Feeds

Airport security failures justify snoop system

CAPPS-II database Hell

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

SANS - Survey on application security programs

Database Hell

Stone showed little enthusiasm for the PP5 Program, but he is a big proponent of CAPPS II, having touted it before the same House committee back in March as a scheme promising to deliver "vital impact ... on aviation security."

He has studied the vendor's PR boilerplate with great care. CAPPS II is a "second-generation prescreening system [that] will be a centralized, automated, threat-based, real time, risk assessment platform ... expected to employ technology and data analysis techniques to conduct an information-based identity authentication," he gushed.

The system is a product of aviation defense contractor Lockheed Martin Corporation, promoted by US Transportation Secretary and former Lockheed Martin Vice President Norman Mineta, Stone's boss.

At present, the grand "risk assessment platform" is mired in failure. What little of it currently works has not been tested adequately because carriers are withholding passenger data in fear of a public backlash on privacy grounds.

The accuracy of the many databases that CAPPS II will scour for its incriminating evidence has not yet been established. Procedures for passengers to detect inaccurate data, and get inaccurate data and false positives resolved, have not been implemented. Major privacy threats inherent in the system, particularly those involving restrictions on access, have not been addressed. The potential for malevolent identity thieves to impersonate innocent travelers remains high.

False consciousness

This is all good, because CAPPS II is one of the worst possible solutions to airport security. It won't prevent terrorists from flying; rather, it will increase the probability of another successful attack using commercial aircraft.

The reason is painfully obvious: a group can very conveniently use the system to pre-screen its members and discover which of them have profiles that result in extra scrutiny. Thus CAPPS II is a superb tool for terrorists to use in assessing airport defenses. A group of unarmed terrorists can board two or three flights in succession and observe how the system reacts to them. If, after a few trial runs, they discover that they're allowed to board unchallenged, they can assume that their profiles do not trigger a warning. Armed with that information, they'll stand a good chance of mounting a real attack.

CAPPS II is a disaster for two reasons: first, it will create a false sense of security among airline staff and provide further excuses for screeners to perform poorly; and second, it offers terrorists an excellent training device that they can use to assemble a group of people who can get onto airplanes without arousing suspicion. Ironically, the closer CAPPS II comes to achieving its stated goals, the more effective it will become as a terrorist tool.

So it is indeed good that its development is going poorly. The problem, however, is that the recently publicized failures among human screeners will provide rationale to rush it into service. CAPPS II may well find itself on a fast track, pushed hard by those who would exploit the popular misconception that computers and other high-tech gizmos can compensate for human fallibility. ®

Thomas C Greene is the author of Computer Security for the Home and Small Office, a complete guide to system hardening, online anonymity, encryption, and data hygiene for Windows and Linux, available at discount in the USA, and in the UK.

Related stories

American Airlines data used to test passenger snoop system The wrong stuff: what it takes to be a TSA terror suspect

Campaigners fight biometric passports
Data on 10m Northwest fliers handed to NASA for testing
US using EU airline data to test CAPPS II snoop system
Commission agrees US access to EU citizen personal data
Congress threatens two hi-tech Gestapo programs

Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction

More from The Register

next story
Parent gabfest Mumsnet hit by SSL bug: My heart bleeds, grins hacker
Natter-board tells middle-class Britain to purée its passwords
Obama allows NSA to exploit 0-days: report
If the spooks say they need it, they get it
Web data BLEEDOUT: Users to feel the pain as Heartbleed bug revealed
Vendors and ISPs have work to do updating firmware - if it's possible to fix this
Samsung Galaxy S5 fingerprint scanner hacked in just 4 DAYS
Sammy's newbie cooked slower than iPhone, also costs more to build
Mounties always get their man: Heartbleed 'hacker', 19, CUFFED
Canadian teen accused of raiding tax computers using OpenSSL bug
Snowden-inspired crypto-email service Lavaboom launches
German service pays tribute to Lavabit
One year on: diplomatic fail as Chinese APT gangs get back to work
Mandiant says past 12 months shows Beijing won't call off its hackers
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a defence for mobile apps
In this whitepaper learn the various considerations for defending mobile applications; from the mobile application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies needed to properly assess mobile applications risk.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.