What Information is Hiding in Your Boarding Pass?

iStock
iStock

Frequent flyers are familiar with the embedded 2D barcode that appears on any boarding pass, whether it’s issued on a flimsy piece of paper or scanned through your smartphone. Whichever method you prefer to utilize—high-tech or old-school—you can be sure that the airline is taking note of the information that’s contained within that barcode.

In a recent article published on KrebsOnSecurity, reporter/computer security expert Brian Krebs investigated just what kind of personal information those barcodes reveal about a passenger. In 2005, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) issued a mandate to replace magnetic strips with bar-coded boarding passes (BCBP) for travelers around the globe, and by 2010 they had completed that task. As the IATA's website states, barcodes “offer more convenience for the passenger. Because they don’t need to be printed on expensive paper stock and facilitate off-airport check-in, they save the industry up to $1.5 billion every year.” 

If you want to see what personal data is actually stored in your barcodes, Inlite Research’s website allows you to upload pictures of your boarding pass (as well as your driver’s license, military ID, postal barcode, and QR codes) and decodes it, using HTML. The results aren’t exactly shocking: Your name, seat number, departing and arriving airports, sequence number (what number person were you to board), record locator, and frequent flyer number are revealed to whomever reads the barcode. And while it’s hardly the type of secure personal information that could lead to identity theft, you do leave yourself open to some limited information exposure if you happen to leave your boarding pass in your seat pocket, like so many of us do, or throw it in the trash after deplaning—particularly when it comes to your frequent flyer number.

Using this number (which can and should be kept private), it would be simple for anyone to log into your account and gain access to your contact information and future flights. Yes, they’d first have to know your password, but this can be changed rather easily as they have the frequent flyer number itself and can bypass a security question. (Getting into your account would also give them the power to cancel or change any upcoming flights.)

Another blog, Fusion, researched Krebs’ post and contacted various airlines as to why one’s full frequent flyer number appears in the barcode, but no representative would give a definitive answer. “Barcodes are not inherently secure or insecure,” Inlite Research’s vice president of marketing told Fusion. “Barcodes are a dumb way to package information into an image. The nature of the information is up to the people who use it. Most barcodes are boring.”

For those who prefer to err on the safe side while traveling this holiday season and beyond, it’s best to use your smartphone at check-in so that you don’t have to worry about someone lifting secure information from a paper boarding pass—and moving you right next to the lavatory for your next flight.

Turn Your LEGO Bricks Into a Drone With the Flybrix Drone Kit

Flyxbrix/FatBrain
Flyxbrix/FatBrain

Now more than ever, it’s important to have a good hobby. Of course, a lot of people—maybe even you—have been obsessed with learning TikTok dances and baking sourdough bread for the last few months, but those hobbies can wear out their welcome pretty fast. So if you or someone you love is looking for something that’s a little more intellectually stimulating, you need to check out the Flybrix LEGO drone kit from Fat Brain Toys.

What is a Flybrix LEGO Drone Kit?

The Flybrix drone kit lets you build your own drones out of LEGO bricks and fly them around your house using your smartphone as a remote control (via Bluetooth). The kit itself comes with absolutely everything you need to start flying almost immediately, including a bag of 56-plus LEGO bricks, a LEGO figure pilot, eight quick-connect motors, eight propellers, a propeller wrench, a pre-programmed Flybrix flight board PCB, a USB data cord, a LiPo battery, and a USB LiPo battery charger. All you’ll have to do is download the Flybrix Configuration Software, the Bluetooth Flight Control App, and access online instructions and tutorials.

Experiment with your own designs.

The Flybrix LEGO drone kit is specifically designed to promote exploration and experimentation. All the components are tough and can totally withstand a few crash landings, so you can build and rebuild your own drones until you come up with the perfect design. Then you can do it all again. Try different motor arrangements, add your own LEGO bricks, experiment with different shapes—this kit is a wannabe engineer’s dream.

For the more advanced STEM learners out there, Flybrix lets you experiment with coding and block-based coding. It uses an arduino-based hackable circuit board, and the Flybrix app has advanced features that let you try your hand at software design.

Who is the Flybrix LEGO Drone Kit for?

Flybrix is a really fun way to introduce a number of core STEM concepts, which makes it ideal for kids—and technically, that’s who it was designed for. But because engineering and coding can get a little complicated, the recommended age for independent experimentation is 13 and up. However, kids younger than 13 can certainly work on Flybrix drones with the help of their parents. In fact, it actually makes a fantastic family hobby.

Ready to start building your own LEGO drones? Click here to order your Flybrix kit today for $198.

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What Is the Insurrection Act?

The Insurrection Act gives the president the authority to address domestic disturbances using the military.
The Insurrection Act gives the president the authority to address domestic disturbances using the military.
Tero Vesalainen/iStock via Getty Images

The use of military forces to address volatile situations normally under the purview of law enforcement within the United States is a very rare occurrence, and for good reason. Troops are legally forbidden to be involved in domestic law enforcement affairs without prior congressional authorization.

One loophole does exist. It’s the Insurrection Act, and it empowers the president to dispatch soldiers to combat an insurrection, civil disturbance, natural disaster, or terrorist attack on American soil. But actually invoking the Insurrection Act is no simple matter.

The Act was introduced in 1807 and gives the president the authority to direct American troops to intervene in state-level civil unrest in the event local authorities are unable to control the disturbance. (It was amended in 2006 following Hurricane Katrina to include disasters and terrorism.) It’s used sparingly, particularly as modern police forces have become more militarized. The last time the Act was invoked was in 1992, when riots following the acquittal of four police officers tried in the beating of Rodney King consumed Los Angeles.

At the time, the California governor requested military forces—and normally, the president would activate federal troops at the behest of a governor or state legislature. According to the Los Angeles Times, one exception for dispatching soldiers without state approval is an indication that states are violating civil rights, as was the case for several U.S. presidents (Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson) who used military forces to back desegregation in Southern states. Alternately, the president would have to believe such events are interfering with a state’s ability to enforce their laws.

Put simply: Military forces are typically sent at the request of the state, but a request isn’t necessary if the president believes troops are needed to restore order.

When states believe local police are being overwhelmed, their preference is to use the National Guard, which is authorized to act as law enforcement on domestic soil.

If the Act is used, the president would first have to issue a proclamation ordering those involved in any disturbance to disperse. If that fails, the president would issue an executive order to activate the military. States would then likely argue against the intrusion of such forces. It is not clear, however, that they would have the legal justification to prevent such an action if the president calls for it.

[h/t Los Angeles Times]