Biometric fingerprints for anti-counterfeiting
Winner of the 2007 Euro Hermes Award for technology, ProteXXion is a security and tracking device that uses the biometric fingerprints of individual surfaces to counter fraud in items ranging from packaging to passports.Launched by Bayer Technology Services in Germany, of Bayer Group, ProteXXion encompasses project management, installation and servicing of the laser surface authentication (LSA) technology invented at Imperial College London, UK.
Unlike most security solutions, which involve adding markers, chips, tags, holograms or special inks to packs, the one-mega-watt diode lasers analyse the inherent surface structure of each item. Microscopic irregularities caused, for example, by the setting of paper fibres or plastic, result in scattering of the laser beam by laser speckle phenomenon. By measuring the diffusion of the light at various angles, surface characteristics are recorded to create a unique digital serial code for each product.
The scanner can detect irregularities of less than a few hundred nanometres in size, and the probability of two objects having the same signature is between one in 10-20 and one in 10-100.
Russell Cowburn, Professor of Nanotechnology at Imperial and Chief Technology Officer at Ingenia Technology Ltd, which is taking LSA to market, says, ‘Every surface, except a perfect mirror [or transparent materials], has a certain amount of material imperfection.’
Ingenia claims that these complex signatures are impossible to counterfeit. The technique has been tested on paper, plastics, metals and industrial ceramics. The laser can operate on laminated, coated, painted and surface engineered materials.
‘The scanner picks up low-density printing somewhere on the pack,’ adds Cowburn. ‘It won’t work through high density writing.’
Trials have been conducted on pharmaceutical and tobacco packaging using static scanners on production lines. ‘We can cope with items moving up to four metres per second,’ says Cowburn.
The fingerprints are either stored on a central database, which is automatically updated, or written into individual packs using an encrypted barcode. To verify the authenticity of a product, such as at point of sale or by customs officials, the item can be re-read using a portable hand-held scanner and the results compared against the database or barcode. A standard desktop PC can check 10 million entries per second.
Ideally, on a production line, the same area on the packs must be scanned each time. Guide rails on the hand-held devices ensure that the same section is then re-scanned for cross checking.
Laser surface authentication, however, has an intrinsic placement tolerance of plus or minus one millimetre. On packing lines where the offset is greater than one millimetre, the scanner has multiple heads – a match is only required against one of these fingerprints.
Cowburn believes that item level protection of this kind is unique.
‘Laser surface authentication is much cheaper and could replace other systems [such as holograms and subsurface engraving].’
There is no additional manufacturing involved and only limited modifications to the packaging line are required. He adds that while RFID is a tracking device, LSA also provides security. Laser surface authentification combined with RFID tags at pallet level could provide an all-encompassing anti-fraudsolution.
‘You might have a hybrid device that scans the item, and the [biometric] signature is then stored in the RFID chip for distribution,’ adds Cowburn.