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Posts Tagged ‘security’

Security Overkill, Diaper-Changing Edition

I’ve been thinking a bit lately about security overkill. This includes not just the notion of “security theater” — security measures meant to inspire comfort by mere show of force/complexity — but the many instances in which someone places a layer of security between me and my everyday activities with no apparent benefit whatsoever.
My bank would surely argue that its many and various anti-fraud measures are valuable but in truth a) they are meant to protect the bank, not me; and b) they are cumbersome to the point of ridiculous. It’s gotten to where I can predict which credit-card charge will trigger the bank’s idiot algorithm and freeze my account because it didn’t like the Zip code where I used the card.
And security overkill has trickled down into the civilian world. When the class parents at my kids’ school send out a list of parent contact info at the start of each school year, it comes via a password-protected Excel spreadsheet. Keep in mind this list doesn’t contain Social Security numbers or bank information — just names, addresses, and phone numbers of the kids’ parents. I can imagine the day several months hence when someone actually needs to use the list and will find herself locked out by the long-forgotten password.

Europe's Stolen Goods Problem

Stealing a truckload of goods in Sweden is apparently as easy as waiting for the driver to go on his lunch break. Each year, billions of euros worth of goods are stolen while in transit across Europe, but no one seems to be doing much about it. Dr Luca Urciuoli, a researcher in engineering logistics at Lund University has studied the problem and finds a transportation system ripe for criminal exploitation. From Science Daily:

Luca Urciuoli’s research shows that many haulage companies do not make any security investments at all, even though it is fairly easy to find security measures such as theft-proof doors or windows, truck alarms, track and trace systems and mechanical locks on the market.

Airport Security Is a Drag

Going through security at U.S. airports is a continuing nuisance. One technology improvement that I saw at Brussels Airport is simple: the conveyor on which you place your computer, bag, etc., slopes downward toward the x-ray machine, so that there is no need to drag bins and bags along the conveyor. Moreover, there is an adjacent conveyor that tilts backward toward the rear of the belt on which the staff can place a pile of used bins.
These devices save passenger time and are labor-saving for the security company too — no need for the workers to drag the bins by hand or hand-truck to the rear of the belt. Are we slow to innovate (how un-American that would be!) or does cheap semi-skilled labor reduce the incentive to substitute capital for labor?

The Latest Terrorist Threat

The best strategy I have found for reducing the aggravation of security screening is to pretend I am a terrorist and think about where the weaknesses are in security, and how I might slip through. I think I figured out a way to get a gun or explosives into the White House during the George W. Bush administration. I only got invited to the White House once, however, so I never got a chance to test my theory for real on a return visit.

Interior Decorating for the Security-Conscious

Researchers at the University of Tokyo say they’ve created a paint that blocks out wireless signals, reports the BBC. You can use it, for example, to make sure your neighbor doesn’t steal your wi-fi, and movie theaters can use it to stop cell-phones from interrupting films.

The Unintended Consequences of Secrecy

Washington, D.C., is underlaced by miles of fiber optic cables that carry information for the nation’s intelligence agencies. The exact locations of these cables are kept secret so that terrorists and other enemy agents can’t snip the lines. The secrecy has indeed kept the cables safe from terrorists. Instead, the danger comes from well-meaning construction crews, who occasionally sever these sensitive conduits during the course of an innocuous building project. That’s when the men in the black SUV’s show up.

The FREAK-est Links

The baby names debate continues. (Earlier) Head of new NYC Office of Financial Empowerment answers questions. (Earlier) Is public peer review necessary in security? (Earlier) Dirty, dirty biofuel

What Do DVD Rentals and Airport Security Have In Common?

Both are provided by companies offering cash prizes in exchange for new business ideas. Just as Netflix announced plans to pay a $1 million prize to anyone who comes up with an algorithm for movie recommendations that is 10 percent more accurate than its own, airport security company Clear is now offering $500,000 to whoever comes up with the best . . .

The FREAK-est Links

A financial markets outlook for 2008. The newest trend in Romanian business: eBay scams. (Earlier) What would Earth look like to aliens? Want to keep your Web surfing, e-mail and IMs private? Here’s how.

The FREAK-est Links

Which M.L.B. players performed better after using steroids? (Earlier) Confusion over euro conversion good for Spanish waiters. Rare $90 video game sells for more than $9,000 online. Apple beefs up program security to thwart hackers. (Earlier)

The FREAK-est Links

Why cancer vaccines don’t work. (Earlier) Professor predicts “exodus” to virtual worlds. (Earlier) Electric cars vs. gas-guzzlers: further analysis. (Earlier) Traveler chugs vodka to avoid surrendering bottle to airport security. (Earlier)

Computer Security Guru Bruce Schneier Will Now Take Your Questions

Bruce Schneier could probably find out just about everything about you without breaking a sweat. He has built a career out of discovering weaknesses in computer systems and has analyzed security flaws in everything from biometrics to post-9/11 airline security. The designer of the popular Blowfish and Twofish encryption algorithms (the latter was a finalist for the Federal Advanced Encryption . . .

The FREAK-est Links

Does the Internet need replacing? Airport security to focus on remote-control toys. (Earlier) Can cheating in online games be stopped? (Earlier) Woman sues for $1 million over iPhone price cut. (Earlier)

A Good News/Bad News Day for the Nuclear Energy Industry

We wrote recently about nuclear energy in the U.S. — how, after much early promise, the industry faltered badly but now seems poised for a renaissance. (Here is some supporting evidence for the column.) Two related stories broke yesterday, one of which is good news for the nuclear industry. The other is probably — hopefully — not very consequential in . . .

Here’s Why You Haven’t Been Reading Any Prisoners’ Tales From the Colorado ‘Supermax’ Prison

The U.S. Penitentiary Administrative Maximum in Florence, Colorado, widely known as the “Supermax” prison, houses many of the nation’s most notorious and violent criminals. But you probably haven’t read any interviews with any of those prisoners — including Sammy Gravano, John Walker Lindh, and Ramzi Yousef — in the last several years. Why not? According to this article by Alan . . .

Terrorism, Part II

Levitt responds to the fiery criticism of his previous post, “If You Were a Terrorist, How Would You Attack?”

If You Were a Terrorist, How Would You Attack?

In the wake of changes in airport security technology, Levitt lists his own ideas for a fear-maximizing terror plot, and solicits other ideas from readers as a means of bringing possible scenarios into discussion before they actually happen.

The FREAKest Links: Forgiving Chimps and Airport Machetes Edition

Via Reuters: A study led by Max Planck Institute biologist Keith Jensen found that, unlike humans, chimpanzees are capable of revenge but not spite. Researchers tested the apes’ reactions to theft by their peers using collapsible tables that allowed chimps to steal food from each other. While the chimps who were left hungry later sought revenge as punishment, they showed . . .

How Being a Lousy Journal Editor Nearly Ended Up Getting Me Sent to Guantanamo Bay

I am an editor at one of the top academic economic journals, the Journal of Political Economy. I handle between 150 and 200 manuscripts a year, deciding whether or not the journal should publish each of them. It takes a lot of time — something I’ve been short on lately. I’ve turned into a lousy journal editor as a consequence. . . .

Freakonomics in the Times Magazine: Identity Crisis

The March 11, 2007, Freakonomics column in the New York Times Magazine asks this question: Who really cares about identity theft? Dubner and Levitt clear up some misconceptions about the subject and get a guided tour of a hacker chat room where credit-card numbers, passwords, and PIN’s are bought and sold. This blog post supplies additional research material.

Phun Phacts About Phishing (and Spam)

According to CipherTrust, a company that makes its money protecting computers from viruses and spam, all the phishing attacks in the world are issued by a mere five “zombie” networks. Even more interesting is the fact that their targets are just as concentrated. Here, from CipherTrust’s page of spam statistics, are the top 5 targets and the percentage of phishing . . .

Plastic knives and Alanis Morissette

I’ve flown first class exactly twice in the last five years. The first time was right after 9/11. At the time I was struck by how ludicrous it is that they provided metal forks and spoons, but plastic knives. The idea was that terrorists would take over the plane using metal table knives (perhaps in combination with the nail clippers . . .

Out of Touch in California

Levitt and I both arrived in Los Angeles late last night after nearly identical flight plans: 90 min. on the ground at our originating airports (JFK for me, O’Hare for Levitt). But no security trouble this time. I had the good fortune to be reading an early copy of The Search, by John Battelle, which primarily tells the history of . . .

I almost got sent to Guantanamo

I arrived at the West Palm Beach airport yesterday, trying to make my way back to Chicago, only to see my flight time listed on the departure board as simply “DELAYED.” They weren’t even pretending it was leaving in the foreseeable future. With a little detective work, I found another flight that could get me home on a different airlines, . . .