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Grey hats and blue skies, dealing with airline security

Vincenzo Marsden | Oct. 14, 2016
Airline security in the 21st century will have to address hacking and physical threats.

"My main concerns around air travel center around the delta between security and security theater, meaning that the controls put in place by security organizations in the United States and other countries seem to largely be a matter of display or presentation, and are not actually effective at stopping determined attackers from bringing weapons onto an airplane. This has been discussed and demonstrated hundreds of times over the last few years, yet little change has been affected to address the problem," Meissler said.

For example, several reports have noted how it's possible, trivial even, to get weapons past TSA checkpoints.

In addition, Meissler said, "gaining access to bags within the airport, by being or impersonating an airport employee, has proved far too easy over the years. Once given access to the bags all manner of harm can be done."

"There are also significant soft spots in the front of airports where people are gathered yet no filtering has yet occurred. The use of explosive devices before security in the midst of massive groups of travelers would have an extremely similar effect to travel as if a plane were to be attacked and destroyed in flight, i.e. people being terrified of, and reluctant to, go to airports and fly."

Another thing Meissler mentions during his interview for CSO Online, is that the requirements for gaining special airport security access as an employee are notoriously low.

"Nearly anyone can, and does, become an airport employee who then has trusted access to enter various areas of the airport and its secure infrastructure. Attackers targeting such employees through bribery, blackmail, or extortion, or impersonating those employees outright is likely to be an extremely easy way to gain access to, and compromise, the security of the airport or airplanes."

Meissler said that in order to see the difference between security and security theater, the public should start by evaluating the filtering techniques employed at Israel’s airports and compare them to those employed at U.S. airports.

"They differ greatly both in what is done as well as the amount of training required to perform the evaluations," he added.

There is no obvious answer for commercial airlines looking to beef up security across the board, but restructuring their security operations to deal with perceived threats as new as the growing technologies around us, cross referencing the massive amounts of data on previous cyber attacks, and implementing new technologies after thorough testing and checks is a good start.

It would also help if they paid more attention to InfoSec experts and security consultants, more than to bottom lines and overheads.


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