[AccessD] OT: Group cracks code hidden in printers to ID coun terfeiters

Hale, Jim Jim.Hale at FleetPride.com
Wed Oct 19 10:24:02 CDT 2005

The report on NPR I heard yesterday says that similar identification
capabilities exist for digital cameras and scanners.  Not necessarily a
hidden code but characteristics that make each photo unique much like marks
on a bullet or the old typewriter forensics.
Jim Hale

-----Original Message-----
From: Rocky Smolin - Beach Access Software [mailto:bchacc at san.rr.com]
Sent: Wednesday, October 19, 2005 9:59 AM
To: AccessD at databaseadvisors.com
Subject: [AccessD] OT: Group cracks code hidden in printers to ID

Who knew? 
WASHINGTON - It sounds like a conspiracy theory, but it isn't. The pages
coming out of your color printer might contain hidden information that could
be used to track you down if you ever cross the U.S. government. 

Last year, an article in PC World magazine pointed out that printouts from
many color laser printers contained yellow dots scattered across the page,
viewable only with a special kind of flashlight. The article quoted a senior
researcher at Xerox Corp. saying that the dots contain information useful to
law-enforcement authorities, a secret digital "license tag" for tracking
down criminals. 


The content of the coded information was supposed to be a secret, available
only to agencies looking for counterfeiters who use color printers. 

Now, the secret is out. 

Yesterday, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco consumer
privacy group, said it had cracked the code used in a widely used line of
Xerox printers, an invisible bar code of sorts that contains the serial
number of the printer as well as the date and time a document was printed. 

With the Xerox printers, the information appears as a pattern of yellow
dots, each only a millimeter wide and visible only with a magnifying glass
and a blue light. 

The EFF said it has identified similar coding on pages printed from nearly
every major printer manufacturer, including Hewlett-Packard Co., though its
team has so far cracked the codes for one type of Xerox printer. 

The U.S. Secret Service acknowledged yesterday that the markings, which are
not visible to the human eye, are there, but it played down the use for
invading privacy. 

"It's strictly a countermeasure to prevent illegal activity specific to
counterfeiting," agency spokesman Eric Zahren said. "It's to protect our
currency and to protect people's hard-earned money." 

It's unclear whether the yellow-dot codes have ever been used to make an
arrest. And no one would say how long the codes have been in use. But Seth
Schoen, the EFF technologist who led the organization's research, said he
had seen the coding on documents produced by printers that were at least 10
years old. 

"It seems like someone in the government has managed to have a lot of
influence in printing technology," Schoen said. 

Xerox spokesman Bill McKee confirmed the existence of the hidden codes, but
he said the company was simply assisting an agency that asked for help.
McKee said the program was part of a cooperation with government agencies,
competing manufacturers and a "consortium of banks," but would not provide
further details. HP said in a statement that it is involved in
anti-counterfeiting measures and supports the cooperation between the
printer industry and those who are working to reduce counterfeiting. 

Schoen said the existence of the encoded information could be a threat to
people who live under repressive governments or those who have a legitimate
need for privacy. It reminds him, he said, of a program the former Soviet
Union once had in place to record sample typewriter printouts in hopes of
tracking the origins of underground, self-published literature. 

"It's disturbing that something on this scale, with so many privacy
implications, happened with such a tiny amount of publicity," Schoen said. 

And it's not as though the information is encrypted in a highly secure
fashion, Schoen said. The EFF spent months collecting samples from printers
around the world and then handed them off to an intern, who came back with
the results in about a week. 

"We were able to break this code very rapidly," Schoen said. 

Rocky Smolin
Beach Access Software

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