Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/11/18/electronic_boarding_passes/

Mobile phones will 'cut off' Al Qaeda

US puts faith in mobe-issued boarding passes

By Bill Ray

Posted in Government, 18th November 2008 12:34 GMT

Michael Chertoff, the US Secretary of Homeland Security, reckons that putting boarding passes onto mobile phones will stop terrorists boarding planes with forged documents, and make the skies a safer place for all.

Boarding passes are easily forged, as demonstrated by The Atlantic magazine last month, But the electronic counterparts being trialled at various US airports should prove more difficult to forge - so long as every passenger has a compatible mobile phone. According to Chertoff, this plugs the loophole in airline security.

The system uses bar-codes that are displayed on the phone screen after the passenger has checked in using their phone. These are scanned at the boarding gate and are unique to each passenger and digitally signed, so pretty-much impossible to forge ahead of time.

Of course, there's no record of any terrorist boarding a plane with a forged boarding pass, but that's no reason not to spend money on technology to solve the problem.

Where miscreants do manage to sneak on board they are generally caught out by the straight head-count the stewards do before take off - your reporter recently saw someone trying to blag a free flight from Scotland to London that way, only to be escorted off the plane when the numbers didn't match and the passes were checked.

But that's not nearly as exciting as issuing electronic boarding passes, which dovetails nicely with today's call from the GSMA for Near Field Communications to be embedded in every GSM handset along with a connection to the operator-issued SIM.

That would provide contactless checking of boarding details, along with buckets of security from the SIM and a boost for the mobile payments industry - everyone wins.

All this excludes those luddites who refuse to carry a mobile phone, though clearly most of them are probably terrorists anyway. It also to overlooks the fact that passengers on a hijacked plane are unlikely sit by and wait to see what happens these days, making softer targets more attractive to the modern terrorist. ®