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Newcastle University researchers discover how to prevent forgery

Researchers have found a way to prevent fraud Credit: Newcastle University

Scientists from Newcastle University believe they have found an inexpensive and easy way to validate the authenticity of any paper document just by taking a picture of it on a standard camera.

The university reports that designing secure documents that provide high levels of security against forgery is a long-standing problem. Even in today’s digital age, this problem remains important as paper is still the most common form of proving authenticity – such as receipts, contracts, certificates and passports.

By analysing the translucent patterns revealed when a light shines through paper, the researchers have been able to identify a unique ‘texture’ fingerprint for every single sheet of paper.

Capturing the random interweaving of the wooden particles, they show that a unique fingerprint code can be captured and verified with 100% accuracy using nothing more than an off-the-shelf camera. They further show that the finger-printing process remains highly reliable even if the paper is treated with rough handling such as crumpling, soaking, scribbling and heating.

The technique can be applied to prevent counterfeiting of any physical document that is made of paper material, for example, e-passports and bank notes.

Publishing their findings today in the academic journal ACM Transactions on Information and System Security, the team –Ehsan Toreini, Dr Feng Hao and Dr Siamak Shahandashti - say the findings offer a new way to verify physical documents and reduce the risk of forgery.

Dr Feng Hao, co-author and Reader in Security Engineering at Newcastle University, said:

“What we have shown is that every piece of paper contains unique intrinsic features just as every person has unique intrinsic biometric features.

“By using an ordinary light source and an off-the-shelf camera, it takes just 1.3 seconds and one snapshot to capture those features and produce a texture ‘fingerprint’ that is unique to that document.

“Cloning the paper document would require reproducing the same random interweaving of the wooden particles in the paper - which is impossible, massively reducing the possibility of forgery.”

– Dr Feng Hao

Lead author Ehsan Toreini, a PhD student in Cyber Security in Newcastle University’s School of Computing Science, said:

“Typically, wooden particles are used as the base and multiple substances are used to stick these particles together.”

“Our idea was that the majority of paper used for official and legal documents, certificates, invoices and so on is not completely opaque. Different types let through different levels of light and reflect it in different ways and as a result, each one reveals a unique fingerprint.

“We proposed an algorithm that generates a compact and unique identifier for each sheet of paper. This identifier is then converted into a QR code which can be verified efficiently off-line by anyone.

“Since this identifier is basically representative of that paper texture, any illegal modifications - including copying the contents of the document to another paper sheet - could be identified.”

– Ehsan Toreini