Few people like the TSA, but undergo security screenings because they believe it makes flying safer. But does it really? What the TSA provides is security theater. Strictly for show, this security is designed to make you feel safer, but it quickly falls apart under closer scrutiny. A classic example of this is the No-Fly list. According to author and security expert Bruce Schneier, the No-Fly list is “a list of people that are so dangerous we can’t allow them to fly for any reason, but so innocent we can’t arrest them. Who are these people?”
“…a list of people that are so dangerous we can’t allow them to fly for any reason, but so innocent we can’t arrest them. Who are these people?”
– Bruce Schneier
I’ll show you a quick way to get around the list in order to prove that the no-fly list, like most TSA procedures, does not provide additional security.
Are You On the List?
Using a service called CLEAR you can check to see if your name is on the No-Fly list by signing up for their service (they have a refund policy if you don’t use it). If they deny your account, then it is safe to assume you are on the no-fly list. Since that appears to be the only real reason they deny accounts.
Cheating the Checkpoints
This technique comes down to understanding when and how your identity is checked. Whenever you fly, your identity is checked at least three times (four times if you check-in to your flight in person). First, when you purchase the ticket (do this online), second, when you enter security, and finally when your boarding pass is scanned as you get on the plane.
Planning Your Purchase
When you purchase your ticket, the passenger name is checked against the no-fly list. This is the only time your name is checked. To bypass this, purchase the ticket with a credit card belonging to someone else. The ticket will be under their name, but (as I will demonstrate), it really doesn’t matter what name you book your ticket under (make sure to stick with the same gender, it just makes the process easier). Another option would be to use a prepaid debit card to purchase your ticket.
Remember, when selecting someone’s identity to use you should first check them against CLEAR.
The next check is just before you go through security. TSA Agents check your ID card (or passport) against your boarding pass, looking closely with a magnifying glass to verify that your ID is authentic. This detailed look at IDs makes using a fake a bad idea, plus the photo needs to look like you, so borrowing an ID won’t work either. The easiest way through this checkpoint is to modify your boarding pass (the only non-secure document here). At this stage, they are only checking you and your boarding pass against your ID. They don’t do a computer check against the no-fly list or even check that your boarding pass is authentic.
Modifying Your Boarding Pass
When printing a boarding pass you are simply printing an HTML page. With the Firefox extension Firebug you can live edit HTML directly in the page. When viewing your boarding pass, print one authentic copy (with the stolen identity), then print another copy that has the name switched to yours (leave all the fight details intact). When you go through security present the modified boarding pass with the name that will match your valid ID. Easy.
Finally, your boarding pass is checked as you get on the plane. It will be scanned and your name will appear on the screen (though ID is not checked), so you will need to switch back to your authentic boarding pass with the stolen name.
That’s it. Walk down the ramp and onto the plane. The most complicated part was using a Firefox extension to edit some HTML. You didn’t even have to open Photoshop. The no-fly list is another government program expected to help keep us safe. If it can be by-passed this easily shouldn’t we take a closer look at the rest of the TSA’s functions?
Note: This article is designed to point out the flaws in TSA Security. The author is not recommending that you try this as it is probably very illegal.