Security flaws in airline boarding passes could allow would-be terrorists or smugglers to know in advance whether they will be subject to certain security measures, and perhaps even permit them to modify the designated measures, security researchers have warned.
The vulnerabilities center on the Transportation Security Administration’s pre-screening system, a paid-for program in which the screening process is expedited for travelers at the airport: Laptop computers can remain in hand baggage, as can approved containers of liquid, and belts and shoes can be kept on.
Under the program, passengers can still be subject at random to conventional security screening.
Flight enthusiasts, however, recently discovered that the bar codes printed on all boarding passes — which travelers can obtain up to 24 hours before arriving at the airport — contain information on which security screening a passenger is set to receive.
Details about the vulnerability spread after John Butler, an aviation blogger, drew attention to it in a post late last week. Butler said he had discovered that information stored within the bar codes of boarding passes is unencrypted, and so can be read in advance by technically minded travelers.
Simply by using a smartphone or similar device to check the bar code, travelers could determine whether they would pass through full security screening, or the expedited process.