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Is Your Laptop At Risk While Traveling? 413

Editorgirl35 writes "Here's an interesting story on DesignNews.com With last week's announcement that the British government thwarted an alleged terrorist attack planned for flights from the U.K. to the U.S., news that travelers are required to check their laptops as baggage on some flights has raised a new level of panic as they try to figure out the best way to protect their laptops."
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Is Your Laptop At Risk While Traveling?

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  • Baggage Check? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nurb432 ( 527695 ) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @08:41PM (#15924036) Homepage Journal
    Wow, thats really safe..

    Some laptops ( and most pdas ) can turn them selves on at a predetermined time.. Just estimate the time for maximum impact, laptop turns on and detonates the 'extra' battery that is made up of C4.. now you have a nice big hole in the bottom of the plane..
    • by tsq ( 768711 )
      Unless, of course, your flight is delayed.
      • Re:Baggage Check? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Aadain2001 ( 684036 ) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @08:49PM (#15924081) Journal
        If that happens, instead of the plane blowing up you get the airport terminal. Either one causes damange, loss of life, and really hurts the international economy (extra 'security' at the airports). We just need to face it, there is no silver bullet or extra security measure we can take that will guarenty safty from terrorist attacks. At this point, we are getting zero returns on the extra effort and cost. I would rather go back to more customer friendly airports than have this illusion of protection we have right now.
        • Re:Baggage Check? (Score:3, Interesting)

          by eebra82 ( 907996 )
          That's just silly. Yes, you can blow up any building in the world but it's a lot easier to fly a Boeing 767 into a building than delivering explosives to a tightly secured area. I agree that nothing is certain, but at least it will keep the odds down significantly. Additionally, it is hard to match the power of a large plane crashing into a building. You don't want 10 shoe bombers ruining your flight every day, do you?

          I would personally wait the extra hour to live under the illusion (your description, no
          • I'm sure Amtrak wouldn't mind...

          • Re:Baggage Check? (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Aadain2001 ( 684036 ) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @10:54PM (#15924655) Journal
            That's the problem with actually paying attention: once you learn just how easy the systems are to defeat, you stop buying the illusion and acknowledge the reality of our security. If someone like Bin Laden wants to attack the US again, they will. And it won't be with an airplane, it will be from a cargo ship (*cough*Seattle*cough*). Or it will be some people hiking into the US from Canada or from Mexico. It will be a home-grown terrorist (Oklahoma) or someone on the inside (USPO). However it happens, all the money and effort put into the illusion won't stop it.
          • Re:Baggage Check? (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Fulcrum of Evil ( 560260 ) on Thursday August 17, 2006 @12:38AM (#15924990)

            Yes, you can blow up any building in the world but it's a lot easier to fly a Boeing 767 into a building than delivering explosives to a tightly secured area.

            Just you try it. It's actually very hard.

            Additionally, it is hard to match the power of a large plane crashing into a building.

            So what. Shot placement beats power.

        • Re:Baggage Check? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Alien Being ( 18488 ) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @10:45PM (#15924625)
          The most important thing with regard to protection against airline terrorism is that the bad guy not be allowed to take control of a 3.3 terajoule aircraft (guided missile). The solution is to lock the cockpit door. El Al understood this 30 years ago and the FAA realized that it was true on the morning of 9/11.

          energy density of jet fuel [epa.gov]
          fuel capacity of a 767 [google.com]

          ( 5.62 million btu/ barrel ) * 23980 gallons == 3.3 terajoules
      • Re:Baggage Check? (Score:2, Flamebait)

        by megaditto ( 982598 )
        iBooks have a tilt sensor... So one could set it to wait until the departure time, then activate the sensor and wait for tilt AFTER the departure is scheduled (to prevent baggage handler triggering).

        Oh, even better, an Ahmed can check in the iBook, then not even show up for the flight! And 4 hour battery uptime should cover the delays.

        Why does Apple help terrorists?
        • I think they flag and hold bags associated with passengers who do not board the flight.
        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by LoadWB ( 592248 )
          Dell and Sony have been doing the same thing.
    • It is not that hard to wire an altimeter to a laptop through an RS-232 or USB port to detonate at high altitude, but that is beside the point. There will never be absolute security on airliners, but we can try our best. The only alternative left would be to ban all electronics in checked baggage which would be impossible.

      You have to worry about two kinds of security: physical protection from damage and theft deterence. For both functions I recomend using multiple layers. Those those free Priority Mail [usps.com]

      • why bother using the laptop? just put a 9 volt battery and a mechanical barometer inside the "battery" when the pressure drops below %X kaboom
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          Wouldn't a battery with a battery and a mechanical barometer inside it look suspect on the X-ray, as the bag passes inspection.
    • Just estimate the time for maximum impact, laptop turns on and detonates the 'extra' battery that is made up of C4.. now you have a nice big hole in the bottom of the plane..

      This most likely would not work since most airports (100% in the US) use explosive detection systems such as CTX scanners like the following: http://www.gesecurity.com/portal/site/GESecurity/m enuitem.f76d98ccce4cabed5efa421766030730?selectedI D=2728&seriesyn=true [gesecurity.com]

      They do have false positives but I would much rather have some false
    • Re:Baggage Check? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by topham ( 32406 )
      Who needs C4?

      A carefully constructed Lithium Ion battery ought to be enough to cause serious damage and look like an accident.

      I give it 6 months before Laptops with batteries are entirely banned.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by dgatwood ( 11270 )

        I'd give it six months before LiPo and LiIon batteries are banned for air shipment or cargo hold carriage. In the belly of a plane, they can do a lot of damage. In the passenger compartment, it is just a fire which can be extinguished... but not with the fire extinguishers that are carried on airplanes, which is the real problem.

    • by imuffin ( 196159 ) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @09:30PM (#15924290)
      C4? That's a lot of work. I just use a Dell.
    • by Pollux ( 102520 ) <speter@NOspAm.tedata.net.eg> on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @10:02PM (#15924453) Journal
      But I really feel the need to ask this question, and hope someone out there in /. might work for the TSA or other security company, and/or hardware manufacturing, and might give a good answer to this question.

      The parent poster mentioned sneaking C4 in a laptop battery. I was wondering the same thing about a hard drive. When you think about it, both are small, but certainly have enough volume to put explosives inside of the casing that would cause a very significant detonation onboard an airplane. And would screeners really see that on their scanners? I'd imagine that to the lazy eye, it would just be another object like any other inside a laptop. I doubt most screeners would be particular about looking for the platters inside a hard drive, let alone know that a hard drive is a necessary part of a laptop. I'm sure that if you were to hand these explosive laptops to 20 terrorists, at least one would get through, and it only takes one. I've gone on a number of domestic and international flights, and the laptop is a carry-on object. I've never seen any bomb-sniffing dogs sniff my carry-on luggage, so I think the TSA are the only checkpoint for an attack such as this.

      Now, I've never seen all of what those modern x-ray scanners are able to detect, so if there's anybody with knowledge on the subject, I'd sure appreciate an explination of whether or not this is feasable.

      Oh, and for anybody who wants to try and accuse me of aiding terrorists, I get my information from the six-o'clock news. They give me all these great ideas each and every day on how to cause devistation to America (blow up the Hoover Dam, San Fransisco bridge, Alaska Oil pipeline, the Lincoln tunnel ... thank you Dan Rathers). America can't always be 100% secure, and I think most /. readers are intelligent enough to know that when there's a will, there's always going to be a way. Does anybody honestly think we can keep every port of entry secure? If you truly do, do some reading on the Akwesasne reservation.

      • by ross.w ( 87751 )
        A lot of the time, the airport security people make you turn on the laptop in front of them to make sure it runs.

        Would suck if you had a dodgy battery.
        • A lot of the time, the airport security people make you turn on the laptop in front of them to make sure it runs. Would suck if you had a dodgy battery.

          Yeah, and it still doesn't prevent you from concealing a bomb in a second or spare battery, like the original poster suggested. Or, if you were really ambitious, you could take out 1/2 the cells in the battery and replace them with explosives. The laptop would still turn on, and your explosives would be easily concealed.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by bangenge ( 514660 )
      has anyone already made the obligatory dell laptop joke?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    would it be a terrorist attack?
  • Check your laptop? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by interiot ( 50685 ) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @08:44PM (#15924049) Homepage
    I'd rather take 10 minutes for the baggage screeners to give a laptop a "full cavity serch" than to be without a laptop on an international flight.
  • by aslate ( 675607 ) <planetexpress@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @08:44PM (#15924050) Homepage
    That's right, you're able to take them onboard the plane again. Baggage advice for UK passengers [bbc.co.uk].
  • by 2010... (Score:5, Funny)

    by rahrens ( 939941 ) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @08:48PM (#15924076)
    Only nudists will be allowed to fly!
    • Considering some of the less... attractive... physical attributes of some of the passengers, do you *really* want to suggest nude-only flights? I thought not.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Only nudists will be allowed to fly!

      Yet another reason to limit the weight of passengers.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by lkypnk ( 978898 )
      Parent may be moded funny but it's almost plausible. In 2010, will all passengers be required to change into airliner provided jumpsuits with no pockets to hide things and little paper slippers for footwear? No carry on luggage; sorry sir, you'll just have to risk hypoglycemia, no insulin allowed? How about a rectal search while were at it. You could probably fit enough explosive in there to take down a plane, or a ceramic knife (in some sort of container). Lots of possibilities. So how far do we take
  • by dgerman ( 78602 ) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @08:53PM (#15924104) Homepage
    Pelican Cases [pelican.com] have a good reputation, but they don't look as chick as the Halliburton. LowePro [lowepro.com] also makes some hard cases for cameras, but they don't take a computer (yet, I am sure it will very soon); they are a hardcase and a matching bag inside it.

    The reality is that you don't want attention on your bag, as it might be stolen. I just recommended a person
    to take the Styrofoam that came with the laptop to get to Heathrow. At least the laptop arrived in a working
    condition.

    I think the optimal solution is to find something that looks like regular luggage. Perhaps buying a cheap, beaten up luggage bag (garage sale?) to put the computer inside. Use duct tape and dirt for extra effect, and geek chicness.
    • by ScentCone ( 795499 ) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @09:14PM (#15924213)
      I recall reading about a guy who put all of his gear in a strap-locked Coleman cooler labeled with stickers saying "Orangutan Fecal Samples." Problem solved.
      • and when the xray of the fecal samples shows dark spots and electronics the whole cooler is sent to the bomb squad for a "controlled detonation" using a small charge
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by ScentCone ( 795499 )
          and when the xray of the fecal samples shows dark spots and electronics the whole cooler is sent to the bomb squad for a "controlled detonation" using a small charge

          I think that tip was aimed more at not having stuff ripped off from your vehicle, etc., now that I think about it. Honestly, I think I were to travel far with my camera gear, I'd probably put it all in a Pelican and FedEx it ahead of myself. I just don't trust the checked baggage these days. Not because of the handling (those cases are tough)
  • by rufusdufus ( 450462 ) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @08:55PM (#15924111)
    The ban was lifted already. As it had to be. Business travellers routinely carry laptop computers with confidential client information on them, they would be negligent if they checked them into the current baggage handling system. Forget about the laptop being damaged since it is possible to package it safely, but the possibility of lost client data would be too high of a risk.
    While a permanent laptop ban would have a serious impact on certain types of businesses and travellers, it would have an even more serious impact on the airlines when their primary client base was forced to use charter aircraft.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      If your laptop contains unencrypted confidential data then you're already being negligent.
  • "Jenn... Uhh Mam, please remove your bra for further security inspection. Yes, you can stand over there next to the.. Uhh.. X-ray camera."
  • Long Lines (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dduardo ( 592868 ) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @08:57PM (#15924125)
    People should be more concerned about the long lines being created by all the security. There is nothing stopping terrorists from taking out all the people standing around waiting to get through security. High concentration of people in one area == prime oportunity.
    • Re:Long Lines (Score:5, Insightful)

      by rufusdufus ( 450462 ) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @09:02PM (#15924153)
      This is how we know that that 'terrorusts' don't want to 'kill amerkuns'. If killing was their primary goal, they could start blowing up any sort of public event that have no security like concerts, movies, town meetings, carnivals, or krispy kreme openings.
      The goal is to blow up symbols to inspire fear in the populace by use of mass media. There have been bombs set in discos and the past, but those didn't effect public behavior much at all, people kept on dancin.
    • People should be completely unconcerned because the chance of dying from a terrorist attack is insignificant

      Fixed.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by evilviper ( 135110 )

      There is nothing stopping terrorists from taking out all the people standing around waiting to get through security.

      "nothing" == "The Laws of Physics"

      Small ammounts of exploives are of great concern only in confined spaces (being pressurized helps, too). In a nice wide open space, as in airport terminals, much of the force of the blast will go upwards and outwards torwards the ceiling, and be harmlessly dissapated over that distance.

      To harm numbers of people in open spaces, you need serious ammounts of exp

  • by ewhac ( 5844 ) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @08:59PM (#15924138) Homepage Journal
    "I refuse to participate in your shared hallucination." -- Dilbert

    Fortunately I don't travel by air very often. And, as has been pointed out by others, the laptop ban has been lifted (wealthier, more powerful people than I have likely already informed the appropriate scaremongers what a losing proposition this was). Even so, there's no way I'm putting a laptop through checked baggage. Luggage gets lost. Luggage gets tossed around very roughly. And items are known to go "missing" from luggage.

    No. Not my laptop. It stays with me, or it stays home.

    Schwab

    • by Viper Daimao ( 911947 ) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @09:29PM (#15924286) Journal
      Yeah, why take it? Just have your assistant send you an internet. It make take a while for it to get through the tubes, but it is safer than giving up your laptop.
    • I agree... especially since many times security will no longer allow you to lock your luggage so that it can be searched after you check it in (if need be). Because of this I am way more concerned about theives. It is not uncommon to hear about something being stolen by unscrupulous baggage handlers. A laptop is a prime target. On the other hand, if they ban laptop from carry on again, and for say, a few months... well by that time, all the unscrupulous baggage handlers will already have good laptops..
    • by grcumb ( 781340 ) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @10:35PM (#15924589) Homepage Journal
      '"I refuse to participate in your shared hallucination." -- Dilbert'

      Wise words. I wish more people would live by them

      I would find this whole airport security thing rather amusing, if it weren't such a pain in the tuckus. I think Bruce Schneier summed it up rather nicely in his latest Crypto-gram [schneier.com] when he characterised all these draconian restrictions as 'Security Theatre' - something that looks like security to those who don't know any better, but ultimately has no real effect.

      He also points out that if we're to learn anything from this event, it's that classical police/intelligence operations work. Authorities knew about the would-be bombers well in advance, they learned as much as they could about the cell, then shut it down before it could do damage. Biometric IDs, airport baggage checks, no-fly lists and other kinds of security theatre contributed nothing whatsoever to the outcome.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by timeOday ( 582209 )

        I would find this whole airport security thing rather amusing, if it weren't such a pain in the tuckus. I think Bruce Schneier summed it up rather nicely in his latest Crypto-gram [schneier.com] when he characterised all these draconian restrictions as 'Security Theatre' - something that looks like security to those who don't know any better, but ultimately has no real effect.

        I tend to agree. Blocking off one small avenue of attack doesn't really do much to improve security when there are so many possi

  • My laptop has liquid fuel cells... I guess now I can't take it on the plane...
  • Physical damage (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Saxophonist ( 937341 )
    There's no way I would check a laptop due to the potential for physical damage. I've never tried that, but I had the experience almost a decade ago of sitting on an airplane in Atlanta on the return trip from a music tour to Europe. We had to check larger instruments (including my saxophone) given the amount of other stuff we needed. The baggage handlers were doing things like opening cases and playing instruments while we watched, in horror, out the window. Of course, they were not particularly careful
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by nbauman ( 624611 )
      Yeah, I stopped off in Atlanta too and I was watching the baggage handlers through the picture window in the passenger lounge -- in horror.

      They had these big wheeled carts to carry the baggage to the planes, and the baggage was stacked on 2 levels of the cart. I saw the baggage handler stand on top of the cart, and throw a bag down to the concrete tarmack, a drop that I estimated at 10 feet (physics majors, get out your slide rules).

      Of course I wouldn't check my laptop, but I had gotten these really neat pl
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      ,i."Atlanta on the return trip from a music tour to Europe. We had to check larger instruments (including my saxophone)" And one time, coming back from band camp, my trumpet smelled really funny....
  • Ship it ahead (Score:5, Informative)

    by gooman ( 709147 ) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @09:04PM (#15924169) Journal
    I used to do a lot of travel for work, lugging product samples all over the world.
    I always travel with carry-on only. Since 9-11, I won't even bother trying to bring samples.
    The airport experience is simply the worst part of traveling.

    Pick a carrier any carrier (UPS, FedEX, DHL, etc.) and ship what you need to your hotel.
    As long as you pack it well (and insure it, of course) it will be waiting for you in your room when you arrive.
    Trust me, it seems like a lot of extra trouble at first, but its worth it.

  • by Hamster Lover ( 558288 ) * on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @09:22PM (#15924259) Journal
    I fly quite a bit in Canada and would never check my laptop, iPod, digital camera or anything else valuable as I would be afraid of theft more than damage. I've never had a theft, but I have heard horror stories from people, mainly international travelers, that have returned home only to find a video camera, liquor, jewelery or some other item stolen from checked luggage.

    I do have a friend that works on the ramp, as it's called, stowing and retrieving bags from aircraft. He told me that theft isn't a problem domestically because they're watched so carefully with video cameras and security, but most importantly they just don't have the time or opportunity to pull someone's bag aside and rifle through it. He said international flights are a different story as bags are checked hours before the flight actually leaves, but he still doesn't think it's a big problem. I won't take my chances though and will continue to carry my digital/video camera and laptop onboard.
    • by abscissa ( 136568 ) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @09:39PM (#15924342)
      Yup, you should be modded up.

      I had a Palm Tunsgten PDA and an Apple iBook (old G3 blueberry model) stolen out of my luggage at La Guardia. Only reason I put it in there was because it was broken. I had also just bought a new iPod (thanksfully I carried it with me) but the stupid fucks stole all the iPod cables and dock, which I'm sure were worthless to them.

      At the end of the day I was out the Palm PDA and the iPod stuff, and the laptop was probably worth something. Then of course, the airline folded. I suspect the only reason I lost the PDA was because the (broken) laptop was in there so the thieves decided to look harder, and of course stole the iPod power cables...

      DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT, EVER put anything of any value in your luggage!!
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by fishbowl ( 7759 )

        >DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT, EVER put anything of any value in your luggage!!

        If you can prove that you own it, and you can prove the purchase price, there is a straightforward way to
        get direct compensation for losses due to airport security. It works, I've done it. In fact, it works surprisingly well, because it falls in the category of "allowing a functionary to perform his function."

        There is a form -- I'm sorry, but my copy is deep in the piles of papers on my desk -- which the TSA manager will give you
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @09:51PM (#15924407)
      You aren't paranoid if they really are out to get you...or your stuff:
      TSA Under Fire for Rising Theft by Baggage Screeners [go.com]

      "It's a huge security threat," said aviation industry consultant Michael Boyd. "If we've got the kind of people who would steal things out of bags, we're not sure if we have people on the job who will put things into bags. And obviously we don't have enough scrutiny of the bags once they're checked. It's huge."
  • I guess this puts this technology out of business. Ain't no butane on a plane now, and there's not a GOTdamn thing you can do about it.
  • by ChePibe ( 882378 ) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @10:11PM (#15924493)
    As someone who gets to Latin America every once in a while (thus the name...), I would NEVER check my laptop, electronics, or ANYTHING of value in my baggage. NEVER.

    Theft occurs often enough in the U.S. to make me at the very least give serious pause... in Latin America? In Argentina, for example, a country where you have almost no hope of receiving anything more than a disposable camera in the mail, there is NO way I would entrust my laptop to their baggage handlers, not to mention my camera, iPod, etc.

    It looks like the security is being toned down a little bit now, and I hope and pray it stays at the present level.

    I would also appreciate it if people would stop planning to blow up airplanes - can y'all just knock that off, please? Thanks, guys.
  • by davidoff404 ( 764733 ) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @10:20PM (#15924530)
    It might be as well to remember that BAA, the organisation which runs airports in the UK, have released new guidelines which state that laptops may now be carried as hand luggage on board flights. The alleged terrorist plot has undoubtedly caused difficulty and inconvenience for many people over the past week, but all of the signs now point towards the situation returning to normal. You still can't carry bottled drinks on flights from UK airports (and flights from the US to the UK as far as I'm aware), but I'd be amazed if everything has not returned to normal by the end of next weekend.

    And remember folks, as tempting as it might be to regard the return to normality as simply a consequence of a common sense approach, the fact that you're now able to bring laptops onboard is actually because the airlines here have been complaining so loudly about the damage that these restrictions have done to the lucrative business class market.

    Hurrah for market forces!
  • shouldn't that be.. (Score:5, Informative)

    by myowntrueself ( 607117 ) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @10:27PM (#15924560)
    instead of:
    With last week's announcement that the British government thwarted an alleged terrorist attack planned for flights from the U.K. to the U.S

    With last week's announcement that the British government allegedly thwarted a terrorist attack planned for flights from the U.K. to the U.S
  • by The Mutant ( 167716 ) on Thursday August 17, 2006 @12:42AM (#15925003) Homepage
    American, living in London, on the road betweet three to five days a week. I usually travel via Heathrow although sometimes I'm out of Gatwick.

    I now use City Airport [londoncityairport.com] as much as possible, but they only provide short haul service into the continent.

    For long haul flights I now Eurostar to Paris or Amsterdam where I pick up a connecting flight.

    The fundamental problem is BAA, the airport operator, has declined to add staff to perform the required searches manually, thus protecting their profits. And the airlines are just as bad, attempting to maintain the same flight schedules to preserve revenue.

    So the passengers are caught in the middle, and we're expected to strip down to our underwear and file, arms crossed above our heads, gratefully onto to the waiting aircraft.

    Not me, and many like me. Business class travelers are avoiding this circus in droves.

    We're all either using smaller airports that were not impacted like Heathrow / Gatwick or, if a long flight is needed (I'm off to Cairo in two weeks), we're taking the train to Paris or Amsterdam, and picking up a connecting flight from there.

    None of the continental airports are doing this crap. None of the Asian airports are doing this crap. Even the US isn't going this far.

    Make no mistake about it - this is all about protecting profits. Nothing more.
  • TSA approved locks (Score:3, Informative)

    by hey ( 83763 ) on Thursday August 17, 2006 @07:43AM (#15925923) Journal
    How about those TSA approved luggage locks?
    These locks have a combo that you know and a special key that the TSA has
    that can open it too -- "for security".
    http://froogle.google.com/froogle?q=TSA+lock&hl=en &lr=&sa=X&oi=froogle&ct=title [google.com]

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