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Schneier Has Something Good To Say About Airport Security 226

Bruce Schneier points out on his blog a proposal to use electronic randomizers at airport security checkpoints. Schneier writes there: "I've seen something like this at customs in, I think, India. Every passenger walks up to a kiosk and presses a button. If the green light turns on, he walks through. If the red light turns on, his bags get searched. Presumably the customs officials can set the search percentage. Automatic randomized screening is a good idea. It's free from bias or profiling. It can't be gamed. These both make it more secure. Note that this is just an RFI from the TSA. An actual program might be years away, and it might not be implemented well. But it's certainly a start." In this case, the proposal is for randomizers that direct passengers to particular conveyor-belt lines for screening.
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Schneier Has Something Good To Say About Airport Security

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 19, 2013 @08:08PM (#44333909)

    Some private contractor (probably recommended by Chertoff) will deliver years late, over budget, and after a terrorist gets through, people will discover that the light always turns green.

    Republicans will insist that it's the government's fault and that private contractors could have done it cheaper and better.

    Democrats will insist that everyone gets anal probes.

  • by R3d M3rcury ( 871886 ) on Friday July 19, 2013 @08:24PM (#44334033) Journal

    Keep in mind the training costs of using these circular round objects to generate binary decisions.

  • Re:Binomial Theory (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 19, 2013 @08:26PM (#44334045)

    Any terrorist with a simple grasp of binomial theory could work out the number of terrorists to send through the gate necessary to achieve a 90% confidence that one of them gets through with the bomb, given only the relative probability of red vs. green.

    Any terrorist can realize that a security line (which gets huge during busy season) is as good of a place as any to detonate a bomb. No security _before_ the checkpoint.

  • Re:Binomial Theory (Score:4, Insightful)

    by rolfwind ( 528248 ) on Friday July 19, 2013 @08:28PM (#44334071)

    Assuming they would put the airport on lockdown and start searching everyone if they found one person with a bomb, sending more people through would just increase the chances of getting caught and foiled.

  • Except (Score:2, Insightful)

    by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Friday July 19, 2013 @08:32PM (#44334099) Journal
    Except it won't keep people from being groped. That will be the end of the TSA, once enough people have been groped, they will oppose it.
  • by taustin ( 171655 ) on Friday July 19, 2013 @09:24PM (#44334319) Homepage Journal

    The oldest suicide bomber [] I can find was a 64 year old woman. And an youngest [] person arrested for trying to be one is 11.

    Not quite your 4 to 80 range, but close enough that you look pretty silly and uninformed.

  • Re:How idiotic (Score:5, Insightful)

    by osu-neko ( 2604 ) on Friday July 19, 2013 @10:22PM (#44334559)

    With a monolithic culture, a purely random process makes sense... Could you please direct me to that imaginary monolithic culture? I want to move there and F*ck it all up...

    Imagine wasting 70 percent of your time searching grandmothers, children, and the handicapped instead of searching the more likely demographic. It's pure idiocy to think profiling is a bad thing. If you are profiling to harass then yes it is bad but if you are profiling because the profiled group is doing all of the bad things then profiling is not bad. Only an idiot can't see such an obvious truth...

    If you have a building with four entrances, and you have twelve guards to cover them, do you put three at each entrance, covering each as best you can, or do you put nine on one entrance you think is most likely to see an attacker, and only one on each of the other three?

    If you're an idiot, you do the latter. If you're not an idiot, you realize the former yields maximum security, because as soon as you put all your guards on one entrance, it becomes far easier for an attacker to get in, they just use one of the other three.

    If you can understand that, you should be able to comprehend why searching any particular demographic more (and thus, by diverting resources, means you search others less) makes you less secure, not more. As soon as your move resources into an uneven distribution mode, you open up exploitable holes, and you're a moron if you think your enemy won't exploit that.

    Your "obvious truth" is the kind of thing uneducated people who don't really understand the problem say. Answers always seem obvious when you don't understand the problem -- but you could actually try educating yourself before spouting off idiotic nonsense...

  • Re:Binomial Theory (Score:4, Insightful)

    by 0111 1110 ( 518466 ) on Friday July 19, 2013 @11:00PM (#44334721)

    No symbolic value? The meaning is quite clear. There is nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide. Nothing that can be done. If they implement pre-security security then they will just bomb the new crowds created by that. If the purpose really is to instill fear blowing up security lines is even better than blowing up planes because it shows the utter uselessness of the security theatre from which so many sheeple seem to derive comfort. And the more that the TSA slow down security with multiple devices and strip searches and more clothing removal even their own intense fear of death the bigger the crowd that can be bombed. I'm not sure what symbolic value an aircraft has anyway. Blowing up security lines, especially many of them at exactly the same time would be pure genius. Can you imagine if every major airport in the US had security lines being blown up at the same time? That would certainly instill fear.

  • Profiling gives criminals a way to game the system; if you don't look like the profile then you don't get tagged as a potential criminal (it also allows some unfortunate biases to come into play by the profiler). The solution, Schneier suggests, is a system that by its simple randomness, does not allow profiling or gaming.

    Whether you agree with his logic or not, I strongly doubt that any such system would be allowed into common usage in US airports without an override. This negates the very advantages Schneier advocates. Whether this addition strengthens the overall system is up to debate (Schneier would argue that it does not), but the addition of a human override weakens those aspects that Schneier looks upon favorably.

    Myself, I think all such methods are extreme overkill and that its far more likely that criminals interested in damaging the US with such attacks will strike at our practically undefended infrastructure, be it the huge AV fuel tanks at the airport, or any of the bridges or tunnels in a major city, or some toxic chemical depot in an urban area. Most of these are protected by little more than rusty chain-link fencing and an underpaid security guard and could cause far more harm than a simple plane crash. It's these weaknesses that terrify me far more than the presumed risk of some schmuck with a razor blade hijacking a plane. I'd rather they stop wasting money frisking passengers for penknives and spend it shoring up those vulnerabilities instead.

    Or alternately, we could stop pissing off three-quarters of the world so they all don't want to blow us up. It's just whacky enough an idea to work!

  • Re:Same in Mexico. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by realityimpaired ( 1668397 ) on Friday July 19, 2013 @11:07PM (#44334747)

    I'll get hate for saying this but if ALL of your bombings and attacks are ONLY coming from ONE group, a group that rhymes with "Buslim"? Then it is NOT profiling to throw an extra glance at those that are part of that group!

    You won't get hate for it, but you'll probably get a group of people pointing out that they aren't all coming from that particular ethnic group, and that there's a very long history of terrorism happening pretty much everywhere.

    If the Muslims were really as fucked up as some people would have you believe, the world would be a glass-floored parking lot by now. There are a billion of 'em in the world today, and some of them have had nuclear weapons for 40 years. Like the rest of us, most of 'em just want to be allowed to live their lives in peace and without persecution. If you held up examples like Ted Kaczynski or David Koresh or the IRA as examples of every Christian, you'd be shouted down pretty quickly, so it boggles the mind that people are ok with making the same comparisons for Muslims. That has nothing to do with political correctness, that's about opening your eyes and seeing that the overwhelming majority of Muslims just want to be left alone.

    People don't tend to report on the Muslims living in Indonesia, Bangladesh, Jordan, or Pakistan because it's not interesting news: they're all countries with a majority Muslim population, and they're all moderate/progressive countries. Hell, 2 of those countries currently have a woman sitting as head of state... When was the last time the US had a female President? And yet you're calling *them* backwards...

  • Re:Same in Mexico. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cffrost ( 885375 ) on Saturday July 20, 2013 @03:49AM (#44335627) Homepage

    Please have a look at the Wikipedia article "Terrorism in the United States: Attacks by type" [] , and you'll see that (just in the US,) nearly every sort of group/ideology you can imagine has (or has had) violent, extremist elements. I believe the only reason Islamic violence is played up in western media is because Muslim extremism is the government's boogeyman du jour, and using those events in its fear-mongering propaganda helps garner support for the MIC and the government's drive towards (ever-greater) authoritarianism.

    Please also see the links in a comment I wrote earlier [] for evidence that shows why profiling is not only less effective, but also substantially less secure than random screening.

    I added you to my Slashdot friend list due to your compassionate and insightful posts on poverty, political corruption, war, wealth disparity, and you technical knowledge. Please read the links I provided; I am not prepared to write you off as a mere bigot based on one post.

  • Willemstad (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dutchwhizzman ( 817898 ) on Saturday July 20, 2013 @04:40AM (#44335749)

    Passengers on flights coming from Willemstad into Amsterdam get checked 100%, because of the lax checks at Willemstad and the proportionally high amount of drug trafficking on this route.

    Doing random checks on people not selected because they trigger certain alerts that make them suspicious makes it hard for customs/safety to get bribed and increases the chance the bad guys get caught. Once the bad guys figure out how not to stand out or bribe the guards, it's hard to catch them otherwise. This is why the random selector is better than having people do the random part of the selection. You want to check the poor African guy travelling alone to a rich country with a stop of one day in central America, because that's suspicious. But that doesn't mean that the mom and pop with a kid coming back from a 2 week holiday in Mexico can't be smuggling in a few Ks of cocaine as well. Having them press the button will make them think twice about the risk and it will probably even have a preventative effect in itself.

Nondeterminism means never having to say you are wrong.