Monday, February 6, 2012

Inadvertently Social Engineering the TSA

This post chronicles a run in (or lack thereof) with the TSA.

Back in October I finally got around to taking the CISSP exam (stay with me, it’s relevant to the story).  When the results arrived I thought it would be humorous to send an e-mail to my team with an image of a police badge saying that I had passed. After a quick Google search I stumbled upon ePoliceSupply a company that sells legitimate badges to law enforcement officers. The site has a great feature called "Visual Badge" that allows you to see the product with your custom text before ordering.  I quickly put together a mock-up and sent the e-mail.  The gag went over well and escalated with each of us mocking up different badges until our boss directed the team to come to a consensus on the design and order them.

Fast forward a month later.  I’m on my way to ShmooCon waiting in line for a security check at Logan airport.  I go through the motions, empty my pockets, take off my shoes and jacket, remove my laptop and TSA approved bag of liquids, etc.  When it's my turn to be screened I open my mouth to opt-out of the backscatter machine, but before I can say anything I'm waved over to the side.  "Okay", I thought, "I've been randomly selected for a pat down anyway".  This is not what happened.  The TSA agent opened the gate usually reserved for wheelchairs and flight crew, motioned for me to walk through and escorted me to my belongings.

What just happened? I couldn't figure it out.  I hadn't passed through the metal detector or any other type of scanner.  Why were they letting me go?  I didn't wait to ask.  Gathering my belongings I continued to the gate and tried to puzzle through it while waiting for my flight.  Was I just subjected to some previously unknown test?  Did they just want to speed up the line by using a handheld metal detector but forgot to actually "wand" me?

I told the story to a couple of my coworkers and one asked about my badge.  Yes, it was in my carry-on and the bag was being screened at about the same time I was pulled out of line.  We can't know for sure but we surmise that the badge was seen on the x-ray machine and I was mistaken for an air marshal...


DISCLAIMER: At no point have I ever claimed to be a law enforcement officer and I did not in any way knowingly mislead the TSA.


*This post originally appeared on Maske[d]Crusader.net