Several years ago a university student, Christopher Soghoian, decided to test security at what is considered to be one of the most secure sites in the world; namely, the airport. Beginning with testing the limits of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), he found that it was fairly easy to board an airplane with a pocketknife, matches, box cutter, as well as various other banned items. He didn’t stop there, however, and soon decided to create a fake boarding pass generator that allowed anyone to fake a boarding pass on a number of different airlines.
It turned out his fake pass was highly effective and he soon found himself on Northwest Airlines headed for Twin Cities, MN. The result was a visit by the FBI upon his return, but a conviction did not result when he explained he conducted the experiment to demonstrate the vulnerability of one of the most secure systems in the world. Unfortunately, others soon found his program and instituted scams that are going onto this day.
Fake boarding passes sometimes include the need for fake IDs. One individual managed to board British Airlines under the name of Osama Bin Laden wearing a T-shirt bearing his name and having no ID. It would seem to reason that perhaps they believed the individual was actually the person named on the ticket and didn’t want him in their country either. Regardless of the reason, individuals utilizing this system are breaking the law and need to be caught.
Pursuing research on this topic also demonstrated that it’s possible to fly on someone else’s ticket whose name has been replaced. With a fake photo ID this means that terrorists can go anywhere in the world finding it easy to bypass airport security. Although a no-fly list exists for known terrorists, if they can find a way to fly under someone else’s name, the will not be detained. Additionally, adding “SSSS” to a ticket allows access to gate areas as well as avoids secondary screening.
Although originally boarding passes were difficult to fake due to the special paper and equipment required to print them, with online printing this no longer applies. The result is that fake boarding passes are now being used by marketers to get people to attend timeshares as well as in numerous scams that promise the world, but deliver only heartache. Frequently they come through emails that were found through phishing expeditions conducted by con artists and hackers.
Unfortunately, with online printing it’s fairly easy to generate or change boarding passes with programs such as Photoshop. As in Soghoian’s case, this software was integrated into his program utilizing an old, single boarding pass. As a result of the increase in these forgeries, many airports have now installed scanners that are designed to identify fakes, even those that have been printed from a home computer.
Despite this fact, those receiving these forgeries through email solicitations can’t tell them from the real thing. Nothing would be worse than showing up at the airport only to have security haul you away because you’re in possession of a fake boarding pass. As mentioned by Soghoian, there is no way to guarantee 100% security despite best efforts. If receiving one of these passes through an email contact the best thing to do is to contact the airline to ensure it’s authentic.