Mark Loveless, aka Simple Nomad, is a researcher and hacker. He frequently speaks at security conferences around the globe, gets quoted in the press, and has a somewhat odd perspective on security in general.

Tales from the Past - "You Tested Positive for TNT"

Tales from the Past - "You Tested Positive for TNT"

Photo by  redcharlie  on  Unsplash

Photo by redcharlie on Unsplash

Some friends of mine were discussing odd travel and security stories in an email thread recently, this was a rather funny story that happened to me, and I thought I’d share it here.

I was flying out of Las Vegas after a conference - not Black Hat/DEF CON but another conference. I was randomly pulled aside by TSA for a bag swab for explosives, no biggie, this type of "random" bullshit happens to me all of the time. Probably something weird on the x-ray, so they swab my bag. They study the results. They swab my bag a second time. More people are called over. They huddle, one guy walks away and starts talking into a radio, the others come to me and ask if they can swab my hands. I ask what is going on.

The guy says, "You tested positive for TNT."

Hands are clean. They swab my crotch (!) on the zipper since I guess I might have made a bomb, took a leak, then washed my hands. SWAT-looking guy shows up, has a big gun. I am physically isolated. They are asking me tons of questions. "Did you go to a military base during your visit? Were you at a gun range?" Those kind of questions. I answered no to all of them.

I am frisked, pockets emptied, bags completely emptied. Second SWAT-looking guy shows up, has a bigger gun. They can't find anything that could even remotely be the source of the trigger for the explosion detection machine. They are swabbing the insides of my bag which come up fine with no TNT, just the outside is triggering it. I am bracing for an orifice search, which I am guessing is the next step.

Supervisor comes over and they quickly and quietly explain the entire situation including all of the test results. He grins and walks over. "Did you stay at at Treasure Island?" "Yes..." "Did you attend that pirate show with the boat?" "No but I walked by that boat every day I was here..." "Did you do that today with your luggage?" "Yes..."

The supervisor explained to his co-workers (and me) that the pyrotechnics use flashpowder that shows up as TNT if it gets on anything, as I walked by multiple times I apparently got enough on my luggage to set off the machine. He calmly stated, "It doesn't happen often, but it does happen every once in a while." I was allowed through security, and after repacking my bags I barely made my flight.

Now when in Vegas, even though they stopped the pirate show several years ago, I never stay at Treasure Island.

Found in Transition

Found in Transition

Physical OPSEC as a Metaphor for Infosec

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