Potential body-scanner flaw exposed

Summary:A US travel blogger and engineer claims to have found a way to smuggle metal items though the US Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) so-called "nude" body scanners, and has posted hidden-camera evidence to prove his method. Despite the evidence, I'm still filing this one under "don't try this at home".

A US travel blogger and engineer claims to have found a way to smuggle metal items though the US Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) so-called "nude" body scanners, and has posted hidden-camera evidence to prove his method. Despite the evidence, I'm still filing this one under "don't try this at home".

Jonathan Corbett took to his TSA Out of Our Pants! blog to show the world a simple smuggling method that involves sewing a small pouch into the side of a shirt and stashing a metal item in there to take it through TSA body scanners.

Corbett found that metallic and warning items appear on the TSA scanners as black on a white subject when detected, and show the subject's outline on a black background. He subsequently used the black on black to his advantage, and was able to slip a metallic case through two different TSA scanners by hiding it on his side.

"I bought a sewing kit from the dollar store, broke out my 8th-grade home ec[onomics] skills, and sewed a pocket directly on the side of a shirt. Then I took a random metallic object, in this case a heavy metal carrying case that would easily alarm any of the 'old' metal detectors, and walked through a backscatter x-ray at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. On video, of course.

"While I'm not about to win any videography awards for my hidden-camera footage, you can watch as I walk through the security line with the metal object in my new side pocket. My camera gets placed on the conveyer belt and goes through its own x-ray, and, when it comes out, I'm through, and the object never left my pocket."

Thinking that it might have been a fluke the first time around, Corbett tried again at the Cleveland-Hopkins International Airport, with one of the TSA's millimetre-wave machines.

"With the metallic object in my side pocket, I enter the security line, my device goes through its own x-ray, I pass through and exit with the object without any complaints from the TSA," he said, adding that such a flaw poses huge security risks.

"While I carried the metal case empty, by [some]one with [a malicious intention], it could easily have been filled with razor blades, explosives or one of Charlie Sheen's infamous seven-gram rocks of cocaine. With a bigger pocket, perhaps sewn on the inside of the shirt, even a firearm could get through. It's important to note that any metal object of any size can use this technique."

Corbett warned, however, that the scanner flaw isn't perfect, as it often triggers false positives that can lead to a physical inspection of your person.

"I don't urge you to try to bring contraband through security, as the nude body scanners often have false positives; so, while the metal on your side might get through, a button on your shirt or a sweaty armpit might 'look suspicious', and earn you a pat-down anyway."

Corbett sent his findings to the TSA and urged them to take action, while at the same time accusing them of being "worse than ineffective" at stopping contraband from making its way through airports.

"The TSA must immediately end the nude body-scanner program, and return to the tried-and-true metal detectors that actually work, and work without invading our privacy, as well as implement better solutions for non-metallic explosives, such as bomb-sniffing dogs and trace-detection machines," he added.

Australia is set to install new body scanners in its international airports after a successful trial of the technology last year.

(Front page image credit: Department of Infrastructure and Transport)

Topics: Security, Travel Tech

About

A fresh recruit onto the tech journalism battlefield, Luke Hopewell is eager to see some action. After a tour of duty in the belly of the Telstra beast, he is keen to report big stories on the enterprise beat. Drawing on past experience in radio, print and magazine, he plans to ask all the tough questions you want answered.

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