News

12:08 PM
Connect Directly
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

Airport Body Scanners Fooled By Human Tissue

Backscatter X-ray systems can't reliably spot even a large quantity of plastic explosives hidden against the skin, warn researchers.

 5 Airport Body Scanner Patents Stripped Down
(click image for larger view)
Slideshow: 5 Airport Body Scanner Patents Stripped Down
Are we saying goodbye to another supposed airline security silver bullet?

According to a recently published study, when it comes to the backscatter X-ray body scanners being rolled out in airports, "detection of contraband can be foiled in these systems."

So say Leon Kaufman and Joseph W. Carlson, both former professors of physics at the University of California at San Francisco, in a recent paper published in the Journal of Transportation Security.

Experts had already warned that backscatter X-ray machines can't see plastic explosives hidden inside a body orifice. But according to the new report, backscatter X-ray also can't reliably see plastic explosives, small handguns, or wires hidden under clothing and against the skin.

According to the researchers, airport body scanners typically record two views of a subject: front and back. But current scanner resolution doesn't appear able to distinguish high-density explosives from tissue in either pose. For example, the researchers estimate that to accurately detect dangerous TAPT (acetone peroxide), given current pixel noise levels, a machine would have to take 46 exposures by one measure, and 730 by another. Even more exposures would be required to detect pentaerythritol tetranitrate (PETN), which is similar to nitroglycerin.

According to the report, "even if exposure were to be increased significantly, normal anatomy would make a dangerous amount of plastic explosive with tapered edges difficult if not impossible to detect."

Furthermore, the report assumes that machines will be operating at 100% efficiency, but that's unlikely, said the researchers. "For the kind of technology in use in this market, heavily influenced by number of units and budget, and little influenced by competitiveness and performance, the efficiency may easily be 50%."

What could sneak by scanners? Try a half-pound of PETN -- as they note, it's "easily picked up in a competent pat down" -- or 40 grams of PETN, which could be pancaked to the point where it's invisible to detectors. In other words, whatever else they do, don't expect full body scanners alone to stop explosives.

SEE ALSO:

Wolfe's Den: Airport Scanner Patents Promise Not To Show Your 'Junk'

DHS Rolls Out Airport Body Scanners

TSA Screening Protests Take To Social Media

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Cartoon
White Papers
Register for Network Computing Newsletters
Current Issue
2014 State of Unified Communications
2014 State of Unified Communications
If you thought consumerization killed UC, think again: 70% of our 488 respondents have or plan to put systems in place. Of those, 34% will roll UC out to 76% or more of their user base. And there’s some good news for UCaaS providers.
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed