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Blogger Totally Defeats TSA's Full-Body Scanners with a Simple Trick

March 9, 2012 at 4:09 PM | by | ()

You've seen the video, now read the TSA pushback (and if you haven't seen the video, we've embedded it at the bottom). The airport security agency is facing renewned criticism triggered by a 27-year old Florida man's viral video, in which the man appears to use the world's dumbest hack to smuggle metallic objects through TSA's super-expensive full-body scanners.

Now Blogger Bob has taken official notice of the controversy and posted a response. Except his response very pointedly does not deny that the hack works. Instead he only says that TSA can't talk about security protocols, and besides the agency has multiple layers of security, and besides the machines can detect objects hidden in lots of ways. Other TSA officials are telling journalists that the machines are "safe." All of that is interesting, but it's not an answer.

The hack works by exploiting the way that full-body scanners project images. When travelers walk through the machines their bodies are projected as white images on a black background. The problem is that suspicious objects are also projected in black. So if the black metallic object is on the side of the white body projected against the black background, it will just blend in. Since there are human eyeballs looking at the screen that's obviously a problem. The blogger, Jonathan Corbett, ran the trial at two different airports and got through both times.

Corbett's trick probably won't work against TSA's new gingerbread man scanners, which project yellow threats against a gray-on-white figure. But it does confirm what we've been insisting for years: simply as matter of what words mean, TSA's full-body scanners weren't ready to get pushed out. The political and public support wasn't there. Security watchers were still highly skeptical. And now it's pretty clear that the people in charge simply didn't think about this long enough.

But hey, at least DC-based scanner lobbies—which saw their funding double over five years—did their jobs.

Archived Comments:

Trick works on any type of scanner

Jonathan Corbett got his metal object through both types of scanners, both the Rapiscan blue walls X-ray machine that has a human looking at the images, and the millimeter wave L3 machine with the gingerbread man automatic target recognition. I think you've fundamentally misunderstood the security flaw here: there isn't a reflection from the metal object because it doesn't have the same characteristics as a human body. It's not that they accidentally colored the metal and the background black, it's that there is no way to detect the metal at all in either type of scanner unless it is between the line of sight of the beam and a human body. If it's out of that line, it can't be seen.

Scanner Corruption

Germany banned the scanners because they generated too many false positives and required unnecessary pat downs. This isn't an improvement just further government invasion of our privacy and erosion of our rights. Due to a 54% false positive approximately half of those using the scanners receive some form of pat down, adding 8 to 30 seconds to the process. Further, the scanners to detect hidden items 44% of the time, most of which would have been detected using the metal detector as the primary screening device. Almost all of the items found by TSA in 2011 were found using the x-ray belt and walk through metal detectors, not the scanners. They also claimed the images were suitable for Readers Digest last year until the privacy software was installed on the millimeter wave systems.. In August Denver TSA area director Pat Ahlstrom, said the scans " were graphic, no doubt about it." The MMW scanners still produce the naked image but TSA has added a software overlay to hide the image shown to the public. The Rapi-Scan units will continue to produce the naked image. Neither system has been demonstrated to be more effective than the metal detectors, which still are the predominant weapons detection used in airports. It is disturbing that a government agency would sacrifice passenger privacy and put their health at risk to protect private manufacturers' profits. There is clearly an implication of corruption in the deployment of the scanners, which bears further investigation by Congress. Remember that TSA isn't paying for the scanners and abuse; taxpayers are, to the tune of $8 billion a year. Consequently, taxpayers are also paying TSA to strip search old women, grope children and harass them at checkpoints. TSA Crimes & Abuses bit.ly/TravelUndergroundTSAabuses

No, the trick only works on old full-body scanners

Sommer - I'm not sure where you're getting the idea that the trick has to do with keeping objects out of machine's "line of sight" but the security flaw is a function of the difference between foreground and background colors. See e.g. http://is.gd/1nNWAz

In his original video, Corbett argued that because the outline that is shown when passengers pass through a TSA body scanner is drawn in light colors and placed on a dark black background, the machine will miss a metallic object that is placed on a passengers side that is the same color. "Yes that's right, if you have a metallic object on your side, it will be the same color as the background and therefore completely invisible to both visual and automated inspection," he says in the original video. "It can't possibly be that easy to beat the TSA's billion dollar fleet of nude body scanners, right? The TSA can't be that stupid, can they? Unfortunately, they can, and they are."

One presidential candidate cares-

Gary Johnson, running for the Libertarian Party. http://sayanythingblog.com/entry/potential-2012-candidate-gary-johnson-why-not-privatize-the-tsa/

Agree -- TSA Must Go

TSA is such a joke and an example of over reaction that doesn't keep us any safer.

Playing with TSA is a game play for many

I have witnessed many incidences in front of my eyes. TSA is only effective 6/10 times. 6 times is the innocent peoples while 4 times are real culprits.


what a complete line of bull,stupid paranoid schizophrenia gay retarded thinks his mush brain can fool anyone with his fake cant see anything footage ,no one with a brain is afraid of security

Oh Oh

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To preserve your modesty

When scanners were first introduced at UK airports there was outrage that naked images of men, women and children were being examined by remote operators. Very quickly the solution to preserving one's modesty when passing through scanners went viral. Simply buy yourself a quality pair or real leather boxer shorts. By design, scanners see through fabric and stop at skin. In the same way, they will see through fabric and stop at leather, thus preserving the passenger's modesty, but at a price. The operator will be led to believe that a male passenger using this method has lost the male parts of his anatomy!