Tuesday, April 27, 2010

NYC Subway Skeleton Key Opens Doors and Elevators

As I wrote earlier this week about the fact that a system is only as secure as its least secure facility, the skeleton keys sold for a pittance by members of the MTA not only allow unfettered access to subways, but also activate the elevator fireman's service system.
After revealing that scammers are selling fare-beaters a $27 key that opens subway emergency exits, the Daily News found the key also controls elevators at thousands of city buildings.

The FDNY confirmed the "firemen's service" key - used in emergencies - can call all elevators to the lowest floor and hold them there.

Thousands of firefighters have the keys, which the FDNY has been using for many years, FDNY spokesman Frank Gribbon said.

They work in "tens of thousands of buildings" - including all commercial high-rises, he said.

The News got a key from a Brooklyn man who said he paid a transit worker $27 for a copy, which he used to avoid paying the $2.25 train fare.

A second man busted by cops recently for having one of the keys told the Daily News he bought his copy from a transit worker for about $50.

NYC Transit President Thomas Prendergast said the agency may have to replace the locks on the system's 1,412 gates, which would likely cost more than $1 million, he said.
While some people argue that a terrorist isn't likely to use the keys when they can get an untraceable Metrocard by paying cash at any one of thousands of vending machines, these keys do more than just allow free access to the subways. They provide for the opportunity for all manner of mayhem.

About 50 people have been arrested this year for possessing these skeleton keys. Farebeating has cost the MTA $27 million in lost fares each year. That likely doesn't include those MTA, FDNY, and NYPD officers who take advantage of the keys for their own free rides.

I suspect that the problem is not confined to the New York City MTA but other major metropolitan areas, and it's an issue that needs to be addressed in the wider assessment of homeland security to protect subways and mass transit from terror attacks, vandalism, and other criminal activity.

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