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LA Airport Uses Random Numbers To Catch Terrorists 321

An anonymous reader writes "Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is using randomization software to determine the location and timing of security checkpoints and patrols. The theory is that random security will make it impossible for terrorists to predict the actions of security forces. The ARMOR software, written by computer scientists at the University of Southern California, was initially developed to solve a problem in game theory. Doctoral student Praveen Paruchuri wrote algorithms on how an agent should react to an opponent who has perfect information about the agent's choices."
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LA Airport Uses Random Numbers To Catch Terrorists

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  • by mulhollandj ( 807571 ) on Sunday September 30, 2007 @09:31AM (#20800861)
    I read a fascinating article in the Freeman comparing train security, mostly privately done, with airports security, done by the government. The key difference was that when it was done commercially the inconvenience to customers was quite minimal. On the other hand when the government runs it, it is very inconvenient for customers. Why do you think this is?
  • set of locations? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by nathan.fulton ( 1160807 ) on Sunday September 30, 2007 @09:39AM (#20800937) Journal
    "Part of it is to look for patterns in the deployment of assets. We're trying to block the surveillance cycle by making the security patrols appear in unpredictable places at unpredictable times."

    If you figure this is a sizable force, and that all of them use the randomization software, four years worth of recon (TFA gave that as a time period for pre-strike operations) ought to give the terrorist enough information to know where these "random points" are. I mean, there has to be a defined set of locations somewhere in the program, they can't just be using coordinates. Imagine, a security guard climbing into an oven at the pizza place at the airport because "a computer told him to" (and the following lawsuits.)

    How do they account for the fact that there will always be an area that these security forces don't patrol because no one told the computer that the place exists.

    Anyone know how they manage telling the computer which places exist?
  • by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Sunday September 30, 2007 @09:40AM (#20800941)
    While you certainly want to have some things that are purely consistent (for example all bags being X-rayed, all passengers having to pass through a checkpoint) randomness to additional security can work quite well. There are some things that are either too expensive (like additional patrols) or too time consuming (like manual bag searches) to conduct all the time, every where. Well, if you make it truly random when and where they happen, it makes it the kind of thing that is impossible to get around. While there's no guarantee it catches something, it just generally increases the risk to those who want to do mischief. They can't wait and watch and figure out how to beat your system as there just isn't any way. All they can do is hope that they aren't in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    As it is DHS involved, I fully expect them to fuck it up and apply it wrong, but having some truly random security is a good way to make things generally more difficult, even to an adversary with a lot of resources to try and find a weakness.
  • by speaker of the truth ( 1112181 ) on Sunday September 30, 2007 @09:42AM (#20800953)

    Hey, I've got an idea! What if the US government just stops meddling in the affairs of other nations?
    Its amusing to hear people spout this line and then hear them decry America's inaction in Dafur. Which is it people? Do we meddle or not? Because at the moment we're going to be lambasted no matter what we do.
  • by Z00L00K ( 682162 ) on Sunday September 30, 2007 @09:44AM (#20800969) Homepage
    is only one component that can be used. A perfectly regular timing is never good when doing security checks. But then - it may be even better if the security checks appears to be regular done by uniformed personnel and then random by plain clothed personnel.

    However - security checks are still only one component. For example today's airport buildings are largely a huge open place which means that maximum effect may be obtained outside any security checkpoints today. By reducing the queues to check-ins and building compartments the effective radius of an attack will be contained to a much smaller area.

    A theoretical method would be to do image analysis and pattern analysis of behavior, but since the behavior pattern varies much from person to person it will create a large number of false alarms.

  • by mspohr ( 589790 ) on Sunday September 30, 2007 @10:08AM (#20801139)
    Train security??? Where do they have train security? I've traveled on trains in France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Czech republic and never had any kind of security inspection.

    I live is Switzerland and we don't have any noticeable train security. They may be some security cameras but the only 'security' I see are the conductors and they are usually friendly and just want to see your ticket. BTW, the trains are very safe, too. No terrorists and very few accidents.

  • by OeLeWaPpErKe ( 412765 ) on Sunday September 30, 2007 @10:38AM (#20801307) Homepage
    Exactly ... if a muslim government chooses to make it policy to kill blacks, we should all remain silent. After all defending blacks is racist ... or was it attacking muslims ?

    We should simply attack islam. After all it is against human rights, against democracy and against just about everything else we stand for.

  • by xmedar ( 55856 ) on Sunday September 30, 2007 @10:42AM (#20801345)
    It doesnt address the biggest threats -

    1. MANPAD attack on a plane from outside the airport.

    2. Suicide bomber in a nice big truck full of explosives running into the terminal.

    3. Suicide bomber with implanted bomb blowing up a plane.

    So it is solving the wrong problem, it's like solving the occupation of Iraq by escalating the troop numbers.
  • by pokerdad ( 1124121 ) on Sunday September 30, 2007 @10:55AM (#20801443)

    Its amusing to hear people spout this line and then hear them decry America's inaction in Dafur. Which is it people? Do we meddle or not? Because at the moment we're going to be lambasted no matter what we do.

    Try Googling these two phrases lifted from your comment "America's inaction in Darfur" and "US government just stops meddling in the affairs of other nations". The first page of each I think is very telling. One is full of American websites, the other is full of foreign websites.

    I think this is representative of who you are hearing - two different groups, one composed of Americans and the other composed of the peoples you are meddling with.

    (before someone rips into me, I am not expressing any opinion about Darfur, just pointing out that probably the people screaming the loudest for American action in Darfur are Americans. I know that here in Canada I have never heard anyone suggest it is an American problem; every person who brings it up wants the Canadian government to take action)

  • by Technician ( 215283 ) on Sunday September 30, 2007 @12:02PM (#20801891)
    I thought that the proper term for US "war fighters" was "queer"?

    Try keeping up with the news. Over there in the perfect state of Iran where nothing is out of place, they are having a couple problems. Drugs from Afghanistan and gay sex and AIDS. []
  • by rthille ( 8526 ) <web-slashdot AT rangat DOT org> on Sunday September 30, 2007 @12:03PM (#20801895) Homepage Journal
    (I haven't read the article, typically I find the comments more interesting :-)

    Well, the seed for the random number generator should probably be kept secret. Or there should be no seed, there should be hardware randomness so without that data stream, there's no way to predict. Not sure how you distribute the schedule in real time from the hardware random generator to the actual officers and keep it from being eavsdropped on, but I guess encrypted communications can be assumed...
  • by drgonzo59 ( 747139 ) on Sunday September 30, 2007 @12:35PM (#20802103)
    The randomness can be used as far as behavior is concerned in social encounters. For example you are being robbed, it is expected that you will be scared and pull out your wallet. Instead try acting like a mental case or pretend you don't understand the language, or say, offer to them a cigarette instead. For a couple of seconds, the robber will be confused as they lose control of the situation because something unexpected happened. Then it's up to you to either keep it up or if you feel brave strike back.

        The same strategy goes for when you don't want to interact with certain individuals, solicitors, pan-handlers and so on -- when they ask for you attention, reply with something completely unrelated, for example "Can you spare some change? -No thanks, I'm good. -Huh?...that don't make no sense..." by the time they processes the confusing statement you already walked too far and they'll focus on the next person.

        Another example, say you are having a heated debate with someone. When the argument is the most intense immediately switch and start arguing against your position. Ok, that's more for fun...The actual strategy is to use non-sequiturs. Statements that at first sound normal but when you think about them they just don't make any sense. Stuff like "How do you know that's what you mean?" That statement has to be immediately followed by whatever real point you are trying to make. The brain is trying to process the non-sequitur and it keeps getting segfaulting-ing, but because you keep talking it is also forced to keep up with the argument. Eventually they just remain quiet. If they ask you to repeat the non-sequitur pretend you said something else or make fun of them for being slow.

      Randomizing your response is a good way to throw off an opponent. They expect a certain response or reaction but they are getting something else. That gives you a short window of opportunity while the opponent tries to process or guess your next move. Of course your moves have a degree of randomness (that you control) and it is pointless for them to spend resources (mental, computational) to look for patterns in randomness.

  • by niktemadur ( 793971 ) on Sunday September 30, 2007 @08:19PM (#20804963)
    A low level security guard is going to look at the schedule, and try to make it conform to his own sense of order, rounding up or down patrol times, falsifying patrols, or just plain blowing off the whole schedule entirely.

    Damn right. A few years back, my hometown was in the midst of a crime wave, and at the business where I worked, a guy was hired to go and deposit money in the bank. The first thing management told him was to never, ever repeat the same route nor schedule twice in a row. At first, the guy followed this advice, but after a couple of weeks, probably without even realizing it, he fell into a mindless, hurried routine that you could set your watch by. Within a month, he was ambushed - his car was crashed into at an intersection, then when he got off to inspect the damage, a gun was pointed at his temple.

    A few days later, the guy resigned and I was given bank duty for a while, and I dare you to try and discern a pattern in the way I handled this baby. Once out of the office, I had six options to choose from within a half block in either direction (east, then straight, left or right - west, then left or right). Sometimes I stalled for up to three hours before dashing off, sometimes I repeated the same route three times at different hours, just to confound whoever might be watching.

    To take it up a notch from the PP, here's the twist: Management itself, for all their initial concerns, began dropping hints about other needs I wasn't taking into consideration, such as needing the money deposited within a certain hour. After the assault and robbery shake-up, the organization became open to flexibility, then soon after went back to rigid, routine expectations, downgrading safety for convenience. As an example, the financial department was screaming for regularity, to sort out money movements by X hour.

    Within a few months, an armored car service opened in town, which my company hired immediately, and things went back to normal.

    Now here's my point: it's not just the grunts, it's also the supervisors and management. On paper, somebody's gonna have to wrack their brain and work harder to schedule activities that follow no pattern, probably for the same amount of pay. Supervisors will constantly have to change their schedules accordingly. There will be initial grudging compliance on all levels, then resistance will manifest itself through groaning, then procrastination turning into inaction. To change organizational habits, an initial push towards implementation is not enough, somebody has to really exert pressure for a long, long time, and who's going to do it, old employees? Unlikely. New employees? A big possibility they'll be sucked into the organizational culture within a couple of unhappy months. You have to find and hire the right outside person, and that'll take a bit of luck, never mind Game Theory, an old and iffy construction that's always caused more harm than good when applied in "real life".

    Going offtopic here, and as crazy as it may sound, I do miss the bank deposits, as they turned weekdays into an adventure. First of all, it was a daily shot of adrenaline. And then, there was the deposit itself, not through regular bank tellers, but within a backdoor bank vault, a security-clearance (automated door, long hallway, automated door), CC-monitored bizarro world where the same hungover guys from other companies deposited every day, and the bank employees always kept ice-cold beer for us... in the morning. To get the beer to us on the other side of the 8-inch glass, it had to go through the same time-delay security mechanisms that we placed the ingoing deposits into. It was a small space with no chairs, so we sat on the floor, drinking beer out of paper cones, a thick cloud of cigarette smoke hanging in the air, crushed butts and cones strewn on the floor. After a while, you find yourself regarding this as normal. Talk about organizational culture.
  • by Pollardito ( 781263 ) on Sunday September 30, 2007 @10:34PM (#20805891)

    A few days later, the guy resigned and I was given bank duty for a while, and I dare you to try and discern a pattern in the way I handled this baby. Once out of the office...
    boom! right there! you always left the office to get to the bank!

    seriously though, you're describing the methods yourself, so it's doubtful you would mention something non-random that you hadn't thought of at the time. depending on the size of the cashbox, why wouldn't someone just be willing to wait out the entire 3 hour window and/or pick one or more of the 6 routes and take a couple tries for you to finally choose that same route they picked?
  • by niktemadur ( 793971 ) on Monday October 01, 2007 @04:06AM (#20807643)
    Back in the day, the wave of robberies in my hometown were precise, quick and bloodless (for the most part). These people were not desperate robbers with an itchy trigger finger, they were professionals. Because they were professionals, surely they calculated cost (time, effort and risk) and return of investment. If you're a robber and think like this, it's inevitable that you also think of "opportunity cost", which is basically "How much am I losing elsewhere by staking out this particular person?" I wasn't the only fish in the sea, you know. Not that I know if I was being watched or not, but I bet I probably was, for a while.

    If I was being watched, by making their homework extremely difficult, I was probably branded as "high-effort, high-risk, not worth it", then they moved on to other candidates - clockwork, unlucky souls who made their "job" quicker and easier.

    As for the "lone nut" that stalks all day, I've never even thought about it. But no professional acts alone, so it sounds as if somebody like that would be a meth or heroin addict on the comedown, and that person has no time to waste, he'll march right into the company and pull a gun on the receptionist.

"Say yur prayers, yuh flea-pickin' varmint!" -- Yosemite Sam