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Be on the wave or under it™

The News – 09/21/01


In this Issue:


Guns On Planes As A Solution?


What's wrong with this picture?What’s Wrong With This Picture? I don’t know about you, but I worry about recent statements recommending that Federal marshals with guns be stationed on airplanes. I always assumed that the risk of catastrophic decompression or other really bad outcome due to discharging a firearm on a plane was quite high.

According to the site, (now, let’s consider the source here), it ain’t necessarily so. First of all, you could use pre-fragmented “safety slugs” designed not to penetrate walls or ricochet from hard surfaces. Great. But even if you put a hole or two in the side of the fuselage, you could plug it with an airplane pillow, according to the site, which quotes a couple of self-identified aircraft engineers on the subject. They say the risk of a single bullet causing massive structural failure of these “bulldozers in the sky” is very slim. Of course, they don’t worry too much about what would happen if the bullet happened to shoot out a window or penetrate the fuel tanks in the wings. One of the “engineers” says that he “read someplace” that a 747 could keep flying with four windows blown out. Of course, several passengers might get “extruded” in the process, but I guess you should learn to accept that kind of collateral damage. Anyway, the site seems to be advocating that normal folks be able to fly while armed, arguing, “Concealed carry permit holders are among the most lawful people in our society.” OK, now I’m really scared.

Let’s not take leave of our senses here, folks. It’s OK with me if you’re a gun advocate. But get a clue: Arming all air passengers would arm the stinking bad guys, too! Hello? All a terrorist has to do in this scenario is get a conceal carry permit, perhaps with stolen credentials. The idea of arming passengers is looney, and typical of the type of knee jerk overreaction we’ve heard a lot of since the disaster. Never one to be outdone in the knee jerk category, our Congress has proposed a bill named
H.R. 2896 -- Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001 that would allow pilots to be armed. Now I feel safer. Let’s see. Who was it that brought down EgyptAir 990 into Long Island Sound?  Could it have been the pilot?

Don’t get me wrong. I’d much rather have pilots armed than passengers, but, let’s face it: Pilots are not immune to mental illness, marital problems, depression, bigotry, hatred, or other antisocial behaviors. Some have even flown drunk. Nevertheless, we do entrust them with our lives, and the vast majority of the time they come through. I’m not saying pilots shouldn’t have the ability to respond to a hijacking situation, but placing a very dangerous weapon in their hands (one that can be stolen and used against them) while they are dealing with flying the plane and keeping the crew and passengers calm may not be the smartest thing. Has anyone ever heard of sub-lethal weapons, for crying out loud? Please write Republican Representative Ron Paul of Texas, who sponsored the bill, and express your feelings. I’d like to suggest that it be amended to allow the carrying of sub-lethal weapons designed to protect against a terrorist attack.

While we’re on the subject of preventing skyjacking, wouldn’t it make more sense if, instead of the primitive tech of a bullet, we used the modern technology called fly-by-wire (FBW)? Modern passenger jets such as the Airbus A320 and the Boeing 777 (as well as many modern fighter jets) utilize FBW technology. What it means is the plane’s controls are not mechanically connected to the control surfaces of the plane, and all pilot actions can be modified by computers. In the case of the Airbus, hard limits are placed on what the pilot can ask the plane to do. If the pilot tries to take an action that would make the plane stall or crash into a building, for example, computers override the action and attempt to carry it out within acceptable limits of control. Boeing allows the pilot to override the computer, believing that the human has a better grasp on the situation. Well, what if there was a ground override that would enable airline officials to cause the plane to land and not respond to cockpit inputs? Or perhaps just programming a building avoidance routine would do the trick. Wouldn’t that take care of the hijacking problem?

Of course, such as system would need to be completely hacker-proof or it could be neutralized or co-opted by terrorists or antisocial script kiddies. Despite my misgivings about the security of secure systems, I for one would feel much more comfortable with such a system than with guns on board. Of course, having said that, the folks at might want to put my picture in their rogues’ gallery of gun opponents, right next to Stalin and Hitler.


Briefly Noted

  • Shameless Self-Promotion Dept.: CFO Magazine quoted me for a story they ran on the SirCam worm and peer-to-peer networks. Like most media contacts, I said a great many brilliant, insightful, impactful things, but they only used two quotes. It’s online now, but I don’t think it gets into print until next month.
    CFO Magazine

  • Vigilante Crackers Warned: A loose knit-group of hackers known as the “Dispatchers” vowed shortly following last week's terrorist attacks to damage and destroy Internet service providers, Web sites and networks operated by terrorist organizations. The Dispatchers said that they would target ISPs in Palestine, Afghanistan and other countries that support terrorism. The FBI doesn’t think this is such a good idea. “There is the opportunity for significant collateral damage to any computer network and telecommunications infrastructure that does not have current countermeasures in place,” the FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC) said. “The Dispatchers claim to have over 1,000 machines under their control for the attacks. It is likely that the attackers will mask their operations by using the (Internet protocol) addresses and pirated systems of uninvolved third parties.” This type of attack might work against a country, but is likely to be a mere annoyance to terrorist groups, who can switch providers or adopt alternative means of access. Unless hackers take down all ISPs in the target countries, very little good is likely to come from such an exploit.  

  • Cracked: A cracker with the handle RyDen defaced the Afghan Taleban Mission to the UN website, The site is now down, but as of last Sunday it read: “Own3d by RyDen.” The site was apparently first defaced in March and this is the third time in six months that RyDen has attacked the Taleban site.




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