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Software to Randomize Police Operations at LAX 221

Posted by samzenpus
from the random-protection dept.
owlgorithm writes "A USC research group has created software, named ARMOR (Assistant for Randomized Monitoring over Routes), that will be used at LAX Airport to make security and police operations there truly unpredictable. The software records the locations of routine, random vehicle checkpoints and canine searches at the airport, and police provide data on possible terrorist targets, based in part on recent security breaches or suspicious activity. The software then makes random decisions (which are thankfully based on calculated probabilities of terrorist attacks) and tells the police where to dispatch and when. The most notable detail is that terrorists who had access to ARMOR still wouldn't be able to predict the searches."
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Software to Randomize Police Operations at LAX

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  • by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Thursday April 17, 2008 @12:38AM (#23100268)
    I have a rock that keeps tigers away.
    • by CrazyJim1 (809850) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @12:43AM (#23100308) Journal
      I have a paper that covers rock.
    • I have a rock that keeps tigers away

      That statement perfectly sums up the "anti-terror" bullshit. Well played.

      If I had mod points... Well I couldn't use them because I just posted in the thread.
    • by flaming error (1041742) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @01:42AM (#23100684) Journal
      > calculated probabilities of terrorist attacks

      To get good statistics I think you need a statistically significant sample size. And at LAX I believe the entire data set of terrorist activity is some fellow who went berzerk one fourth of July. Perhaps they are using all airport-related terrorist attacks across the USA, which would include I believe the above berzerker, four related incidents on 9/11, and an MIT student with a homemade name badge full of blinkenlights.
      • by MrNaz (730548) * on Thursday April 17, 2008 @01:49AM (#23100726) Homepage
        More to the point:

        "The software then makes random decisions (which are thankfully based on calculated probabilities of terrorist attacks) and tells the police where to dispatch and when."

        Does that mean that, given that the US's rate of deaths from acts of terrorism is so low as to be negligible, it will tell police to dispatch to the Whitehouse?

        I can see it now, the presidential motorcade gets pulled over by airport security "Sorry sir, please step out of the vehicle, the computer has flagged you as being a person of interest in the global war on terror."
        • by Yvanhoe (564877)
          Then they'll dismiss this reasoning as malfunction, tell the computer to ignore the whitehouse and it will begin to kill all the people aboard the spaceship.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        LAPD is notorious for violent and abusive behavior. For those of us old enough to remember, officer Frank Serpico (of movie fame) exposed their corruption in the 70's and was gunned down by officers for it. They actually had officers convicted of being hitman, such as Richord Ford and Robert von Villas, although that was in the 80's. In the 1990's, we have this variety of killings by and and convictions of LAPD members: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/lapd/scandal/cron.html [pbs.org].

        I don't see how ran
        • To expand on that thought and to differentiate the situation in LA from departments in other large cities, the LAPD is not what it is by chance or accident. And by 'what it is' I mean a racist organization that puts amateurs like that KKK and Aryan Nation folks to shame.

          After WWII the growing African-American middle class started moving into the nicer neighborhoods around LA such as South Central, Watts, Culver City, that had previously been exclusively white. Around that time the LAPD started a progra

      • by jotok (728554)
        Sure, if you were using this system for profiling then you would need to establish some level of significance (let's ignore for the moment that "significance" is arbitrary). But all this system does is make it more difficult to predict what the cops are doing.

        Also, there is actually a pretty large data set of terrorist attacks when you remember that there are parts of the world that are not America, plus everything DHS has generated simulating attacks (what they used to call "red teaming").
    • by MadMidnightBomber (894759) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @07:05AM (#23102078)
      No, it's true. LAX is so crap than 9 out of 10 terrorists prefer to transit SFO instead.
  • Wait! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 17, 2008 @12:41AM (#23100290)
    "The software then makes random decisions (which are thankfully based on calculated probabilities of terrorist attacks)"

    So it's not really random... A pattern must come out after a while.
    • Re:Wait! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by davetd02 (212006) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @01:01AM (#23100434)
      So it's not really random... A pattern must come out after a while.

      Not at all. A "pattern" that's useful to a criminal would be knowing that there's always a checkpoint on Lane 1 on Mondays, or that they always check Lane 4, then Lane 2, then Lane 1, then Lane 3.

      Using the probabilities means that at any given moment there's a 20% chance they'll be checking Lane 1 and a 30% chance they'll be checking Lane 2, but it doesn't tell you whether you should try to smuggle contraband through 1 or 2.

      It's basically ideal game theory -- even if the other side knows what your algorithm is, they can't beat it since you're still playing randomly. The usual Computer Science example is a tennis player; you know there's a 60% chance that your opponent will hit it to your backhand and a 40% chance that they'll hit it to your forehand, but there's a limit to how far you can compensate either direction. Knowing the probability in that case doesn't tell you which side the ball is going to go to. (The real example is somewhat more convoluted, but you get the 10-second version)
      • Re:Wait! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by cheater512 (783349) <nick@nickstallman.net> on Thursday April 17, 2008 @01:24AM (#23100568) Homepage
        Thats assuming that the humans obey the program.

        People like routines and dont like random changes.
        • Thats assuming that the humans obey the program. People like routines and dont like random changes.

          Exactly. A long time ago, I wrote software for a handheld device that would randomize the order that jailers would check-in at their rounds checkpoints. The sheriffs and jail administrators thought it was a good idea, so the inmates weren't able to predict when a guard would come by, but in practice there was no way in hell some jailer was going to go from point A to C to B, when it was shorter to go A, B, C.

          Then, as now, it was a management problem: if you can't get the guys to randomize their patro

        • I'm sure the cops dont mind what route they take as long as they find some black people / Muslims to harass along the way!
        • Meh. The sheeple security guards will soon fall into the routine of doing whatever the computer tells them to do. I'll bet you.
      • by MickLinux (579158)
        Of course, that presupposes that you have just two tennis players. On the other hand, if some Japanese terrorist group wishes to go through lane two in the LAX-JFK flight, and they send two women wearing burkhas through lane three in the LAX-Las Vegas flight (won, free, from unknown sponsors), then they convince the ARMOR unit to randomly send police over to lane three with a 99% probability. Then give them a prize package that is completely innocent -- but contents unknown, and they guarantee a bit of a
      • by siwelwerd (869956)

        Using the probabilities means that at any given moment there's a 20% chance they'll be checking Lane 1 and a 30% chance they'll be checking Lane 2, but it doesn't tell you whether you should try to smuggle contraband through 1 or 2.

        It tells me your 50% more likely to get caught in Lane 2 than Lane 1.

    • by p0tat03 (985078)
      Not only that... One might assume many of the "weak points" the software aims to plug are due to lack of security in those areas. By pulling security to these areas, will we not be exposing other areas to breach?
      • Re:Wait! (Score:4, Informative)

        by ralewi1 (919193) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @04:24AM (#23101446) Journal
        This article is about game theory. The professor behind the program is an AI expert, who should be up on game theory and risk analysis. In any case, there are instances where, in games, generating actions using random distributions can result in a better expected outcome than what may appear common sensical. If you do a risk analysis of a public place, such as an airport, you get events that are rare and extremely damaging (eg 9/11 attacks) and things that are more common but less lethal (eg. pipe bombs). You have fixed resources to protect against any of a number of high level threats... pick those with the most risk and make it hard for the bad guy to find a clear opening to cause harm. From the article, it sounds like the software helps ensure security forces truly act in a random manner and avoid routine.
    • by protolith (619345) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @01:46AM (#23100702)
      Are they going to have truly random responses?

      Thursday, Red panties are prohibited from carry on Luggage.
      Friday, the X-ray conveyor machine will distribute Salisbury steak.

      Periodically travelers will be pulled from the security line,
      some will be sent directly to their planes, some will be beaten with sticks.

      Saturday, the first 100 customers get a hand grenade!
      Sunday, 100 random travelers will be conscripted to run security for the rest of the day.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Bombula (670389)
      While this software is interesting and would probably be useful as a general police tool, I think we're giving terrorists FAR too much credit in the brains department.

      The truth is, "terrorists" - meaning radically extremist muslims - are overwhelmingly ignorant and stupid. 9/11 apparently used up all of the top talent, because we haven't gotten hit by anything since then and it certainly isn't thanks to the crack commandos of the TSA. If terrorists had any real brains, we'd have been hit a hundred times b

    • So it's not really random... A pattern must come out after a while.

      It's not the pattern, it's the response. Since they've revealed that they will (re)direct resources to apparent sources of potential trouble, it's quite trivial for a group to have one or more members create trouble, leaving resources reduced in other areas. I believe this technique has been commodified by Hollywood through the phrase "look over there!".

  • It sounds like this randomness is weighted to still pay more attention to hot zones. Couldn't people with access to the same data still find the least likely places for security to be dispatched? Moreover, if they already have access they can just wait for it to calculate a plan and then go around it.
    • by 1u3hr (530656)
      It sounds like this randomness is weighted to still pay more attention to hot zones. Couldn't people with access to the same data still find the least likely places for security to be dispatched?

      Of course. But it makes planning an exploit much harder. Before they might have been able to say they had 12 minutes (say) between sweeps, giving them that amount of time to get through a door, set a bomb, whatever. Now they might have an AVERAGE of 12 minutes, and possibly just 2 minutes Much more risky, and if

      • Or they show up in FBI jackets and run to a "hi-jacked plane". With security's help, of course.
        • by 1u3hr (530656)
          You've been watching "Die Hard 4.0", right?

          Some things work in movies. Some things work in real life.

  • by Fnord666 (889225) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @12:42AM (#23100302) Journal

    ...that will be used at LAX Airport to make security and police operations there truly unpredictable
    Have you ever been to LAX? Security and police operations are already truly unpredictable and seemingly random.
  • Yeah that help (Score:5, Insightful)

    by aepervius (535155) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @12:45AM (#23100336)
    Because we all know that terrorist try to actively avoid canine search and airport security roaming all over the airport, as opposed to, say, passing successfully through the choke point where you have to go through x-ray and removing your belt, pants, shoe and underwear (soon to come). And naturally such said terrorist will go into the database and search for route of police to actively avoid them. /Security Theater. It looks to me it is more designed for drug and other smuggling criminal activity than terrorist. But hey, the commie are there to get you ! Sorry , I meant witches. Hrm. terrorist.
  • by itsybitsy (149808) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @12:54AM (#23100388)
    H. A. C. K. E. R.

    Hack into the ARMOR system, alter the code, have it generate the routes for you and you won't have to "guess" it's random predictions.

    The COPS won't know the difference when they are dispatched to places at the airport. If fact it could dispatch them so that they are FAR away from the real action taking place. If fact you could dispatch them with instructions that a terrorist action was taking place on the other side of the airport with descriptions of innocents as the terrorists causing the police to be terrorists upon those innocents. Well, that's not that unusual since the police are usually domestic terrorists anyhow for most people that they interact with.

    • by Renraku (518261) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @01:15AM (#23100522) Homepage
      I posted a similar idea to a proposed improvement in a homeland security project last week and people modded me up for it. Sure glad we are free to say such things and that we'd never be suddenly interr
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Yes, because it's easy for terrorists to train a highly skilled computer programmer and infiltrate them into a system where they get access to the source code for security checkpoints, recompile it, and do all that without having a single background check performed on them. Hacking of this caliber is far easier than say...just getting a large enough pool of suicide bombers and just brute forcing it.

      If it's a random probability, if you try enough times, you'll get through eventually. This is far more likel
      • by pla (258480)
        Yes, because it's easy for terrorists to train a highly skilled computer programmer
        Don't you read Slashdot [slashdot.org]?

        Apparenly, the ability to think methodically and rationally, paying careful attention to detail and real-world tolerances, means engineers make good terrorists.

        Oh, and let's not forget the fact that many of us grew up getting teased (or much worse) for precisely what makes us the single most valuable members of a society, and as a result harbor general feelings of misanthropy...


        That, and some
    • Solution (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Plazmid (1132467)
      There is a simple solution to this problem, don't use software to do the randomizing. A D20 and a book of rules are fairly resistant to hackers. In others words, if you roll a 4 or a 5 search person otherwise don't.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        Can I get a saving throw? And more importantly, will they recognise my +5 tin foil hat?
      • by Thanshin (1188877)
        "Ok, Bob and Jane, today you'll be looking for terrorists on *rattle, rattle* ... 15 ... hmm ... GEHENNA!"
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by mlts (1038732) *
      That is an interesting modification. All it would take is substituting their existing (hopefully cryptographically secure RNG) with a random seeming PRNG that is very predictable, such as AES-ing output from /dev/zero with an all zero 128-bit cypher key. The output looks random to the people being assigned to the sweep teams, but for the attacker, he or she will know exactly where they are... and are not.

      I just hope the ARMOR system is (excuse the pun) well ARMORed against attacks, both local and remote.
    • by Jesus_666 (702802)
      Don't worry, ARMOR is a red-7 system and not connected to the airport's public PLTG.

      (It's unlikely that they have ARMOR hooked up to the internet. And if you're capable of physically accessing airport security internal hardware you're a much bigger problem than a random smuggler anyway.)
  • I assume they are also entering the locations of all donut shops, food kiosks and bars.
  • by Ethanol-fueled (1125189) * on Thursday April 17, 2008 @01:04AM (#23100460) Homepage Journal
    do {
    goAfterTheBeardedGuy();
    }while(beardedguy == brown);
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 17, 2008 @01:47AM (#23100706)
      There's a flaw in your algorithm. The first iteration will goAfterTheBeardedGuy even if beardedguy != brown. Also, what happens when beardedguy stops being == to brown, the loop ends. Something like the following would probably work better.

      while( civilian = FindCivilian() )
      {
        if( civilian.color == brown && civilian.features == bearded )
          goAfterTheBeardedGuy();
      }
      • It was designed that way on purpose, in case RMS was in the airport. One false positive is a small price to pay to ensure that the evil free-thinking terrorist will be apprehended and whisked away to gitmo.
      • by pavon (30274)
        Hah, I knew all along - the government's new antiterrorism powers were created solely to use on civilians.
    • by bentcd (690786)

      do {
      goAfterTheBeardedGuy();
      }while(beardedguy == brown);
      Your algorithm has a fatal bug: the first time through it may go after the white guy.

      Why do you hate America? Are you a terrorist? :-)
  • ...to roll percentile dice?
  • Finally. (Score:5, Funny)

    by ChePibe (882378) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @01:16AM (#23100534)
    It's about time airports started using their luggage routing software for security purposes.
    • It's about time airports started using their luggage routing software for security purposes.
      Its not funny. In the past week we have had two visitors from our office in France. Both transited to international flights through Heathrow and had to work here for days in the clothes they wore on the plane.
  • If people simply know it's random, all terrorists have to do is send enough people at the same time and the chances are, one will get through. If they think they can sneak one set of people onto a plane with something bad by predicting the search pattern, at least they stand a chance of getting caught anyway. Now if they only searched non-natively english speaking people, then we've got something. Or better yet, just the arabs. Then again people try and smuggle drugs in, not just terroristy stuff so in
    • by SuperKendall (25149) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @01:38AM (#23100658)
      Terrorists though don't actually have that many people to waste on an operation - and if a bunch of suspicious guys get caught all over the airport at once, they would simply lock everything down and really give people there the once-over.

      It might work as a gag but wouldn't do anything actually harmful.

      They way they do things already with behavior observation is probably the best possible approach because that way they do not target any particular nationality or race, and even false positives mean you get a chance to calm someone down upset about something that might be abusive to the airline crew.

      • They way they do things already with behavior observation is probably the best possible approach because that way they do not target any particular nationality or race, and even false positives mean you get a chance to calm someone down upset about something that might be abusive to the airline crew.

        Which behavior is more suspicious:

        1) A 25 yr old Muslim dressed in traditional clothing praying to Allah as they board the plane.

        2) A 25 yr old Catholic praying the Rosary praying as they board the plane.

        In term
      • Except that 'behavior observation' is usually a deniable code phrase for 'arrest the colored folk'. My technical acquaintances with heavy beards and Middle Eastern features do suffer extra searches and observation by security, along with far more "random searches", than white women. It's particularly amusing for my Israli acquaintances to be profiled as potential Muslim terrorists by amateurishly trained Americans, and compare it to Israeli airport security practices.
      • A gag - now that's a good idea! All travelers are stripped naked, hogtied and (to preserve the modesty of the other travellers) blindfolded. They spend the entire time from checkin to checkout like that. That should make it very difficult to hijack a plane. In order to further improve airport security, the stripping happens as soon as you enter the airport for any reason (security personnel exempt). If anyone talks up they are fitted with an inflatable gag.

        That's amazingly secure! People are going to love
        • by jefu (53450)

          The airlines would love this. I'm sure you can squeeze a few more naked, hogtied people into a plane than you can currently carry by making passengers "comfortable". And no need for food or anything.

          First class passengers would get foam pads and blankets.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by gbobeck (926553)

      all terrorists have to do is send enough people at the same time and the chances are, one will get through./blockquote
      Ah, the Mongolian Terrorist Horde technique.

      Of course, if terrorists were actually serious about an attack they could simply skip trying to get a bomb onto an aircraft and instead do one of the following:

      1. Shoot an aircraft down from outside the airport.
      2. Detonate an explosive device in front of a security checkpoint or ticket counter in the unsecure zone of the terminal during a busy time

    • by mi (197448)

      If people simply know it's random, all terrorists have to do is send enough people at the same time and the chances are, one will get through.

      Although random, they are unlikely to overlook correlation. In other words, once one suspect is detected, everything gets locked down and the algorithms change to the "increased alert" mode or some such.

      See this [yahoo.com] for example — once a campus policeman had to shoot an attacker, there was a "campus lockdown" and students were only released directly to their pare

  • Dupe damn you! (Score:5, Informative)

    by FoolsGold (1139759) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @01:31AM (#23100622)
    http://science.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=07/09/30/138233 [slashdot.org]

    My first Slashdot dupe report. I'm so excited! What do I win?
  • Dupe (Score:2, Informative)

    by ginoledesma (161722)
    This topic was discussed several months back: http://science.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=07/09/30/138233 [slashdot.org].
  • by layer3switch (783864) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @01:58AM (#23100766)
    Assistant for Randomized Monitoring over Routes to Donut Shop
  • Heinlein thought about this more than 50 years ago in "Solar Lottery"...

    In the story, the President of Earth is elected by a lottery (hence the title). Any citizen has a chance of becoming president.

    When a president is elected, he can legally be assassinated by legally-nominated assassins.

    The president is protected by telepathic police; in one case, in order to be harder to track, an assassin acts at random by picking pages randomly and/or by shooting dice.

  • All well and good, as long as you don't have long hair and aren't from an Arab family...
  • Another Idea (Score:2, Interesting)

    by lbgator (1208974)

    I know this article deals specifically with airport police where you want their actions to be truly unpredictable. What about regular beat cops though? Do we want them to be in random places daily?

    I often see cops hiding in random places trying to catch speeders, and I wonder if that is the best use of their time. On one street near me there is a speed trap weekly. I suspect this is because the speed limit is 30 mph going down a moderately steep hill so it is easy to catch speeders. As a citizen I would

  • The most notable detail is that terrorists who had access to ARMOR still wouldn't be able to predict the searches.


    Wheres the beef^H^H^H source?!
  • If they really want something random, they should invest in some funky lighting [lavarnd.org] for their server room...
  • when will they learn.

    a pseudo-random patrol route is the dumbest fucking idea ever. they should be hiring enough people to patrol everywhere at all times.

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