Confirmation of the gaping hole in TSA Pre✓


A couple weeks ago the discussion about TSA and their flawed implementation of the PreCheck program was all about how passengers could potentially see whether they were approved for the expedited screening in advance of arrival at the airport checkpoint. There was minimal discussion of the potential for customers to outright forge boarding passes, mostly because confirming that would likely require committing a felony. Fortunately the Washington Post didn’t sit back on the story. They’ve now confirmed that modifying the boarding passes is possible and that it has been done, bypassing the TSA’s ability to control who gains access to the Pre✓ lane.

Most worrisome is that the ability to restrict such forgeries is incredibly simple, to the point of being a trivial change. In fact, the airlines currently participating in program already have the technology in place. And the TSA has the systems at their checkpoints, too. By requiring a boarding pass to be digitally signed to allow access to the Pre✓ lane the bulk of the risk associated with this security hole could be mitigated. And it would be limited for real, not just in the imagination of the TSA officials who claim that the "layers" of security will serve as sufficient protection.

As it currently stands, someone on the no-fly list can easily get in to the secure part of an airport. And where Pre✓ exists they can do so through that expedited security screening facility. If that’s not a massive failure in implementation by the TSA then I don’t know what is.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

8 Comments

  1. maybe the TSA thinks you flew 200 million miles too much and so they have to stop you from it. lol

  2. It didn’t take me long after your post to figure out how to do this myself. And it’s been accurate 100% of the time since then – on more than 5 flights/originations.

  3. Wow, that’s disturbing. I’ve always felt the TSA does nothing to actually keep us safe, apparently they even do the opposite.

  4. Does it really matter if this “security hole” existed in the boarding pass? What is the concern if they’ve gone through the TSA screening checkpoint?

    At the end of the day, even going through the “more stringent” TSA procedures (taking your laptop out, NoS or Patdown, taking your liquids out) is nothing more than security theatre, and does not improve the overall safety of air travel compared with the TSA Pre procedures. TSA Pre essentially is the pre-2001 security procedure.

  5. Seth, the pre check pax get screened too, the unnecessarily invasive bits the TSA dreamed up to comply with the general anxiety just drop off, just like we have in Europe. In MUC liquids can sty in the bag too. 🙂

  6. Don’t worry we are protected by layers of security:
    http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_CH-88zYEvrc/TNHK7dKg0KI/AAAAAAAABHo/ubRMpEw9HxY/s1600/(1+of+1)-4.jpg

    They may penetrate the Salsa into the Guacamole with a dab of Sour Cream but the TSA will never let them taste our Refried Beans.

    BTW the price of Grated Cheese and Sliced Scallions has risen to a million dollars a pound.

    I don’t think this is confirmation of the gapping hole in TSA PreCheck. It is simply confirmation of the gapping holes in the TSA.

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