Former TSA Scanners Still Used in Government Buildings Easily Tricked by University Researchers

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The controversial body scanners once used in airports across the country are still employed in courthouses, jails and other sites. But experts say the machines are so flawed that guns and explosives can be smuggled through them.


In the fear-driven post-9/11 era, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) invested more than $1 billion on Rapiscan full-body X-ray scanners. The machines wound up in 160 airports, but were subsequently pulled by officials following considerable criticism about the technology and their capacity for invading people’s privacy, Wired’s Andy Greenberg reported.


Researchers from the University of California at San Diego, the University of Michigan, and Johns Hopkins tested the Rapiscan recently and found it was possible to carry firearms, explosives and other weapons through the scanners without detection, Greenberg wrote.


These included “a disturbing list of other possible tricks, such as using Teflon tape to conceal weapons against someone’s spine, installing malware on the scanner’s console that spoofed scans, or simply molding plastic explosives around a person’s body to make it nearly indistinguishable from flesh in the machine’s images,” according to Greenberg.

One of the experts who tested the machines, J. Alex Halderman, a computer science professor at the University of Michigan, accused the TSA of investing in technology that wasn’t seriously examined.


“These machines were tested in secret, presumably without this kind of adversarial mindset, thinking about how an attacker would adapt to the techniques being used,” Halderman told Wired. “They might stop a naive attacker. But someone who applied just a bit of cleverness to the problem would be able to bypass them. And if they had access to a machine to test their attacks, they could render their ability to detect contraband virtually useless.”


Since the Rapiscans on which the TSA spent so much have been found so easy to spoof, it calls into question whether the agency’s current security measures are up to the task.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Researchers Easily Slipped Weapons Past TSA’s X-Ray Body Scanners (by Andy Greenberg, Wired)

Airport X-Ray Scanners Can be Hacked to Mask Weapons (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov)

Chertoff Group and the Fear Industry (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)


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