UK driving licence

The A-Z of fakes (F-I)

From Fingerprints to Identity, E&T continues its special on fakes.

F is for fingerprints

Fingerprints have been used as primary clues in crime detection for over a century. More recently they have been used as a primary method in biometric identification systems. However, as a means of validating identity they are not infallible.

James Bond movie fans will recall the false fingerprints 007 uses in ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ (1971) to fool the baddies into thinking he is a diamond smuggler, and although in the film it took the resources of Q Division to develop, real-world equivalents can be created using much lower-tech solutions. In 2002, for instance, Japanese cryptographer Professor Tsutomu Matsumoto demonstrated that gelatinous chewy sweets could be used to create an analogue mould from which he took an enhanced print good enough to fool a high proportion of PC-attached fingerprint scanners.

Three years later in the US researchers led by Professor Stephanie Schuckers of Clarkson University’s electrical and computer engineering department also managed to fool biometric fingerprint checkers with phoney prints made out of children’s modelling compound Play-Doh.

In December 2009 a Chinese woman illegally entered Japan by having her fingerprints surgically altered to hide her true identity. The woman had previously been deported from Japan for overstaying her visa. Doctoring your dabs isn’t cheap: The woman reportedly paid $15,000 (£9,000) to have the surgery in China. It is Japan’s first detected case of alleged biometric fraud, but police believe the practice may be widespread.

G is for guitars

For guitar companies like Fender, Gibson and PRS, the problem of cheap Chinese copies of their high-end guitar models is a multi-million dollar headache. It’s easy for consumers to overlook the tell-tale details that set the $5,000 genuine article apart from the $300 copy selling for a ‘bargain’ $3,000.

The instrument size might be subtly different; the headstock may have a different shape or angle; the logo and pearloid inlays might be artistically ‘off’; the truss rod cover might be the wrong shape; the type of neck joint could be incorrect; the wiring is likely to be plastic; the pickups are usually poorly wired; and it’s likely the guitar won’t come with any ‘official’ paperwork or warranty.

In 2008, Li Dan, a Chinese businesswoman who operated several high-profile websites selling fake guitars, was jailed for three years after Chinese officials seized over 1,200 counterfeit guitars at her facility. Gibson, Fender, Gretsch, Ibanez and PRS subsequently formed a group called The Electric Guitar Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition to tackle the issue.

Fender and Gibson’s buying advice is simple: buy only from one of their authorised dealers.

H is for holograms

By far the most common anti-counterfeiting technology deployed is holography. The fact that holograms generally do not require specialised equipment to authenticate make them ideal where thousands, if not millions, of items need to be protected. Therefore, they are commonly found on credit and debit cards - but they are also increasingly being used on high-denomination banknotes, IDs and high ticket consumer products.

The most common types of hologram - the 2D/3D hologram - are not a hologram at all. They are, in fact, multi-layered images stacked in such a way that each is visible depending on the angle of the viewer. A similar system is the dot-matrix hologram which is made up of many tiny dots, up to 10,000, where each dot is a separate diffraction grating. The wide use of this technology and the fact that holographic printers are widely available mean that they are more easily replicated by determined forgers.

But the most recent and most expensive process is the electron-beam lithography system, which allows the creation of surface holograms with a resolution of up to 500,000dpi - compared to the 10,000dpi of dot matrix holography. As such they are far more difficult to fake than any other type and are increasingly being used.

The downside of these newer systems is that they require specialist equipment for authentication. Therefore, it is not ideal as a form of overt authentication - where consumers would be able to authenticate an item using their trained eye. This would limit its use on banknotes, credit cards and other consumer products.

In the future, the ability of holograms to incorporate other data forms and product tracking information will become increasingly important. This will enable hologram use for more anti-counterfeiting and brand protection applications, linking on-pack product identification with supply chain management.

I is for identity

By the turn of the millennium advances in image editing and printing technologies left traditional anti-counterfeiting measures, such as signatures, photographs and watermarking, looking decidedly outdated. Spurred on by the US drive to tighten up security following the events of 9/11, many nations have embarked upon a long overdue overhaul of their ID systems over the last decade. The solution chosen by many reflects the wider trend of society in general: they have decided to go digital.

Cue the e-passport, a combined paper and electronic document intended to strengthen the link between passport and holder through the use of biometric measurements based on data from facial images, fingerprints and iris scans.

Though biometrics were first integrated into passports by Malaysia in 1998, it was the drafting of an international standard by the International Civil Aviation Organisation in 2005 that led to their wider adoption.

The resulting standardised e-passport hosts a passive contactless smartcard, consisting of a microchip and an antenna, embedded into its central pages or cover. Data on the chip is organised into 16 groups: the first containing the biographical information printed on the page; the second the facial image; and the remaining slots available for additional data such as fingerprints, iris scans, and suchlike.

Tracking and tracing is made more difficult thanks to a randomising feature which replies to each external information request with a different ID code.

The threat of ‘skimming’, a technique used in credit card fraud in which the data is read remotely and copied, is minimised by shielding the antenna. Eavesdropping is combatted through the use of two complex encryption systems called Basic Access Control and Extended Access Control.

Cloning is combatted on two levels: first, by active authentication, which verifies the identity of the chip itself; and, secondly, by the Public Key Infrastructure (PKI), an international database used to confirm the chip was issued by an authentic passport authority.

The system is not, however, without its critics. In 2006, German security consultant Lukas Grunwald branded the design ‘totally brain-damaged’ and claimed to have successfully cloned chips using equipment costing around £100.

Two years later ‘ethical hacker’ Jeroen van Beek caused a stir after releasing a video showing an airport scanner reading an RFID chip encoded with Elvis Presley’s information. He bypassed the PKI system by assigning the passport to a fictitious country.

Another form of ID that frequently attracts the attention of counterfeiters is the driving, licence and this too has undergone something of a makeover over the last decade. Thanks to an EU directive, every new licence issued throughout Europe after January 2013 will be card-style, with paper documents phased out by 2033.

The UK originally switched from paper to plastic in 1998, but when a more forward-thinking update was due ten years later, the DVLA turned to tech giants IBM for help. The resulting cards are made from durable polycarbonate and feature a host of anti-counterfeiting technologies including lenticular images, holograms, optically variable ink which changes colour as the angle of inspection is varied, and a complex background pattern printed in two colours at high resolution.

Laser printing also features prominently. Tactile engraving, a process through which text and images are burned more deeply into the surface making them stand out in a manner similar to braille, is used in several places. And the holder’s photograph is burnt into different layers of the card making it difficult to alter without causing noticeable damage.

The card is also fitted with a chip which leaves the door open for future upgrades such as the storage of biometric data or the possibility of holding information in all three kinds of alphabets used throughout the EU - Latin, Greek and Cyrillic - allowing authorities to access data in their native script.

Recent articles

Info Message

Our sites use cookies to support some functionality, and to collect anonymous user data.

Learn more about IET cookies and how to control them

Close