Security in the news — Aftermath of Flight MH17

Downing of flight MH17


The downing of Malaysia flight MH17 is an unprecedented attack on commercial aviation. I posted news report on tweeter as soon as the news broke, but waited to write about until there was at the very least some intelligent assessment of exactly what happened. The threat of a surface-to-air missile used by terrorist to target a commercial jetliner is not an unthinkable scenario that has not been consider my risk analyst before. In fact over the last 50 years there have been many other similar incidents which have occurred over conflict zones around the world. I can also recall at least one scenario which worried intelligence authorities related to terrorist groups intent on acquiring missile technology for such a gruesome plan during the aftermath of the 9-11 terrorist attacks on US soil. But in recent times the thought that a sophisticated weapons system, under the control of a State, should be put in the  hands of irregular actors would appear improbable and outside of all rules of engagement. That the same antiaircraft system should be trained on a passenger jetliner would be inconceivable; not any more. One thing appears clear, whether this was the result of a terrible accident or intentional action, the parties responsible should be severely punished as to discourage the indiscriminate use of such weapons in any armed conflict.

Shot Down Plane in history

Some news media have attempted to lay fault on the airlines for flying over a popular air route which for months has been an increasingly escalating conflict zone. In fact, some airlines had made the risk calculus and opted to fly around Eastern Ukraine. It’s understood that after Ukrainian separatist rebels shot down Ukrainian military transport and a fighter jet using Russian made weapons just days before, some degree of caution should have been practiced by all airlines even in the absence of or limited no-fly zone. Perhaps this was a foreseeable black swan event, but the reality we were supposed to believe was that a commercial airline would be safe from such risk once a plane reaches cruising altitude above thirty two thousand feet, hence the ban on flights below that range for the Eastern part of the country. Furthermore even the current duty-of-care standards for commercial aviation fall short of accounting for such events. It’s difficult to fault an airline following the conventional wisdom, in the absence of guidelines, when you consider all these permutations.

mh17-infographic-mistaken identity

No doubt this event is a game changer, and all commercial aviation stakeholders are rewriting their ops manual to involve geopolitical risk assessments from their security and risk management departments before a final decision is made on the air route to follow. We should prepare also for the potential for travel disruptions to come in the immediate future as conflicts flare up in a G-0 world struggling to define a new order. We’ve seen evidence of this just yesterday with many airlines suspending all flights to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport after reported rockets may have been aimed at the run-way following the renewed Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the Gaza Strip.

As we mourn for the victims of flight MH17, we’re also left with a sense of despair. Significant damaged has already been done to the confidence of air travelers when this terrible tragedy follows in the heels of another as yet unexplained commercial aviation accident involving Malaysia Airline flight MH370 . For a person skeptical of coincidences, is hard to come to terms with the fact that such terrible fate should revisit one single airline in a short period. Restoring confidence should be high on the list of all the stakeholders regardless of their powerful motivation to the contrary.


The Truth About Hotel Safes

This information is top security. When you have read it, destroy yourself. – Herbert Marshall McLuhan

Hotel safes entail keeping your valuables protected through your stay at facilities where this convenience is offered.  But the security of the boxes themselves is not completely fool proof, as there are a number of known vulnerabilities. The vulnerabilities range from physical to logical attacks.  Yet many travelers and even hotel staff are awfully unaware about their susceptibility to the schemes.

One of these schemes is surprisingly simple to pull off. It’s favored by international thieves because they can easily obtain a hotel guess’ name and room number (possibly fake ID); while using elements of social engineering, they simply act as a distressed hotel guess locked out of his/her room and save. Hotel security services always ready to assist a customer and unaware of these sophisticated plots, would comply and open room and safe both.

Other attacks go after the digital safes’ electronic panel, cracking the code if given sufficient time.  It is important to look into the safes UL ratings to weight the risk of storing irreplaceable valuable objects.  These attacks are less commons as the skills required to successfully attack new models becomes less common.

The Historical View

Both hotels and safes have a long history, dating back thousands of years. There are some precursors to the modern safes for instance the Egyptians sought to protect their possessions by burying their scrolls deep in the pyramids; the Assyrians buried duplicates of important documents at separate locations and at the height of the Roman Empire Julius Caesar filed his records in strong, iron boxes. Hotel safes came into existence out of similar concerns when innkeepers sought to protect their patron’s belongings from theft. As far back as the eighteen hundreds lodges and inns where known to advertise safes as part of the security amenities offered to potential clients.  One could say that security is one of the intrinsic benefits included in the lodging industries’ offering since their inception. Since the modern concept of hotels has been modeled after the English and Dutch Inn models many the concepts are imbedded in Common Law. Such is the case of the “duty of a hotel to provide safe premises” from which offering hotel safes branches out from.

Today as in the old days hotels offer safes both to minimize liability and for the peace-of-mind and convenience of guest who often bring valuables into their facilities. The truth of the matter is that these safes are only as secure as the procedure used at any given hotel.  That is because many hotels have a backdoor access into the safe in case the guest forgets the code or loses the key. This fact can create a number of vulnerabilities starting with the fact that hotel staff can be easily deceived as stated above, as well as the fact that they can also be tempted into surreptitiously entering a guest room to steal values in the safe they have indirectly been entrusted with.

As a hotel guest you’re left with limited options as to how to protect your valuables.  Some of the best options are ingenious, but required some knowledge of how the thieves would go about trying to rip you off.   What ever your strategy is remember that your best option is prevention.  It means that you should probably limit the irreplaceable, valuable items you bring with you to a hotel. Also check your travel insurance coverage for some valuable items in case they’re stolen. Lastly heed the security advice offered throughout this site.  A hotel safe is a convenient way to store valuables, but remember the adage about placing all your eggs in one basket.