Monday, April 6, 2009

Why NOT to pick padlocks on a Flight

This is an OOLD post but due to some stories told this weekend I thought I would put it back out there for the public to see once again.


Monday, April 30, 2007

Current mood: cynical
Category: Life

Wow... Where to start..

For those of you who don't know me as well... I must first set the stage. What I do for a living:: For the last 10+ years I have been working for Organizations like Navy Intelligence, Sprint, KPMG, and hundreds of other fortune 500 companies to help grow how secure they are. I conduct risk assessments, Compliance Assessments, Ethical Hacking, Vulnerability Assessment, and Physical security assessment as well as Physical Security Penetration testing.

That being said... here we go.

Last weekend ( on Thursday ) I started the most intense flight to another city that I have ever had.

I decided to go to Pittsburgh with my girlfriend to attend her Grandfathers 80th birthday. A relatively normal task. Fly from Colorado, quick stop over in O'Hell airport in Chicago ** i hate that place.. no way to EVER be on time if you go through there*.... and then bam... chi- Pittsburgh.

Thursday Am, I wakeup promptly at 4:00 am for my 6am departure. Lucky me, I got a whole hour of sleep. After a quick cold water shower and shaking off the drinks from the night before I throw on some jeans and toss on this t-shirt, then throw my crap into the Audi and buzz off to the airport. Nice drive at 4am. Not a soul on the road and took about 20 min to get to the Pikes Peak parking area. I bet I waited 35 min on that bus.... freezing my ass off... just so that some low rent bus driver could fill EVERY seat on the bus. 4 others shuttles went by... but this committed lil worker bee stayed fast.. Till the bitter end.

Great Success!! He fills the bus by about 4:55. We slowly troll up to the United Airlines stop and I get off the bus. Lucky for me, I had my entire ticket schedule and ticket book pre printed. I scooted around the line (due to my Exec Premier Status) and went through the Airport Security Checkpoint. As always.. I unpack my Boblbee Backpack, take off my shoes, strip my belt and all other possible metal. I look like a Sherpa when I travel, because god knows united couldn't keep track of ANY of the bags i have EVER flown with . None the less, I also took out my SouthOrd lock pick roll and handed it over to TSA. ( I do this every flight ahead of time, instead of them stopping me to inspect my bag) "All good! Nice to see you again Mr. Nickerson" they exclaim. Hooray! I am through and ready to begin my much needed vacation. I finally stroll up to the gate, just as last call is being made to get on the flight to O'Hare (or O'Hell, as so many of my coworkers affectionately refer to it). I settle in to seat 9b on flight United 360 from DEN->ORD @ 6:35 I crack open some light reading. Hacking exposed VOIP by our friend Dave Endler. Great read btw...It was an easy flight, as always. (I take this route at least 2-4x a month). I had a quick lay over and was off to Pittsburgh.

We board the plane and I promptly get into my seat 3a on flight 5829 from ORD->PIT @ 11:53am on April 26, 2007. This flight will go down as my Magnum opus. I have Premier Status (50k miles per year) on 3 airlines...and this.. my friends...was the strangest flight I have EVER taken.

As I was sitting in my seat I made a single serving friend with my seat mate. I guy in his late 20's early 30's that was in the Military. He was just on his way back from Afghanistan. We waxed lowbrow about jobs and military life and how the secrecy is an interesting and well needed thing. We got into a small conversation about what I do and the book I was reading. Shortly after, we prepare for takeoff. I set down my book and other flight toys (pad locks, pick set, iPod, headphones, and pc) to prepare for liftoff. Shortly after a Flight attendant stops by. Linda, I think was her name... it was hard to tell over all the shouting. "WHAT ARE YOU DOING,, WHY DO YOU HAVE THOSE? < WHAT IS THAT???" she blasts into my seat. I was sitting quietly at my seat practicing picking open 3 different locks. I like to do this on flights to stay relaxes and meditate. It also keeps*the feel* in my fingers so that I can stay sharp.

In a total panic i drop the picks and lock and yelp. She scared the living daylights out of me! " I am picking open these padlocks that I brought to practice. I am a security professional and one of the facets of our job is Physical security. Lock picking is an art... you have to practice it to feel it. This is something that we have to do much more than the reading for risk assessment or hacking a vulnerability we have exploited 10000times." She was perplexed. She runs to the front of the plane. After a few frantic and muffled phone calls she comes back for round 2.

atendant: Why DO YOU HAVE THOSE?

Me: Um... I told you... I am in security. I use them as tools for work.


Me: Maam, they are not illegal, I fly with them all the time. You are more than welcome to hold on to them for the remainder of the flight if that will make you feel more comfortable.


Me: Maam, I am a consultant. I do work for large businesses, prominent security firms and other government organizations such as the FBI, NSA, and Various Department Agencies.

She snatches the pick roll from my hands and runs to the front of the plane.

Attendant:We have to land. There is a major security issue. There is a passenger with little knives and these steel things. (As said to the captain so EVERYONE ON THE FLIGHT COULD HEAR)

Great!! Now the whole plane starts freaking out. People are clamoring about guns, knives, bombs, and the best….. How I am some sort of terrorist. Yep, ME… working all my life to secure this country and the businesses within it…. A TERRORIST! The next was my favorite.

Attendant: (to the other attendant as well as the pilot… but loud enough for the first 10 rows to hear) : I think he may be some sort of terrorist. He says he works for the government, but I just don't know. I don't believe him.

Fantastic. I am going out of my way to go to Pittsburgh to see my girlfriend and attend her Grand Fathers 80th Birthday, meeting the ENTIRE family and ALL of her old friends from growing up there. I thought that was stressful.. HAHA.. Now I have to worry about the passengers, crew, and whatever is waiting back at the gate. Maybe I will be meeting Grandpa from a pretty urn or conference call from the hospital.

Finally the pilot chimes in

Pilot: One of our attendants has identified a major security risk on the flight and we will be going back to the O'hare gate to further investigate.

Whew…. Least we aren't gonna fly around so one of these 9/11 scared maniac sheep of American society, back in the bowels of the plane can try and be a hero and toss me out. I may have a shot at living through the ignorance of this stress addled icon of customer service flight attendant. We arrive to the gate… flashing lights all over…and I stand up to get my cell phone. Fortunately I know a lot of government and TSA contacts that I have done work for. I spam every person I know that can vouch for who I am and what I can do. I am met mid ascent to the overhead baggage by our first hero in the back

Hero: SIT DOWN!!!!

ME: (obviously this guy is gonna save this freshly docked plane from the bad terrorist before the cops do… his one big shot at TV glory, oh man… what now?) Hey man, I am just getting my phone… there is a huge misunderstanding… Its all ok.

Hero: SIT THE F*%& DOWN BEFORE I COME UP THERE AND MAKE YOU SIT (**Cheered on by a few other passengers chours'n in**)

I sit down and disengage..right as the plane stops and attaches to the catwalk. As soon as the door of the jet flings open, the crew quickly scoots outside. No announcement to the passengers… nothing… Gotta love that?!? I would have been terrified if I was in the back of that flight. They are off the plane for almost 20 min when an agent from TSA Sticks his badge laden hat through the door. I nod and walk out. I am met By Chicago Police officials, TSA Chief, TSA Lieutenant, Captain /Co Cap of the flight. The first thing I am met with is the Captain of the flight with his hand extended. Naturally I bounce out of the plane and say " Hey guys, what's up?" I was as American as baseball and apple pie. I walk up to the captain and shake his hand

Captain: " Mr. Nickerson…. We are REALLY sorry about this mess. Our flight attendant did not know that you are allowed to have these and she really handled the situation inappropriately! We are so sorry!"

Me: " Right on… I understand, but that was really crazy. I tried to give them to her and explain, but she wouldn't stop yelling at me."

Chicago Police: " We are sorry Chris…. We understand that these are tools of your trade and appreciate what you guys do. This is not something we have ever run into before here."

TSA: "We apologize for the situation; did you bring those through our checkpoints?"

Me: "NO, but I have many times. Every time I fly I hand them to TSA before screening my bags. This way they can approve and check them out."

TSA: "Oh, well you shouldn't have those but we…"

Chicago Police "Give Him Back his TOOLS!!" As they snatch it from his hands and toss at me

I tell the clan thanks…etc… and start making my way back on the jet. The captain calls out

Captain: "So.. I have to ask… how long would it take to get through the lock on that door?"

Me: "What???? Um…. * Blown away by the question, I walk on the plane… look at the lock n come back** Prolly 30+ min if ever… it's a Medco… those kick ass"

Captain: "Great, I never knew.." ** as he puts an hand on my back like I was his frat buddy and marches up the catwalk with me

He proceeds to make an announcement to the passengers about how I was a security professional and WAS supposed to have what I did and that they were totally safe and to know worry.

Had to write this, because i was stick of tellin the story..and also let people know to be carefull of those flight attendants still living in the paranoia of 9/11. Often time fear outweighs common sense

Beware.... Please....


  1. Chris, I've just picked this up through twitter...classic story. The problem being a gun-for-hire is while you have great references, you never have the badge to calm people down. I did a social engineering test once and spent the evening with a physical sec guard with a revolver trying to explain I was licensed for what I was doing. Too many Barney Fife's in this world...

  2. Good story Chris and it goes to show you how security conscious the US has become post 9/11/2001. Strictly from an operational/safety standpoint; one response may have been to detain you and ask you for identification so that the pilot could call control and have the story checked out. I would imagine that this whole event could have been easily avoided, without making an emergency landing.

    On a similar note: I had a somewhat similar experience. I was flying back from California and was SSH’ing into one of my boxes from my blackberry. Well the teacher sitting next to me flipped out, saying that I was going to "crash the plane"... "And to turn off the cell phone". I naturally asked her the teacher:

    Me: "have you been in the hospital and seen all the signs not to use your cell phone?"

    Her: "Well yes, but that isn't the same, this is a plane, and you can crash it".

    ME: "And the hundreds of people that left messages for their families and called in reports on 9/11, they were responsible for crashing those planes?"

    Her: "well NO, but it's still dangerous"

    Me: I could tell I was getting nowhere, so
    Prior to takeoff I put the phone in airplane mode. (Which turns off the radio, so no interference can occur, even though as I illustrated to the math teacher it's highly unlikely).

    Her:"OMG! What are you doing looking at your
    phone in midflight??" Stewardess.

    ME: "So now I not only have to explain to this
    math teacher that I was checking the time, but
    I had to also explain the situation to the airline attendant" Thankfully, the airline attendant had more common sense and it was not an issue.

    However, it goes to show you just how unreasonable and how people can jump to conclusions post 9/11.

  3. Wow! Incredible story, Chris. Very cool under pressure. I'm pretty sure I would have blown my cool. Thanks for sharing.

  4. What a freaking hoot! Gotta love the hysterical flight attendants!

  5. Holy Crap! I'm surprised you didn't get jumped by the Hero. That is a great story though. Impressed with how you kept calm and rational despite the potential for a completely southbound ending. I've always wondered about traveling with picks. How do you get permission to do that? Is there a card or some sort of certification you have due to it being part of your work?

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. What about the douche bag who told you to sit the truck down? Did you get an "I'm sorry brah" or ever make eye contact? I assume this beefcake wouldn't be the type to admit a wrong doing and most likely still believes he was in the right despite how nonchalant and relaxed you were acting.

  8. Padlocks for all purposes

    Need a quality padlock? locksmith in charleston sc
    Try it Yourself »
    is a long-time serving family-owned company that employs only the skilled locksmiths and provide an array of products and services for industrial and residential clients. Padlocks, door locks, key duplication and modern security systems are among the best in our extensive offer. Our qualified locksmiths provide complete lock, key and safe service at affordable and competitive prices. Whether you need a keyed lock, a combination lock, or even an electronic keypad padlock, we will provide it for you in an efficient and reliable manner. We also offer personalized assistance when deciding which particular service or product to use.

  9. Very informative.. Such a great post. You make so many great points here that I read your article a couple of times. Your views are in accordance with my own for the most part. This is great content for your readers. I would love to know about the ncbike track

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. You make lots of informative points here that I read your blog a couple of times. Really appreciate your for this effort. Keep it up. house for sale

  12. Man, what a crazy story. I'll probably share this with some of my friends. Thanks again for posting it.
    24 hour locksmith

  13. Very good article and thanks for sharing such information. Already Read your Recent Post, its Great Thanks name tag | proof of residency | id card | immigration letter | open house sign in