When it comes to securing their cargo containers, shippers often buy the most sophisticated high-tech seal they can find and figure they're covered. But that might be a risky assumption. After testing more than 200 different container seals, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratories reported that every single one could be defeated, often in less than two minutes and with easily available materials and techniques.
Based on its tests, the lab's Vulnerability Assessment Team (VAT) concluded that the type of seal used matters less than how it is used. "High-tech (electronic or electro-optic) seals are often very easy to defeat," according to a statement on the VAT's Web site. "In most cases, simple changes to a seal and/or to how it is used can dramatically improve its effectiveness. Unfortunately, these changes are almost never implemented."
The VAT's Web site turns out to be a treasure trove of information about security seals, including how to use them (and more importantly, perhaps, how not to use them); the findings and lessons learned from the testing; and articles, papers, and speeches about the failures of seals, geographic positioning systems (GPS), and RFID as security devices.
One of our favorite pages on the site is "Common Myths About Tamper-Evident Seals." Herewith, the team's list of widely believed "facts"—all of which are NOT true:
The list finishes with a reference to Greek mythology, noting that using low-tech techniques (a mirror and a sword), Perseus defeated the supposedly invulnerable Medusa. If Medusa had done a proper vulnerability assessment, the VAT researchers suggest, she might not have lost her head.