Nov 01 2000

Airport security vs. antivirus security

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Let’s suppose airport security works like antivirus security — and let’s suppose a terrorist wants to hijack an aircraft bound for the U.S.

Airport secu­rity experts would blame ter­rorist acts on every­thing except secu­rity guards. They’d blame pilots for letting a ter­rorist board an air­craft under their control… And they’d blame passen­gers for not watching out for their own safety…

He shouts anti-American rhetoric as he approaches the X-ray machine. The airport security team doesn’t notice. They ask to see his passport, which identifies him as “Bin saden Olama.” A database search turns up blank. The name matches no known terrorist.

The terrorist places a package on the conveyor. It has “BOMB” written all over it, but the security guards don’t look. They don’t even look at the X-ray image. A bomb-sniffing dog snoozes nearby. Our guy boards the aircraft and pays $4 for a mixed drink. The plane takes off.

The terrorist steals everybody’s credit cards, grabs his $4 back from the stewardess, and puts it all in an envelope. He breaks into the cockpit, shoots the co-pilot, and orders the captain to fly over international waters. He tosses the envelope out a window and it lands in another terrorist’s boat.

Then our guy asks, “Does anyone have a light for my fuse?” Forty-seven passengers flick their Bics. Boom! Rescue ships follow a trail of seat cushion flotation devices.

So. Who gets blamed?

First you blame the pilot. He — like Microsoft — controls the hardware for the passengers. “Pilots don’t care about security,” the airport security experts scream. “Those flyboys will do anything they please with no regard for who might get on board.”

Then you blame the passengers. They — like computer users — want the hardware to do things for them. “Passengers are stupid,” the airport security experts scream. “They’ll sit next to some weirdo with ‘bomb’ written all over his luggage. They’ll even light a fuse if someone asks politely!”

Reporters clamor to know the cost of this heinous crime. “Based on our most recent survey of airport security guards, we can extrapolate this act of terrorism cost US$6.71 million,” the airport security experts say. “Worldwide, we believe this kind of terrorism alone costs US$20.3 billion each year. But remember! Few acts of terrorism are reported, so the damages may amount to trillions of American dollars.”

Reporters ask what new security measures would help. “First and foremost,” say the airport security experts, “pilots must stop giving terrorists a comfortable aircraft seat. They’re in control of the hardware and they should make anti-terrorism a top priority. Uncaring pilots make it easy for weirdoes to break into the cockpit and take control of the plane.”

“Second,” they say, “every passenger should look closely at every other passenger. Common sense tells you not to light fuses aboard an aircraft.”

One man stands up to ask why airport security guards let the terrorist get past them. Guards — like antivirus software — get paid to protect us from terrorism. “Our folks did their job,” the airport security experts protest. “They did it quite well, too. They stop terrorists all the time.”

What about the bomb-sniffing dog, then? “He’s part of our forth­coming ‘Doggy Immune System,’ ” one airport secu­rity expert explains. “We’ve been training him for six years to sniff for bombs after they get past our secu­rity guards. We trot him out for a photo-op after every act of terrorism.”

But they didn’t stop this terrorist, the man notes. Can we do anything to increase airport security guard efficiency? “Certainly!” the airport security experts proclaim. “We already increased their efficiency. All airports worldwide now look for ‘Bin saden Olama’ passports. And we asked security guards to update their terrorist definition files on an hourly basis instead of daily.”

The man presses for answers. Can’t airport security guards look for packages clearly marked ‘bomb’? “They could do so in theory,” the airport security experts concede. “But it would take extraordinary training. They’d need to look for ‘bomb,’ ‘grenade,’ ‘explosive,’ and so on. The complexity skyrockets if security guards look for multi-word phrases like ‘claymore mine,’ ‘semi-automatic handgun,’ etc. And that’s just for marked packages!”

What about the bomb-sniffing dog, then? “He’s part of our forthcoming ‘Doggy Immune System,’ ” one airport security expert explains. “We’ve been training him for six years to sniff for bombs after they get past our security guards. We trot him out for a photo-op after every act of terrorism.”

The man sighs. It just seems logical to blame security guards for a security failure. “Hey, if you can make a better airport security guard, then more power to you,” the airport security experts say…