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Experts Warn About Security Flaws In Airline Boarding Passes 199

Posted by samzenpus
from the to-screen-or-not-to-screen dept.
concealment writes in with a story about a newly found security issue with the bar codes on boarding passes. "Flight enthusiasts, however, recently discovered that the bar codes printed on all boarding passes — which travelers can obtain up to 24 hours before arriving at the airport — contain information on which security screening a passenger is set to receive. Details about the vulnerability spread after John Butler, an aviation blogger, drew attention to it in a post late last week. Butler said he had discovered that information stored within the bar codes of boarding passes is unencrypted, and so can be read in advance by technically minded travelers. Simply by using a smartphone or similar device to check the bar code, travelers could determine whether they would pass through full security screening, or the expedited process."
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Experts Warn About Security Flaws In Airline Boarding Passes

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 25, 2012 @12:45AM (#41761195)

    When I entered Australia as a U.S. citizen studying abroad I was waved through security. I'm still not sure why, but I don't think it had anything do with my boarding pass showing me as definitely not a terrorist.

  • by Nyder (754090) on Thursday October 25, 2012 @12:49AM (#41761207) Journal

    Wonder how long till John Butler gets arrested for sharing this info. National security and all that.

  • Re:Photoshop? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Swampash (1131503) on Thursday October 25, 2012 @12:55AM (#41761219)

    Printing an entirely new one with your own bar code doesn't tamper with the existing card at all.

  • Re:Profiling (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Black Parrot (19622) on Thursday October 25, 2012 @01:08AM (#41761275)

    Indeed. It's pretty hard to say "random search" if the guy's badge code has a special section selecting him for "extra screening"

    It could be determined randomly before people are able to print their boarding passes.

    In fact that would probably be the best way to ensure a random search, since a person at the gate might be influenced by your appearance.

    Plus, if you have legitimate reason to believe someone is higher than average risk, you could just specify what's needed on the boarding pass, and not have to rely on the staff to spot you based on a picture.

  • Re:Photoshop? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by whoever57 (658626) on Thursday October 25, 2012 @01:15AM (#41761295) Journal

    Probably not a good idea. From TFA: "it is illegal to tamper with a boarding card under U.S. law."

    As already pointed out, if you are a terrorist cell, you don't need to alter the boarding passes, just buy enough and see which ones have the minimum screening. Heck, the people selected for maximum screening could make the proccess longer (carry some items that are not allowed but are common and largely innocuous, such as scissors, bottles of water, etc..), thus reducing the likelyhood of the minimum screening catching anyone because of the distraction.

  • Re:The truth... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lightknight (213164) on Thursday October 25, 2012 @01:32AM (#41761363) Homepage

    'Tis a jobs program, and nothing more. Even the congressmen who are against the idea of the TSA are busy spinning it as providing jobs to their constituents.

    Which is funny on so many levels. We all know that the TSA was built on a lie, we all know that it is worthless, we all know that it is bleeding the taxpayers dry, and we all know that we'd be better off without it. And yet, they're going to keep it, because jobs. Jobs which provide no net income, jobs which cost three times more than they are worth, jobs with glass ceilings built in, jobs which do not help America to grow anywhere but the waistline, and yet, they are so desperate to protect them. The money they are earning in kickbacks must be tremendous.

  • by mi (197448) on Thursday October 25, 2012 @01:40AM (#41761399) Homepage

    When people have tried to walk away from the airport upon discovering, they were selected for the extra microwaving (or groping), they were told, they can no longer leave and must go through the screening. The reason was given [go.com], that doing otherwise would allow terrorists to attempt to travel, but back away if they find themselves selected for more rigorous checks.

    Well, if the level of checking is printed right there on one's boarding pass, the terrorists don't have to reveal themselves. When they find out -- ahead of time -- that they were picked for extra attention, they can simply leave all the bombs at home, fly away and back, and then try again until they draw a "lucky" boarding pass.

  • Re:Photoshop? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PerformanceDude (1798324) on Thursday October 25, 2012 @01:56AM (#41761459)
    On the other hand, if you are a terrorist cell, you are probably not terribly concerned about U.S. law...
  • Re:Profiling (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PerformanceDude (1798324) on Thursday October 25, 2012 @02:04AM (#41761479)
    Actually - for many years when I was traveling in the US, if (and only if) my boarding pass had SSSS printed on it, I would be subjected to extra screening. The SSSS would be printed in large clear letters on the document. I don't know what genius came up with that advance warning, but it sure as hell would tell a wannabe terrorist not to go through with his plan and try again some other time. The people managing these processes really need to think such things through a little bit better.
  • Re:Photoshop? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by kasperd (592156) on Thursday October 25, 2012 @02:20AM (#41761551) Homepage Journal

    On the other hand, if you are a terrorist cell, you are probably not terribly concerned about U.S. law...

    And from that you get a corollary saying that anybody who isn't terribly concerned about U.S. law is a terrorist. Of course deriving a corollary that way isn't logically sound, but the people who make up corollaries of the form "anybody who ... is a terrorist" aren't terribly concerned about logic.

  • Re:Photoshop? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by zazzel (98233) on Thursday October 25, 2012 @02:59AM (#41761653)

    It's not tampering, it's forgery. How much of a tech/nerd guy do you have to be to NOT immediately see this?

  • Re:The truth... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by OrigamiMarie (1501451) on Thursday October 25, 2012 @04:17AM (#41761905)
    Jobs which slow the economy by discouraging pleasure travel (and all of the nice tourist spending) and business travel (and the kinds of business deals and chance new acqaintances you only get in person). Travel is incredibly important to our economy, it is part of what makes a large country so strong. When people opt out of it, the ripple effects are amazing.
  • Re:The truth... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by wvmarle (1070040) on Thursday October 25, 2012 @05:08AM (#41762085)

    Besides that it's election time, you guys have high employment already so it's political suicide for either party to say "hey you couple hundred thousand (or however many work in TSA) low-educated workers, please go find another job as we're shutting you down".

  • Re:Profiling (Score:4, Insightful)

    by myowntrueself (607117) on Thursday October 25, 2012 @08:00AM (#41762703)

    Another backside to the current scanner-fixated system is that it creates some awfully attractive long queues filled with people outside the secure area where even a small nail bomb easily could kill hundreds. If you are going to assemble a lot of people in a confined space at the airport it should be inside the secured areas where they are less of a target.

    The fact that nothing remotely like this has happened speaks volumes about the threat faced

  • by Half-pint HAL (718102) on Thursday October 25, 2012 @09:36AM (#41763759)
    It means "even the Nazis were only half as thorough as us"....
  • Re:Profiling (Score:3, Insightful)

    by neonKow (1239288) on Thursday October 25, 2012 @09:42AM (#41763823) Journal

    Small price to pay for freedom, you commie.

  • by RobertLTux (260313) <robert@noSpam.laurencemartin.org> on Thursday October 25, 2012 @09:55AM (#41763981)

    its funny how close the "unlock cockpit" and "vent cabin" buttons are on the planes control panel.

    don't forget the most dangerous weapon on an airplane is THE AIRPLANE ITSELF.

    all a pilot would have to do in the worst case is 1 vent the cabin 2 disable the autopilot 3 have a bit of "fun" with aerobatics

    result 1 plane full of folks that have been tossed about like dice in a cup. ("ATC this is flight 34583 request immediate clearance for landing and Medical meet us on the ground." "roger flight 34583 nature and scope of injuries...")

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