dogs or some type of actual bomb detector would be more effective. The other downside to imaging is the human operator spends hours looking at thousands of passengers. There is a good chance that the operator won't be alert enough to spot a bomb or weapon, even when it is not perfectly concealed.

Re:Backscatter is not a bomb detector (1)

xnpu (963139) | more than 3 years ago | (#34525264)

Which makes me wonder about their story of writing software that will show the operator only an outline of your body, which foreign objects marked for inspection when found. Based on your explanation, which sounds very plausible, I don't see how such software could ever reach a usable accuracy.

Alpha, Bravo, Whiskey? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34525244)

Would a hip flask of whiskey be detectable in the pilot's pocket?
How about a lid?

It Comes to This (4, Funny)

NicknamesAreStupid (1040118) | more than 3 years ago | (#34525258)

As I have said, the only way to be absolutely sure is to perform a premortem autopsy on every passenger. The downside is that somewhere along the way, it becomes a postmortem autopsy. The good news is that airlines could then stack passengers into cargo planes at twenty time the density as current passenger planes. The bad news, no more round trip tickets.

Haven't you realised already? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34525284)

The purpose of these backscatter machines is to increase the cancer rates amongst the demographic of those who fly more often thereby ... ok, you got me. I can't see any realy reason for these things being used over a proper security system. But, there has to be a reason for the governments using ionising radiation on those who travel, right?

X-ray machine is only part of the screening. (1)

BitterOak (537666) | more than 3 years ago | (#34525292)

The conclusion I draw from this article is that the backscatter machine alone doesn't provide security, but it can in concert with other security measures. Let's say I want to smuggle plastic explosives (PE) onto a plane. Well, they have chemical sniffers that can detect even trace amounts of explosives, so it would have to be tightly sealed in an almost perfect container. Having a pancake shaped blob of the stuff taped to your belly may get past the backscatter machine, but it would fail a chemical sniffer test miserably. And if the explosives are sealed in such a way as to fool the sniffers, such a package certainly wouldn't fool the backscatter machine. And as for the knives and guns which might get past if taped properly, they would be picked up by the metal detector.

I'm not saying the security if perfect; my point is only that you can't analyze the effectiveness of each of the security measures individually. They have to be studied collectively.

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