But you’re a woman!

(via Bruce Schneier’s blog)

More about the security problem (hint: mostly, people are the problem).  Humorous and sad at the same time.

Qantas chairman Margaret Jackson revealed at a Beijing Conference this week that she was briefly suspected of being a terrorist by a TSA screener during a visit last year to the United States.

. . .

See, Jackson is a woman — which, according to the wunderkind who screened her baggage and found detailed plans of new aircraft, makes it hard to believe she is also chairman of a major international airline.

“The guy said ‘Why have you got all of this?’,” Jackson told the conference, speaking of the screener’s discovery of seating diagrams in her baggage. “And I said, ‘I’m the chairman of an airline, I’m the chairman of Qantas’. “And this black guy, who was like eight foot tall, said, ‘but you’re a woman.'”

Jackson finally proved her identity to the guard… in part, by writing a note to him on her Qantas letterhead stating “Dear Bill, this is from the chairman of Qantas, who is a woman.”

See – everybody profiles.  It’s not a bad thing, although sometimes it’s done poorly.

[tags]Quantas, Security, Oops[/tags]

Enigma-style crypto-box

(via Bruce Schneier’s blog)

crypto-box.jpgAs I’ve done so many times before, I feel the need to post something that’s probably interesting only to me.  I just couldn’t pass this up.  Someone has built their own cryptography machine in the same style as the German Enigma device from World War II.  I just think it’s too pretty not to show it off.  Click the image for a full size picture.

[tags]Cryptography, Enigma, Crypto-box[/tags]

The failing of American security spending

If you have any interest in security – physical or virtual – you should be reading Bruce Schneier’s blog (and subscribing to his Crypto-gram newsletter, but there’s a fair bit of overlap sometimes) regularly. In the past few weeks, he has written a few articles about the current problems with the American government’s security spending. In particular, I liked his write-up on airport security screening. He points out how poorly we are spending our security dollars for very limited effect.

It seems like every time someone tests airport security, airport security fails. In tests between November 2001 and February 2002, screeners missed 70 percent of knives, 30 percent of guns and 60 percent of (fake) bombs. And recently (see also this), testers were able to smuggle bomb-making parts through airport security in 21 of 21 attempts. It makes you wonder why we’re all putting our laptops in a separate bin and taking off our shoes. (Although we should all be glad that Richard Reid wasn’t the “underwear bomber.”)

This isn’t really surprising for a lot of folks, I suspect. I’ve seen similar results before, and most others reading this probably have as well. Bruce even continues by pointing out the fact that this really shouldn’t be unexpected.

The failure to detect bomb-making parts is easier to understand. Break up something into small enough parts, and it’s going to slip past the screeners pretty easily. The explosive material won’t show up on the metal detector, and the associated electronics can look benign when disassembled. This isn’t even a new problem.

In other words, take something we can recognize, break it into smaller pieces, and suddenly it is not so recognizable. Not that this explains the missed guns and knives, but it does explain a little of why security screening is a problem. Bruce writes more about the difficulty of doing the job well – for instance, it’s an issue of repetition and searching for potentially hard to find dangerous items in a mess of other similar looking but harmless items.

Further on in the article, he writes about the limited value in removing guns, knives, and other weapons:

And, as has been pointed out again and again in essays on the ludicrousness of post-9/11 airport security, improvised weapons are a huge problem. A rock, a battery for a laptop, a belt, the extension handle off a wheeled suitcase, fishing line, the bare hands of someone who knows karate … the list goes on and on.

And this is such a huge problem that no one making these silly security and screening rules wants to talk about. Too many people pretend that removing a certain category of weapons removes the threat.

Stopping box knives just means if (and let me interject here that I don’t believe airline hi-jacking is even a concern now, regardless of how much hype it still garners today) another 9/11-style were attempted, the terrorists would have to resort to things they can still assuredly get on board, like pens, laptop batteries, canes, umbrellas, and other seemingly harmless items for weapons. People forget a pen in the eye will still completely incapacitate an opponent. A laptop battery can smash a skull quite effectively, just as a cane can break a bone or an umbrella can be effective in gutting someone.

So how do we protect the planes if all these weapons are still available and feasably dangerous? Well, we don’t really – we need to focus on terrorism, not a single potential, unlikely, now low-risk target.

The terrorists’ goals have nothing to do with airplanes; their goals are to cause terror. Blowing up an airplane is just a particular attack designed to achieve that goal. Airplanes deserve some additional security because they have catastrophic failure properties: If there’s even a small explosion, everyone on the plane dies. But there’s a diminishing return on investments in airplane security. If the terrorists switch targets from airplanes to shopping malls, we haven’t really solved the problem.

I don’t hear a lot of people clamoring to protect our shopping malls. Sure, some people do, but so many people still focus on the old threat. Of course, that’s the American way, isn’t it? We have short attention spans and tend to focus on things that were problems in the past, rather than looking ahead to figure out what problems are likely in the future.

What that means is that a basic cursory screening is good enough. If I were investing in security, I would fund significant research into computer-assisted screening equipment for both checked and carry-on bags, but wouldn’t spend a lot of money on invasive screening procedures and secondary screening. I would much rather have well-trained security personnel wandering around the airport, both in and out of uniform, looking for suspicious actions.

When I travel in Europe, I never have to take my laptop out of its case or my shoes off my feet. Those governments have had far more experience with terrorism than the U.S. government, and they know when passenger screening has reached the point of diminishing returns. (They also implemented checked-baggage security measures decades before the United States did — again recognizing the real threat.)

Smart moves, smart comments. Too bad more people don’t pay attention to Bruce Schneier’s advice. We could stop wasting money on useless “protection” and put it to better use.

A lot of his article is quoted here, but there are still things I’ve left out. Head to his site and see what else Bruce says about all this. He’s a much better writer than I am.

[tags]Terrorism, Airport security, Security spending[/tags]

Vampire slaying kit

(via boingboing)

Some things in life are just to critical to even consider being without them. Consider, for instance, your need to protect your family and property from vampires. Now normally, you’d have to spend time making a custom vampire slaying kit, build a box to keep in in, and then make sure it’s going to work for the kinds of vampires you have around your neighborhood. But if you had hop ped over to ebay earlier this week, you could have picked up a pre-made vampire slaying kit from Transylvania for a starting bid of $1000 (plus $90 shipping). And when you consider the peace of mind you’d get from having a good vampire slaying kit around, that’s really not too much of an investment to make.

The box weights 20.1 lbs., length 16.8 inches, width 17 inches, height 7.9 inches;made of linden tree with maroon velvet inside, six compartments. The items enclosed in the box are as followed: one wooden hammer (6.5 inches long), four stakes 6 inches-each) — the wooden hammer has applied a small holy cross, same as the stakes; the lower side containing: prayer book, crucifix, knife and eight bottles with Pamant (holy soil), Agheazma (holy water), Mir (anointing oil), Tamaie (holy incense), Usturoi (garlic), red serum, blue serum and secret potion. We believe a romanian monk from Transylvania has created this box during the period of 1870-1890 .

The old Prayer Book is old romanian language (chirilica), 19th century-hard covers. There is a mith saying whoever is able to read from this Book, he will be able to win the fight with the dark forces, demons, vampires and other demonic creatures .

The knife is 13.1 inches long with a metal handle. It’s made of heavy metal and can be easily thrown – it will always hit the target with the sharp tip. Has a gothic theme and detailing of fangs.

More details can be found in the auction.  Never underestimate the value of a vampire slaying kit.  You never know when you’ll be attacked by a vampire, and wouldn’t you rather be prepared?  For those of us that missed the auction, we’ll just have to build our own kit.  Be sure to post directions on the web if you do, as I can’t find a guide right now.
[tags]Vampire hunting, Vampires, Vampire slaying kit[/tags]