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A New Danger Lurks: Print-at-Home Boarding Passes

Print-at-home boarding pass
Print-at-home boarding pass

Traveling by airplane is no longer a simple task thanks to increased security requirements that followed the terrorist attacks in 2001. One consolation has been the increased ease in checking in. Instead of waiting in yet another long line at the airport, you can check in online from your house and print your boarding passes on your own printer.

Unfortunately, printing your own boarding passes may be dangerous, too. It's not paper cuts you should be worried about. It's the potential for terrorists to alter barcodes that should have you concerned.

According to an article published by the Daily Mail in October 2012, an aviation blogger, John Butler, claims to have been able to decode the barcode on an airline's boarding pass. He explained that unencrypted barcodes could easily be decoded by terrorists, edited in a text file, and regenerated as a new barcode. A terrorist could simply change a "1" to a "3" in the text file which would indicate that the flier qualifies for the TSA's PreCheck program. With the new printed boarding pass in hand, a terrorist could make sure that he or she is selected for expedited screening.

The TSA's PreCheck program randomly selects frequent fliers for expedited screening. These passengers do not need to take their shoes off or go through full body scanners. Though the program is random, being able to print and alter the barcode in advance virtually guarantees expedited screening. Thus, a terrorist with a shoe bomb could walk right through security without any concerns about getting caught.

This possibility should be a wakeup call to airlines. Though printing boarding passes from home is convenient, it's also risky. A better option would be to set up kiosks at the airport and allow passengers to print their boarding passes from the kiosks. These kiosks would need to print boarding passes on security paper that cannot be altered, scanned, or copied.

According to TROY, a check printing solution provider, security paper can include a number of security features such as:

  • "Void" pantographs - When the paper is scanned or copied, the word "void" appears on the scanned or copied image, rendering the new image useless.
  • Hidden messages - Similarly, hidden messages can be embedded within the page. These images can prove the validity of a document in that they cannot be copied. Thus, when an original document containing hidden text is scanned using a scanner, the hidden text (such as the word "valid") appears and proves that the document is an original.
  • Simulated watermarks - These emblems can be seen when the paper is held at an angle, but they cannot be replicated with a copier, scanner, or digital camera.
  • Coin reactive pigment - This ink, which can be integrated into a watermark, changes color when rubbed with a coin.
  • Microtext lines - These printed lines actually contain tiny characters of text which are legible under magnification. If the document is copied or scanned, these tiny characters become blurred and are no longer legible when magnified.
  • Warning box / legend - A warning box can also be printed on the paper indicating which security features are embedded into the paper.

Businesses regularly print checks on security paper with features such as watermarks, holograms, colored threads, and chemical-resistant coatings. The same blank paper can, and should, be used to print secure boarding passes at airports.


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