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Maggie Koerth-Baker at 11:17 am Fri, Jan 25, 2013
Cut the red wire! No, the white wire!
Seriously, that has got to be one of the more nerve-wracking jobs in the world.
Fact 1:this guy is smarter than you.
Fact 2: he wants to kill you.
Now cut the red wire
But first remove the fuse
(that was on M.A.S.H)
It’s an interesting article (I wouldn’t have imagined that bombs would be disassembled by heating them!) but it’s really light on the details, which is kind of too bad. They keep saying “We can’t tell you what we did or what problem we had, because we want to make it harder for future bomb builders”
Yeah, I would love to see this revisited today, when maybe some of this info isn’t so “sensitive”. It was bad enough at first, but then when they get to that bit – “but then there was this big surprise, a total 180 that threw us for a loop – oh, but we won’t tell you what it is” – that was too much. Security through obscurity is bad policy, any way you cut it.
It occurs to me to wonder if this is one of the few cases where security through obscurity is a good idea. It’s bad in, for example, crypto or locksmithing because a wide community can make low-cost attacks on the system, and a single uncaught flaw is a fundamental vulnerability making the system useless.
Bomb disposal isn’t much like web security or crypto; it’s more like cracking. The opponent sets up the system; they attempt to penetrate it. Obscurity may make their methods less effective, because less subject to crowdsourcing, but it may also increase their effective life. If there are common techniques to make bombs hard to disarm, but the disposal experts in fact know ways to beat them, then advertising how is exposing the weaknesses of the bomb maker’s security through obscurity. Why give them a chance to fix their vulnerabilities?
The thing is, bomb-making is hard, with a high opportunity cost, and a significant risk of killing yourself trying if you don’t already know what you’re doing. There are many ways to increase your chances of killing people if you know what techniques most give disposal experts trouble. But there is no way, short of inside information from being on the bomb disposal team, to deliberately take advantage of an uncaught error in their disposal methods.
What kind of crap reader is PopSci using? What a pain.