Security by Photographic Obscurity: FAIL

Gas Storage Tank
Gas Storage Tank

We biked along the Poughkeepsie waterfront and spotted this stately gas storage tank. The shape tells you it’s a pressure vessel, not a simple fluid tank. I think Central Hudson has an underwater gas pipeline across the Hudson right about there; the waterfront is rife with oil storage tanks and suchlike, although less than in days of yore.

As you might expect, I took the picture from a public area, pretty much in front of a house across the street. It’s not like this was a risky high-security red-flag penetration operation; we rode to the end of Dutchess Avenue (the better part of 600 feet), soaked up some of the decaying industrial-age vibe, turned around, and rode back up the hill.

Dutchess Avenue - Google Obscured View
Dutchess Avenue - Google Obscured View

I made a ten-cent bet with myself that the Google-Eye view of the area would be blurred out “for security reasons” and, yup, won that sucker. This isn’t a case of JPG compression: notice how (relatively) crisp the railroad tracks are?

Dutchess Ave - Topo Map
Dutchess Ave - Topo Map

The 1955 topographic map hanging on our wall (I’m a map junkie) was revised in 1981 and leaves very little to the imagination. It not only shows oil storage tanks standing on those now-empty concrete pads, but it also labels the area. Admittedly, it doesn’t show the gas tank, so the tank hasn’t been there for more than, oh, a quarter-century.

I submit to you that the best way for an evildoer to pick a high-value target is to browse the maps and look for low-res areas. Here in mid-state New York, that’s an infallible way to find things like big petroleum storage facilities (or just look along the waterfront), airports with military-grade runways (the Dutchess County Airport evidently doesn’t count), oil / coal / nuke power plants, and good stuff like that. Then the bad guy gets in his car, drives over, gets some ground truth, and away they go.

A lazy bad guy could even write a Google Maps app that quietly and slowly scanned a given area for low-res points of interest.

That’s what Bruce Schneier calls a Movie Plot Threat. Ruining the resolution doesn’t change anything; you don’t need high-res imagery to blow something up.

Sheesh & similar remarks.