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Flying Woes

I’m with Bruce Schneier. I never really spent enough time on airplanes to be particularly annoyed by the entire process until last year. I actually wrote the majority of this on a flight to Las Vegas for the SANS conference today as a matter of fact. While cumbersome and obnoxious in many ways, I’ve managed to isolate myself from the majority of those annoyances with things like off line email (won’t off line enabled JS apps rock your world - you’ll be able to hack as you fly!), mp3s and noise canceling headphones. Further, packing light (see makes my life just a lot easier.

But, and here comes the big but, why in this day and age are we still turning off portable electronic devices as we take off and land? The stewardess was making a joke that that includes wristwatches, pace makers and hearing aids. I’ve inadvertantly left my cell phone on during a flight last year, we must have narrowly escaped our death on that one. Somehow the terrorists haven’t figured out this critical weakness in our security yet though, thankfully. Anyway sarcasm aside, I’m with Bruce.

Some of these rules and security precautions are just complete nonsense. A knife that’s 3 1/2 inches is fine, but four inches and you’re a terrorist! Thankfully, I don’t really look like a trouble maker, if you could even articulate what a trouble maker did look like. So in all but one occasion I have managed to escape the involuntary TSA rub-down. All they’re missing is the oil and the sleazy seventies music!

Anyway, I’m speaking at SANS in Vegas then flying to Orlando for GFIRST/US-CERT and then to Denver for OWASP. I’ll get plenty of chances to be annoyed by the safety threat that I present by using noise canceling headphones between now and then I’m sure.

I’m not exactly sure why, but this reminds me of when I was doing a speech for the OWASP chapter in Minnesota. It was on a University campus. Being nice enough to host the event they also gave us an AV person. The AV person decided that I was an idiot upon only looking at me and made it clear that I shouldn’t touch her computers, yet she didn’t have anything installed despite the fact that she said she had MS office, the projector was having problems and it was clear she was pretty clueless. Yet she was still obviously annoyed at my gentle questioning. My friend was ready to rip her head off and was surprised I didn’t tell her who I was and where to shove her attitude. Sometimes it’s better to let people think they know what they are doing until they prove it to themselves that they don’t. She eventually gave up and let me do it myself (my own laptop and a non faulty cable later and we were up and running). I’m still waiting on the airline industry to come to the same conclusion as our beloved AV maiden.

15 Responses to “Flying Woes”

  1. id Says:

    last year I had a 5 flight streak where I got to go through the bomb blower/sniffer/whatever the hell it was. My theory is they hate bald people.

    But yes…
    they waste money
    they spend time on false threats making us less safe
    arrest innocent people
    have killed people!
    and have no metrics to prove their effectiveness…

    2006 stats:
    U.S. citizens worldwide killed as a result of incidents of terrorism: 28
    U.S. citizens worldwide injured as a result of incidents of terrorism: 27
    U.S. citizens worldwide kidnapped as a result of incidents of terrorism: 12

    U.S citizens killed as a result of Heart disease: 652,091

    gee, where should we spend billions of dollars?

  2. mohclips Says:

    Just make sure you don’t wear a dodgy t-shirt… I know guys like to do one better than the Brits… ;)

    “AIRPORT guards stopped a man boarding a plane for wearing a Transformers T-shirt showing a cartoon gun.” Guys blog.

  3. Awesome AnDrEw Says:

    I don’t remember what I was watching on television, but I believe it was “Myth Busters” where they proved that none of the electronic devices they force you to disable upon take-off have any negligible effects on the navigation equipment found in the cockpit. id, being bald causes people to associate others with nefarious motives. I know from personal experience that I either frighten people, or cause them to believe that I am going to cause problems. Then again my look is a lot different than yours, id.

  4. nobody Says:

    You have to turn your electronics off so that you will pay attention to crew instructions about safety measures, or in the event that something goes wrong, which is by far most likely to happen on take off or landing.

  5. dc Says:

    As a pilot i can assure you that the ‘turn off electronics devices’ requirement is entirely for show. Most commercial aviation navigation works either by GPS, ADB-B (also GPS based), and VOR/localizer.

    VOR/localizer works in the 108.0 to 117.95 MHz range, and the VHF range (for voice comms) is 118.0 to 136.0 MHz.

    You’ll notice that none of these are anywhere close to the 2.4GHz that your wifi card works on, or the 800/900/1800 MHz range that your GSM mobile uses.

    When I fly recreationally, I usually turn off the phone and the wifi on the iPod during takeoff, but only to save batteries so I can have tunes and comms if I have to land off-field somewhere :)

  6. MAdhaTTer-420 Says:

    So you will not be at BlackHAT and/or DefCON ?

  7. RSnake Says:

    @MAdhaTTer-420 - oh, I’ll be there! I’m speaking at both.

  8. steve Says:

    If you’ve ever had a crappy car stereo and a GSM phone, you’ll hear the stereo go dit, dit-dit-dit, dit-dit-dit whenever the phone changes cell towers or makes or receives a call or text message.

    It does the same thing in light aircraft over your headset, which is extremely annoying. And since old or small planes tend to use radio-based navigation like VOR’s or NDB’s, it’s possible they could affect their accuracy.

  9. RSnake Says:

    @steve - so why would they let you take cell phones on an airplane at all? Clearly this is the next greatest terrorist threat if they can bring down aircraft simply by texting in their favorite American Idol singer.

    I mean, seriously.

  10. id Says:

    The reason you turn your cell off is because once in the air you connect to too many towers at once and it causes a single phone to tie up resources.

    The service they are trying out in Europe right now has a cell in the airplane so the phones connect to it, and then it relays the signal.

    As for turning them off because they are a distraction…I would bet the “seat cushion can be used as a flotation device” speech has never saved a single life. There should be a one time class to take before flying commercial, take it and you’re done forever, if you can’t remember the closest door MAY BE BEHIND YOU, well, Darwin should have his way.

  11. Ory Segal Says:


    Here’s another weird behavior on TSA’s account -

    You reach the TSA security point, they X-ray your stuff, they find a bottle of liquids. They tell you to throw it away. You do so. Then they let you board the plane.

    1) If you don’t trust me, and you throw away my bottle of coke (or sun lotion, or shaving cream, etc.), then why the hell do you let me board the plane after I threw it??? Do you really want to let a suspected person on the plane, after you just threw his weapon of mass destruction???

    2) Assuming you just threw away my bottle of liquids, shouldn’t a bomb-squad come and inspect it? why do you leave it in the garbage? Seriously, either it is some sort of a bomb, and then you need to defuse it, or it’s just plain coke - and then, just let me have it back…

    Someone mentioned “Mythbusters”, I remember watching that episode as well. They used Cell-phone antennas inside a plane, and nothing occured. Nada, not even a small glitch in the smallest system…ridiculous. This is even more ridiculous, when there are Boeing planes that offer WiFi.

  12. arshan Says:

    If I would have taken down my US Airways Belgium-Philadelphia 747 simply for spamming votes for

  13. dfsdfsd Says:

    How much did SANS pay you to get you to give a speech at one of their over-priced conferences? Did they let you take one of their classes for free? Did they at least pay for your flight out to Vegas?

    I’m just curious.

  14. RSnake Says:

    @dfsdfsd - I didn’t receive any compensation. But I met some interesting people, so in the end it was worth it for me.

  15. John Says:

    What I find ridiculous is that you can carry a full 3 oz tube of toothpaste, but you can’t carry a 5 oz tube with only 1 oz left in it! In fact on TSA’s website this is their #1 concern