(NaturalNews) Teflon tape, molded plastic explosives and hidden handguns were all used in concealment techniques and tricks that enabled a group of researchers to hide banned and dangerous weapons and substances from Rapiscan Secure 1000 machines previously used at Transportation Security Administration airport checkpoints, and which are currently used at courthouses, prisons and other government buildings.
Researchers from the University of California, San Diego, the University of Michigan and Johns Hopkins University were able to maneuver weapons past the full-body X-ray scanners once used at security checkpoints in airports between 2009 and 2013, installed and maintained at a cost of about $1 billion.
"Frankly, we were shocked by what we found," said J. Alex Halderman, a professor of computer science at the University of Michigan, in a statement. "A clever attacker can smuggle contraband past the machines using surprisingly low-tech techniques."
Rapiscan Systems touts their Secure 1000 machines as "the most effective and most widely deployed image-based people screening solution," though the scanners were taken out of TSA airport checkpoints last year amid a rash of privacy complaints because of the near-naked images of passengers they produced.
Researchers were able to actually buy a scanner - on eBay
However, the study's authors note that the machines have nevertheless been transferred to government buildings, local jails and courthouses around the nation.
According to the research team, they were able to conceal a small-caliber .380 ACP pistol and plastic explosives from the full-body X-ray scanners, in addition to installing malware to produce phony "all-clear" images.
Also, the team managed to successfully execute a series of weapon concealment tricks, including the use of Teflon tape to conceal weapons against a person's spine. In one test, a 200 gram pancake of plastic-explosive-like material was successfully hidden after being molded onto the torso of a "passenger," in order to avoid detection.
Another image from the scanner failed to reveal a pistol that was hidden behind a person's knee, as well as one that was sewn into a pant leg. A knife and material used to simulate C4 explosives were also not visible to scanner operators. The scanning operator sees no difference between test images with and without the weapons and explosive material.
What's more, the team was amazed that it could even obtain a scanner, according to the study's online data:
The Rapiscan Secure 1000 full-body scanner uses backscattered X-rays to construct an image through clothing. Naively hidden contraband, such as the handgun tucked into this subject's waistband, is readily visible to the device operator.
The scanner designers seem to have assumed that attackers would not have access to a Secure 1000 to test and rehearse their attacks. However, we found that we could purchase a government-surplus Secure 1000 from an eBay seller, even while the machines were still in use by TSA.
'They might stop a naive attacker'
"These machines were tested in secret, presumably without this kind of adversarial mindset, thinking about how an attacker would adapt to the techniques being used," Halderman said in an interview with Wired.
"They might stop a naive attacker. But someone who applied just a bit of cleverness to the problem would be able to bypass them," he continued. "And if they had access to a machine to test their attacks, they could render their ability to detect contraband virtually useless."
In 2012, the TSA cautioned reporters not to cite a video produced by blogger Jonathan Corbett that showed their Rapiscan full-body scanners being duped by a series of simple weapon concealment tricks.
In posting his video, Corbett said the purpose was "to demonstrate that the TSA's insistence that the nude body scanner program is effective and necessary is nothing but a fraud, just like their claims that the program is safe (radiation what?) and non-invasive (nude pictures who?). The scanners are now effectively worthless, as anyone can beat them with virtually no effort."