Man Claims You Can Beat TSA Scanners By Placing Contraband Along The Side Of Your Body

Since the TSA began rolling out its full-body scanners a few years ago, much has been made about possible safety and invasion of privacy concerns, but one blogger claims the devices are completely ineffective because all you need to do to sneak something past security is to place it along the side of your body.

The blogger’s rationale, captured in detail in the below video, is this:
-When your body is scanned by the device, your person shows up as a light, naked outline on a black background.
-Metallic objects show up as black on the scanner.
-If you place a metal object (knife, gun, box cutter) so that it is along the side of your body, it will appear to be part of the background.

In the video, he shows two test runs at two different airports. Both times he placed a heavy, metal carrying case in a pocket sewn onto the side of his shirt. The blogger says that in both cases he went through full-body scanners — one backscatter, one millimeter wave — without raising an alert.

Of interest to us is that the TSA began rolling out a scanner software upgrade for millimeter wave devices last summer that replaced the naked body image — the white body on a black background — with a basic outline of the passenger.The scanner operator is not looking at an actual picture of the subject but at a diagram that highlights areas where contraband might be located. Thus, his metal case should have shown up as a yellow blob on the screen at the one airport.

Of course, given the not-exactly-cheetah-like speed at which our government sometimes works, it’s possible that this software update had not been installed, and testing of the software for backscatter devices did not begin until this past fall.

Any experts on full-body scanner technology out there? We’d love to hear your opinion on this man’s theory.

$1B of TSA Nude Body Scanners Made Worthless By Blog — How Anyone Can Get Anything Past The Scanners [TSAoutofourpants]

Comments

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  1. Hi_Hello says:

    theory??! he did two test runs… and it works… how many more test runs do someone need to do to make it a fact?

    • mszabo says:

      It will stay a theory until he actually sees the images it produces. Until that time it could just be he hit two incompetent TSA agents, or the TSA agents recognized the item as being small enough to not worry about.

      • Hi_Hello says:

        good point. Thanks.

      • bluline says:

        My money is on incompetence.

      • fs2k2isfun says:

        Regardless, if he went through a metal detector it would have alarmed.

        • amuro98 says:

          My point exactly. What was the point in spending millions of dollars on these new scanners if they can’t even deliver the same level of accuracy as the metal detectors which have been in use for what, at least as long as I can remember from the 70s.

    • Tyanna says:

      Once more. It’s not a fact until it’s repeated 3 times. :)

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      Theory being that the upgrades which should negate this loophole have been approved but not yet fully implemented. that was spelled out pretty clearly for those actually reading the whole article.

    • Sian says:

      You need a five-sigma level of certainty before it will be accepted as ‘fact’ by the scientific community.

      #ifeverythingworkdlikeparticlephysics

      • AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

        This post made me feel like I’m watching Big Bang Theory…though without the jokes about social awkwardness and comic books.

  2. RandomMutterings says:

    Security theatre. Are you not entertained?

  3. dicobalt says:

    It’s been a long time since I have been on an airplane. I can’t believe they don’t use regular metal detectors anymore. Anyhow this exploit could easily be mitigated by having the person stand profile and straight on to the scanner.

    • PHRoG says:

      No, they still use regular metal detectors too. :)

    • nbs2 says:

      They still have the WTMDs (as least last time I flew – I’ll check again this weekend). Generally, they funnel people through them if they are trying to keep things moving, with random people being selected for the naked machine of death. Of course, then you opt out and try to see if you can get the mouth breather to say, “testicles,” when you enquire as to at what point will he stop feeling you up. Eventually he and his supervisor will get so flustered, they end up stopping just above your knee and you can go about your business knowing that you have made life just a little more depressing for the folks at TSA (all of whom are accountable for the actions of everybody else in the organization).

    • MrMagoo is usually sarcastic says:

      They still use metal detectors, but if you set off the metal detectors, they make you go through the scanner. The scanner doesn’t detect metal, other than by showing it as a dark spot on the image, so if they don’t see anything on the scanner image, you’re free to go. And they never bothered to figure out what set the metal detector off in the first place!

    • Sad Sam says:

      Well they use both. But at my home airport when the nudy scanners are in use they don’t use the metal detectors except for those that opt out, like me, or for kids. So I go through metal detector and get felt up, others just through the nudy scanner. At other airports they put everyone through the metal detector and the scanner, some airports only put you through the scanner after you set off the metal detector. It really depends but as I said at my home airport no metal detectors all scanners.

    • vizsladog says:

      Every time I have been scanned or seen someone scanned they first go through a metal detector, then are scanned; why didn’t he?

  4. KitanaOR says:

    Dear blogger, SHUT UP. What possible good can come out of this? The TSA changes for the better? Ha ha ha!!

    • shepd says:

      I hear that just boarding the plane makes it unsafe. We need to stop this practice immediately!

    • nbs2 says:

      So you’d rather be cowed by jackboots at TSA just a little rather than exposing them for the incompetant thugs they are?

      • KitanaOR says:

        And exposing them would stop the bullying or would get worse? I vote the latter, and that would be my point, sir.

        • Cicadymn says:

          “Don’t stand up against tyranny because that will only make them more tyrannical.”

        • Coleoptera Girl says:

          If it gets worse, more people will hate the TSA and hopefully once hatred for the TSA reaches critical mass, they will be disbanded….
          I hope.

        • KitanaOR says:

          Seems you guys are ignoring the trend of the TSA in the last 10 years. It only gets worse. Do you read the Consumerist? And little blogs like this haven’t done anything except get a blog post response from the TSA while they freak and up the security. You want to really disband the TSA? Find a more useful method.

    • bluline says:

      On the contrary, if there’s a weakness in the system it needs to be pointed out, and pointing it out just to the TSA likely won’t get it fixed. You have to shame them publicly to get anything done (assuming they can be shamed).

  5. axhandler1 says:

    Great. Soon it’s gonna be a 6 hour wait at security as the TSA strips searches and does a body cavity check on every single passenger. I mean, that seems like the only way to truly guarantee our safety, right? And safety is much more important than personal liberty, right?

    • lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

      And not just that – CT scans and MRI’s just in case someone had the C4 surgically implanted. Just hope there’s nothing magnetic in there, or hope the MRI machine is far away from passenger screening.

      **sighs**

  6. The hand that feeds, now with more bacon says:

    Isn’t that how Adam Savage of MythBusters somehow (accidentally) went through with a pair of large razor blades inside his coat.

    • Geekybiker says:

      Yes exactly. Like hacksaw sized razor blade.

      • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDave‚Ñ¢ says:

        Let’s be honest. If you stood up with a katana or even a running chainsaw, do you think other passengers wouldn’t try to take you down? Fun fact: modern woven nylon or similar fabric will clog a chainsaw blade if you try to cut through it. A few bags from the overhead bins and you can stop pretty much all edged weapons.

        • amuro98 says:

          Post 9/11, anyone stupid enough to try and hijack an airplane will face the immediate wrath of all passengers on board. The air marshal isn’t there for your protection – he’s there to protect potential terrorists from the passengers. Hopefully the marshal gets to him before the kind old lady in 23F, still upset at being molested by the TSA, finishes curb-stomping the perp into the carpet covering the bulkhead.

  7. Kaleey says:

    They are implements one of these things at Louisville… I am taking a flight in April and one in August from there. Shudder.

    • Phil Villakeepinitrreal says:

      Well, shit. I use flying as a travel method of last resort, but I am dismayed that this thing will now be in my home airport…

  8. scoosdad says:

    This guy landing on the no-fly list in 3, 2, 1…

  9. dolemite says:

    Off to Gitmo with that guy. We don’t like people that point out the flaws in our billion dollar kickback…I mean security programs around these parts.

  10. Hoss says:

    He thinks security is too intrusive yet attempts to prove it is insufficient?

    • Coleoptera Girl says:

      I believe that he also points out that the metal detector would be more effective than these machines. It’s very rare that anyone who is told to go through the WBI machines goes through the metal detector at all. Even opt outs are directed to either walk through the WBI machine or through a gate for just that purpose.

      TL;DR: He wants everyone to go through the metal detector like we used to, to catch these metallic “threats.”

  11. nearly_blind says:

    This TSA incompentence is troubling but not surprising; however it seems an easy fix would be to capture 4 images instead of 2 (front, back, side1, side 2).

  12. homehome says:

    yea, let’s teach ppl how to get past air port security, that’s smart and of course nothing bad is gonna come from that.

    • BobOki says:

      Yes it does. Once how to beat something is public knowledge the USE of said security measure goes away. In this case billion dollar POS machines that do more harm than good in every way possible shows up as also being ineffective, and they will go away.

      Yes, that DOES mean it could be replaced with something even worse, but it also could mean just metal detectors…. as not a single flyer has been caught with anything explosive which was non-metalic since these scanner inception. If there was ONE save a year, then maybe, just maybe people could be like “That billion dollars saved hundreds this year” and maybe just maybe talk the way into this being worth it…. but there is not even that much.

      • kgb says:

        You’re probably against the gov’t spending billions to pay for medical insurance to save people’s lives on a daily basis, yet you think it’s worth it to spend on metal detectors in an airport with the idea that something MIGHT happen to need these detectors.
        How many times do you really think planes would actually be hijacked if we didn’t use metal detectors (like we did for years until 9/11)? You’d have a better chance of being struck by lightning than get on a crashing plane.

    • bluline says:

      And you think burying your head in the sand and pretending the system works is going to make things better?

  13. eturowski says:

    Don’t you feel safer now?‚Ñ¢

  14. maxamus2 says:

    And the reason to blog about this is?

    And if you get caught intentionally trying to hide something, you are going to be in a hurt of problems.

    • Coleoptera Girl says:

      Not if you claim that you just forgot whatever it was in your pocket. Swiss Army knife or any small folding knife? A reasonable item to say such a thing about.

  15. GuyGuidoEyesSteveDave‚Ñ¢ says:

    Take the foot steps/markers you stand on, and rotate them 15-20 degrees. Done. In addition, the object he had was solid and contained no circuitry or anything. I wonder if he tried it with a variety of object and only recorded the one that made it through without being picked up. Would a beeper, which has circuitry, a battery, and other things set it off in the same space?

    Also, this guy, besides using an overly large setup to record a simple video(I just use the microphone on my webcam and no headphones. Bob Barker’s microphone was smaller.) is using a picture that doesn’t even represent what is seen by the TSA, which has been explained time and time again.

    • Coleoptera Girl says:

      The pictures he used are, in fact, images taken by backscatter x-ray machines. Because the TSA refuses to release even one image of a person even without contraband, we can only assume that this is reasonably close to what they see. Considering the cost of these machines, they had better produce high-quality images such as the ones displayed.

      I suspect that this method can only be used against the backscatter machines and not the MMW.

    • Julian says:

      Exactly what I was thinking. Just get people to stand in front facing forward, then a 90 degree turn. I’m somehow surprised that the idea of proof that the machines have a flaw overruled any thinking on the matter, and how easy it is to solve.

      I’m from the UK and we only have the metal detectors which also have random false positives to ensure some people are searched.

      Considering everyone likes to point out that the security is nothing more than a theatre, has anyone come up with a more efficient method of detecting prohibited items?

  16. Tacojelly says:

    I have also independently come up with two more successful ways to dupe the machines; similar idea, but I won’t divulge them here in case I need to transport illegal materials for personal consumption.

    Point is, if people not invested in causing harm can easily beat the machine, why are they still using them? And, just as this video shows, what’s most upsetting is that you can now hide METAL objects including guns and knives.

  17. Fisher1949 says:

    Germany banned the scanners because they generated too many false positives and required unnecessary pat downs. This isn’t an improvement just further government invasion of our privacy and erosion of our rights.

    Due to a 54% false positive approximately half of those using the scanners receive some form of pat down, adding 8 to 30 seconds to the process. Further, the scanners to detect hidden items 44% of the time, most of which would have been detected using the metal detector as the primary screening device. Almost all of the items found by TSA in 2011 were found using the x-ray belt and walk through metal detectors, not the scanners.

    They also claimed the images were suitable for Readers Digest last year until the privacy software was installed on the millimeter wave systems.. In August Denver TSA area director Pat Ahlstrom, said the scans ” were graphic, no doubt about it.” The MMW scanners still produce the naked image but TSA has added a software overlay to hide the image shown to the public. The Rapi-Scan units will continue to produce the naked image.

    Neither system has been demonstrated to be more effective than the metal detectors, which still are the predominant weapons detection used in airports. It is disturbing that a government agency would sacrifice passenger privacy and put their health at risk to protect private manufacturers’ profits. There is clearly an implication of corruption in the deployment of the scanners, which bears further investigation by Congress.

    Remember that TSA isn’t paying for the scanners and abuse, taxpayers are, to the tune of $8 billion a year. Consequently, taxpayers are also paying TSA to strip search old women, grope children and harass them at checkpoints.

    TSA Crimes & Abuses
    bit.ly/TravelUndergroundTSAabuses

  18. Fisher1949 says:

    Germany banned the scanners because they generated too many false positives and required unnecessary pat downs. This isn’t an improvement just further government invasion of our privacy and erosion of our rights.

    Due to a 54% false positive approximately half of those using the scanners receive some form of pat down, adding 8 to 30 seconds to the process. Further, the scanners to detect hidden items 44% of the time, most of which would have been detected using the metal detector as the primary screening device. Almost all of the items found by TSA in 2011 were found using the x-ray belt and walk through metal detectors, not the scanners.

    They also claimed the images were suitable for Readers Digest last year until the privacy software was installed on the millimeter wave systems.. In August Denver TSA area director Pat Ahlstrom, said the scans ” were graphic, no doubt about it.” The MMW scanners still produce the naked image but TSA has added a software overlay to hide the image shown to the public. The Rapi-Scan units will continue to produce the naked image.

    Neither system has been demonstrated to be more effective than the metal detectors, which still are the predominant weapons detection used in airports. It is disturbing that a government agency would sacrifice passenger privacy and put their health at risk to protect private manufacturers’ profits. There is clearly an implication of corruption in the deployment of the scanners, which bears further investigation by Congress.

    Remember that TSA isn’t paying for the scanners and abuse, taxpayers are, to the tune of $8 billion a year. Consequently, taxpayers are also paying TSA to strip search old women, grope children and harass them at checkpoints.

    TSA Crimes & Abuses
    bit.ly/TravelUndergroundTSAabuses

  19. dush says:

    wow that is freaking creepy that TSA takes pictures of you like that.

  20. golddog says:

    I’m posting this late in the cycle so I doubt many will see it, but I just want to remind everyone that you DO NOT have to go through these worthless machines. It’s part of the law the Act that birthed them to begin with.

    Politely refuse and ask for the metal detector line. You’ll either get to go through the MD and be done; or they will say it’s not on and you’ll have to have a pat down. The agents will be super annoyed. They will use language to imply that you must use the scanner and try to intimidate you through the process. If you get a pat down they will try to take you away to screening and leave your x-ray items on the belt (they have to let you be in sight of the items at all times and you can refuse directives that would take you away from them – or rather ask that they bring you and your items to the screening area together).

    Stick. It may be a fairly lame application of civil disobedience on the continuum, but trolling the TSA fun and they do keep stats on this type of thing so it can add up.

  21. MECmouse says:

    I’m more afraid of TSA workers than terrorists at this point. Won’t be flying unless it’s an emergency — the easiest way getting around airport security!

  22. SilentAgenger says:

    Is there a reason why search rules or techniques change at certain airports? I imagine it might have something to do with how they’re equipped, but I’m not sure. I’m just annoyed that one major airport always asks me to remove my belt and empty my pockets of everything, but another does not do the same. And if I’m wearing my shirt untucked so it covers my belt, sometimes I forget it’s there and I still breeze thru the line without a problem. On a recent trip thru the security line, I forgot to remove my quart size ziploc bag full of 3oz liquids etc, so it stayed packed in my carryon and went thru without mention (I didn’t realize it until I got home, and this is the 2nd or 3rd time I’ve done this in the past year or so, each time without incident…as mentioned, I’m forgetful). As I went thru the scanner, a TSA agent asked if I had anything in my pockets…when I replied ‘no’, he lightly grazed one hand over my right pocket and then motioned for me to proceed thru the line. The whole experience just left me thinking “what’s the point?”…and I know what the point is from a big-picture perspective, it just SEEMS pointless when you see the actual screening process in action.

  23. ancientone567 says:

    This guy is my hero! Safety my ass they just wanted to make a butt-load of money selling those stupid scanners to the Government. I sure it did not cost to much to bribe all the politicians to vote for them.