Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Cellphones, terrorists and Toronto's subway.

A story on CityNews this morning made me laugh.  With ever increasing frequency, the news is becoming packed with alarmist stories about what vectors an attacker might use for terrorism.  

In this latest news story, the problem is if the TTC lets cellphone service get into the subway, the ability to use cellphones to trigger an attack is perceived as a major threat to be thwarted.  In the story, it mentions a few attacks that have used cellphones, and concludes that Toronto may become a target too if this vector is opened up.

As a quick sanity check, here's a few other methods that have been used over the years. Ask yourself if the TTC should have tackled these types of threats and you'll undoubtedly answer "of course not". 

1.  March 20th 1995. Sarin gas was released on Tokyo's subway system in a coordinated attack.  How are those poisonous gas detectors working out at your local TTC station?

2.  April 11th, 2011.  Nail bomb is detonated by radio control on the Minsk subway system.  Do we have radio scanners on the TTC?

3.  March 29 2010. Suicide bombers attack the Moscow Metro.  Are we doing psychological evaluations of passengers to to determine their suitability to ride?

4.  February 18 2003, an arsonist sets fire to flammable liquid in South Korea's Daegu Metropolitan subway.  Are we now detecting flammable substances in peoples baggage?

Now, as a result, we didn't suddenly ban nails, radios, psychologically-unstable people and flammable liquids from the subway. So should we ban the introduction of cell phones?  No. 

If someone wanted to really do some damage, there are easier vectors, and you don't have to look far to get inspiration either.  Here's an example of what I mean:

People on the inside are always the number one threat.  These guys have radios too.  And nails.  They get annoyed with ever increasing frequency, which usually results in the suspension of services whilst they strike.  Does the TTC do psychological evaluations on the bloke that looks after your buses brakes?  Probably not.

Having looked at the most obvious and easiest vector, you'll be glad to know that the nations top security people have known for ages that IEEE 1473 controlled trains need to be secured against hackers who could do just as much damage.

So the question remains; what is the most likely vector?  

Everyday items like batteries, detergents and cleaners, cat litter, pharmaceutical compounds, glues, diapers, fertilizers, wire-wool pads, some foods, etc, are all things that are a) not restricted in how you obtain them and b) dangerous when combined correctly (no, I'm not detailing that).  These can all be used to devestating effect when used by the wrong types of people...  and there's the crux of the matter:  It actually takes a special type of individual to carry out a terrorist attack on something like the TTC.  

The greatest defence the TTC has and we all have as society is actually you.  Just keep your eyes peeled, ears open and report anything you think is suspcious.  

Finally, remember that the cell phone service in the subways should actually help save lives.