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Risky Thinking
On Risk Management, Business Continuity, and Security
17 January, 2018
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TSA Locks and Keys

The Transportation Safety Agency would like to be able to open your bags without asking you for a key. This looks like an obvious risk. But is it?

For some time now the Transporation Safety Authority (TSA) has required air travelers in the USA to only use locks on their baggage which can be opened by one of their special keys. Apparently this makes the world a safer place since baggage can be searched without having to ask the owner to open it.

Lock manufacturers therefore sell special locks which have an additional keyhole allowing them to be opened by a TSA key. You can even buy a special “indicator” lock which shows if your lock has been opened by a TSA key during the trip.

The indicator does work: on a recent trip I found that my baggage had indeed been opened by somebody – hopefully just the TSA – with a TSA key.

What used to bother me is that now the criminals only needed to carry around a few TSA keys, rather than a giant key-ring containing common suitcase keys. This seemed like an increased security risk.

But I wasn’t thinking clearly. Criminals don’t use keys. They just need a ballpoint pen. Watch this video:

There’s a great temptation when looking at security to only look at the lock. But the lock – even the nastiest cheapest suitcase lock – is rarely the weakest point.

Michael Z. Bell
July, 2008

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