Sunday, July 06, 2014

TSA rules have the potential to disrupt traveler who carry a lot of computers and hardware; hardware and malware could cause trips to be missed

The TSA has implemented screening rules requiring passengers to demonstrate that electronics actually work before boarding planes, at least at some overseas airports.  CNN has a story (“No power, no go”) today here.  At least one passenger at an airport in Germany reported such screening in the evening news on WJLA. ABC has a story with link here. All of this is on specific intelligence on new technology that terrorists may try to smuggle bombs onto planes. 
Back in the 1990s, it was common for passengers to have to turn on laptops to prove that they work.  Now, electronics put in TSA approved bags do not have to be turned on.

When I travel, I often carry a cell phone, a notebook laptop with Windows, an iPad, and two small cameras.  If such screening were done for domestic flights (and it doesn’t seem that they are now), all five items would actually have to work. 

It isn’t a problem to come to the airport with them powered up.  The cell phone would be on.  Perhaps the notebook (whose battery has a very long operation) could simply be on, as could the iPad.  A bigger problem could be a failure of a component (especially a laptop) to boot up even though powered up, possibly because of malware, or unlucky hardware failure by being banged around. 

Bigger complications could come for people who carry electronics for both work and personal use on trips.  Double lives get even more infeasible. 
While on a trip in Texas in 2011, I had a Toshiba notebook fail, but I was able to get it working again for the rest of the trip.   
This story will have to be watched closely.

Monday Webroot tweeted a UK Register story here. mentioning concern about external hard drives.

Also on Monday, CNN quotes Homeland Security as saying that the requirement could be put into place for domestic flights later, since some terrorists have valid US passports and visas and could try to come into the US and disrupt domestic travel.  But this has not happened with other means  (like underwear).

The latest information suggests that there is specific concern that the battery component of a cell phone or laptop could house explosives.  Therefore, starting the device by plugging in to a power source doesn't prove it's safe.  Your batteries must work.  You need to think carefully about traveling with older equipment.

Wolf Blitzer asks if a laptop could still work while having an explosive:

We have to stay on top of this story' it will change.

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