Fool the TSA's Scanners with Pancakes

Illustration for article titled Fool the TSA's Scanners with Pancakes

Since current airport security technology is largely reactive to known threats, competent evil doers will eventually change their tactics to skirt by and do their worst. With that in mind, a new tactic could be pancakes.


Not pancakes you'd necessarily eat, of course, but PETN pancakes. Potential attackers would take the notoriously explosive material and smooth it into a pancake shape to mimic the contours of the abdomen using dimensions of about about 15-20cm in diameter and 1cm thick. Voila, hidden explosive.

This, according to a report in the Journal of Transportation Security (emphasis mine):

It is very likely that a large (15-20 cm in diameter), irregularly-shaped, cm-thick pancake with beveled edges, taped to the abdomen, would be invisible to this technology, ironically, because of its large volume, since it is easily confused with normal anatomy. Thus, a third of a kilo of PETN, easily picked up in a competent pat down, would be missed by backscatter "high technology". Forty grams of PETN, a purportedly dangerous amount, would fit in a 1.25 mm-thick pancake of the dimensions simulated here and be virtually invisible. Packed in a compact mode, say, a 1 cm×4 cm×5 cm brick, it would be detected.

Where a simple pat down would effectively mitigate this threat (Cost: TSA worker's salary), the multi-million dollar nudie machines would do nothing.

Oh, and conspicuous wires and thin blades? Potentially invisible as well:

The images are very sensitive to the presence of large pieces of high Z material, e. g., iron, but unless the spatial resolution is good, thin wires will be missed because of partial volume effects. It is also easy to see that an object such as a wire or a box- cutter blade, taped to the side of the body, or even a small gun in the same location, will be invisible. While there are technical means to mildly increase the conspicuity of a thick object in air, they are ineffective for thin objects such as blades when they are aligned close to the beam direction.

I guess I've never had too much of an issue being scanned, so it's not even a privacy issue anymore, with me. It's just the incredible waste of money on an ineffective technology that really bothers me (more than any curious gloved TSA hand ever could, anyway). I would say the same of a professional football team that bought the latest and greatest hockey sticks for their linemen. [Journal of Transportation Security (PDF) via Boing Boing…]



I've decided that Gizmodo must be sponsored by some sort of anti-TSA group. I've never seen a "gadget" blog with so many pointless articles about the TSA. Quit whining already and drive to your destination if you're so worried about the TSA, one less idiot to hold up the line at security.