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Pursuits

TSA Scanners That Saw You Naked Can Be Tricked to Miss Guns, Bombs

Professor Shacham stands in front of the study's  Rapiscan backscatter X-ray scanner
Professor Shacham stands in front of the study's Rapiscan backscatter X-ray scannerCourtesy UC San Diego Publications

On Thursday morning, at the Usenix security conference in San Diego, researchers from several top U.S. universities will present a study revealing that the controversial airport scanners that let TSA agents see through travelers’ clothes can be fairly easily obstructed from detecting concealed weapons or bombs.

In the study, the researchers report (PDF) that the Rapiscan Secure 1000 Single Pose full-body “backscatter” scanner—which the Transportation Safety Administration discarded last year, after four years of use—can be breached by covering contraband beneath simple plastic shields and under clothing that obscures it from monitors. In addition, the scanner’s software can be hacked to present images at certain angles or to cover up certain sections of the body in ways that would be undetectable, the research scientists said.