UK scientists combat document fraud

Scientists at Imperial College London have developed a method for combating document and software fraud by scanning the surface of paper, CDs and other materials to identify unique patterns.

UK scientists combat document fraud

The method, known as Laser Surface Authentication (LSA), relies on the fact that every surface has a unique pattern, much like a fingerprint, that would be impossible to replicate and can be easily read by a cheap portable laser-scanner.

‘Our findings open the way to a new and much simpler approach to authentication and tracking, said Russell Cowburn, professor of nanotechnology at Imperial College. ‘This is a system so secure that not even the inventors would be able to crack it since there is no known manufacturing process for copying surface imperfections at the necessary level of precision.’

The researchers examined the fine structure of different surfaces using a focused laser and recorded the intensity of the reflection. The technique was tried on a variety of materials including matt-finish plastic cards, identity cards and coated paperboard packaging and continued to produce clear results even after they were subjected to rough handling including submersion in water, scorching, scrubbing with an abrasive cleaning pad and being scribbled on with thick black marker.

LSA could be used to prevent identity, credit or debit card fraud and banknote fraud or to authenticate music and software CDs and DVDs. Because the security is built into the surface as by-product of its manufacture, the system is also cheaper than other techniques, such as holograms.

‘The beauty of this system is that there is no need to modify the item being protected in any way with tags, chips or inks – it’s as if documents and packaging have their own unique DNA,’ Professor Cowburn explained. ‘This makes protection covert, low-cost, simple to integrate into the manufacturing process and immune to attacks against the security feature itself.’

The research team are now working with a British company, Ingenia Technology, to market the system.

For more information visit the Imperial College website.

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