Pharos-Tribune

Online only

November 12, 2012

Tricking the TSA

If, queued up at the airport — shoes half off, belt slung over your shoulder, laptop balanced precariously on one hand — you've ever looked at the speedy "pre-check" security line and wondered how easy it would be to fake your way into a less invasive screening, you would have been onto something.

The Post's James Ball reports that frequent fliers and technology geeks have discovered that the Transportation Security Administration's boarding pass procedures are bizarrely insecure, allowing those with some basic software and know-how to read sensitive security information contained in boarding pass bar codes and even to alter those bar codes. The result could be bad guys getting around tough screening or the government's no-fly list.

The bar codes contain information about how much scrutiny the TSA will give each ticket holder. But they aren't encrypted. Any passenger with a smartphone can figure out whether he or she is destined for the pre-check line, which was designed for very frequent fliers and others thought to pose few security risks, or the line for tougher screening. In theory, this could tip off a terrorist who has managed to qualify himself for pre-check to the sort of security he will have to deal with.

More troubling, though, is that it is also possible for said terrorist to fiddle with the bar code. He could place himself in the pre-check line. Or, if he is on a no-fly list, he could change the name printed on a copy of his boarding pass. That could fool the TSA agents checking tickets at security checkpoints, because they don't compare the names in the bar codes to the database of fliers that the airlines keep.

Longtime boarding pass security critic Chris Soghoian points out there are easy policy changes that can fix both problems. Requiring each bar code to bear a digital signature would make any tampering evident. The TSA already has the technology to handle this — it is just a matter of making sure the airlines cooperate. The TSA could also shake up how it decides which passengers will undergo random checks.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Online only
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Poll

Should grocery and convenience stores be allowed to sell cold beer?

Yes
No
Unsure
     View Results
Featured Ads
AP Video
US Ready to Slap New Sanctions on Russia Kerry: Not Worried About Israeli Criticism Boater Rescued From Edge of Kentucky Dam Girl Struck by Plane on Florida Beach Dies Rodents Rampant in Gardens Around Louvre House to Vote on Slimmed-down Bill for Border Looming Demand Could Undercut Flight Safety Raw: 2 Shells Hit Fuel Tank at Gaza Power Plant Raw: Massive Explosions From Airstrikes in Gaza Giant Ketchup Bottle Water Tower Up for Sale Easier Nuclear Construction Promises Fall Short Kerry: Humanitarian Cease-fire Efforts Continue Raw: Corruption Trial Begins for Former Va Gov. The Carbon Trap: US Exports Global Warming Traditional African Dishes Teach Healthy Eating
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.