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TSA fails again with adjustable boarding passes

Lets passengers pick their own security rating

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

The reputation of possibly America's least-favorite fondlers, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), has taken yet another hit with the discovery that its shoddy security allows passengers in its PreCheck system to pick their own security status.

PreCheck allows some frequent fliers willing to pay $100 for a background check to skip some of the onerous security checks, like taking off shoes and unpacking laptops or toiletries. PreCheck customers are still subject to more intensive searches on a randomized basis, however.

Aviation blogger John Butler discovered that the barcode information used for the boarding passes of Precheck fliers wasn't encoded, and could be read by a simple smartphone app. It contained the flier's name, flight details, and a number, either a one or a three, with the latter confirming the passenger was cleared for lesser screening.

It would be a relatively simple job to scan the issued boarding pass, decode it, and then change the security setting if you are planning to bring something naughty aboard, or even change the name on the ticket to match a fake ID. After putting the new information into a barcode, and a couple of minutes of cut and paste, the new boarding pass would work as normal, Butler explained.

"The really scary part is this will get past both the TSA document checker, because the scanners the TSA use are just barcode decoders, they don't check against the real time information," he said. "So the TSA document checker will not pick up on the alterations. This means, as long as they sub in 3 they can always use the Pre-Check line."

But the agency that appears to devote so much time to ogling (and possibly irradiating) fliers, fondling vibrators, promoting the homosexual agenda, or just plain stealing fliers' belongings doesn't seem to have thought of that. The TSA only deems it necessary to have barcode readers for checking the data itself against the presented ID, not the accuracy of boarding pass itself. Simply encrypting the data would also work.

According to the TSA's vision statement, the agency strives to "continuously set the standard for excellence in transportation security through its people, processes, and technology." ®

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