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Color Laser Printers Tracking Everything You Print 795

Posted by timothy
from the welcome-to-the-present-day dept.
It's not new, but it's getting noticed: Jordan writes "Yahoo! News is reporting that several printer manufacturers are now and have been for some time embedding (nearly) invisible serial numbers in every document you print with their color laser printers, allowing law enforcement to track any such document back to the printer which printed it. The technology, ostensibly created to track down money counterfeiters, was created by Xerox about 20 years ago. A Xerox researcher says that the number-embedding chip lies 'way in the machine, right near the laser' and that 'standard mischief won't get you around it.'"
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Color Laser Printers Tracking Everything You Print

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  • Countermeasures? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fdiv(1,0) (68151) on Monday November 22, 2004 @07:30PM (#10893058)
    Anyone know any methods of getting around this short of physically ripping apart the printer and soldering a few wires together?
    • Re:Countermeasures? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by way2trivial (601132)
      why- do you want to counterfeit cash?

      my suggestion? find another same model printer that does this, then DUPLICATE PRECISELY these yellow dots in your final image... two sets, should--- well, supply reasonable doubt at least...

      • by arose (644256) on Monday November 22, 2004 @07:37PM (#10893155)
        Maybe he just wants to print anonymous, is that a crime nowdays?
        • by sentientbeing (688713) on Monday November 22, 2004 @10:03PM (#10894392)
          Ive never had a problem. When I need to make first contact with my associates in the form of anonymous letters, I usually use cut out pieces of lettering from recent newspapers and magazines then haphazardly glue them onto copier paper with egg white or floured water.

          I think most old school kidnappers use the same technique.
          the younger ones obviously use email.
      • Re:Countermeasures? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by mgv (198488) <Nospam.01.slash2 ... an.org minus cat> on Monday November 22, 2004 @07:44PM (#10893250) Homepage Journal
        my suggestion? find another same model printer that does this, then DUPLICATE PRECISELY these yellow dots in your final image... two sets, should--- well, supply reasonable doubt at least...


        Thinking about it, adding in a speckled yellow pattern as part of your printing algorithm would work - it would just take a little knowledge of what they print.

        Does anyone know if the pattern gets printed even on white space? Printing a "blank" page should reveal the pattern and allow a suitable overlay that would stuff up the recognition algorithms.

        Michael
        • You will never know. (Score:5, Interesting)

          by twitter (104583) on Monday November 22, 2004 @08:33PM (#10893774) Homepage Journal
          Thinking about it, adding in a speckled yellow pattern as part of your printing algorithm would work - it would just take a little knowledge of what they print.

          That knowledge would take lots of study to learn and you could never be sure. Printers with enough sophistication to detect currency and refuse to print can pull lots of tricks on you if it detects pattern prints and other investigations. A blank page needs no identification marks at all and the printer may refuse to print any. Subtle variation in letter spacing or shape can have the same effect. Do you know exactly where each pixel in each character you print are supposed to go? Missing pixels can encode a serial number as well as those that are not supposed to be there.

    • by Zen (8377) on Monday November 22, 2004 @07:38PM (#10893175)
      Just disconnect the yellow. Who needs all three (or four in some cases) colors anyway?

    • Re:Countermeasures? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Steal your printer. Run the page through multiple printers. Encode fake serial numbers in the page along with the real ones.
    • Re:Countermeasures? (Score:3, Informative)

      by fireduck (197000)
      tinfoil hat time: go to a different city, buy your printer with cash and never send in the warranty card. since it'll never be registered under your name; any documents you print, at best can be traced back to the original store.
      • by kesuki (321456) on Monday November 22, 2004 @07:57PM (#10893380) Journal
        Printers are cheap, every time you run out of ink, place old printer inside ion cannon* and turn it into a ball of molten obsidian.. and also never send in warrenty registration etc etc... and even though they can trace documents to a certain printer, since said printer is no longer identifiable.

        *= if you don't Own an ion cannon yet, you can build one care of these DIY directions [slashdot.org] (a cyclotron is the key component to an ion cannon...)
    • by Phillup (317168) on Monday November 22, 2004 @07:41PM (#10893220)
      One word: Kinkos

      Two more words: Pay cash
      • by scribblej (195445) on Monday November 22, 2004 @07:54PM (#10893358)
        Hahah, that'll work.

        "Hello Kinko's Employee. I'd like you to print 500 copies of this here One-hundred dollar bill. You can just keep one of them to cover the cost."

        • Disable the alarm system, break in at night. Be sure to replace all used ink cartridges and paper. Then steal something stupid, like a stack of AOL discs. The police and employees will forget about it (no one will pursue a criminal who steals AOL discs, Kinkos has a dozen more boxes and the police don't like being laughed at).

          Wait several months, then start buying stuff. But under no circumstances should you live above your means. The IRS, unlike the police, do not assume innocence, and are pure evil.
      • Re:Countermeasures? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by mesach (191869) on Monday November 22, 2004 @08:19PM (#10893599)
        I used to work at a Kinkos in Southern California, We would get Regular visits from the SS looking to track down our Security tapes of the Self Serve color copiers, we got so that we could tell when people were doing illegal things and would point out that they were doing illegal things, and when they scoffed at us we would just point up, and they would "Stupidly" look up and give the cameras a good look at thier face so then when the SS would come in they had a good picture of the suspect.

        BTW it better be REAL cash, cause people at kinkos (the average employee) has already played around with copying money, and knows what thier copiers can and cannot do and most likely will spot the fake... as I am sure you know, the copiers at kinkos arent in the best maintenance condition and the colors arent calibrated that well.
        • Re:Countermeasures? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by yorkpaddy (830859) on Monday November 22, 2004 @08:59PM (#10893989)
          I once printed up fake backstage passes at a kinko's. They weren't counterfeit or copied. I designed a logo that looked somewhat like that of a local radio station and put the concert's name on it. The employee said we don't let people print up IDs or counterfeit money, but this is just funny, so he let me. The passes were good enough for me to walk to the backstage area and act like I was supposed to be there. I ended up finding a box full of event staff tags and was able to go whererever I wanted to for the whole concert.
      • by Old Man Kensey (5209) on Monday November 22, 2004 @10:00PM (#10894373) Homepage
        Speaking of Kinko's, I worked there for about a year and a half. A lot of the time I'd see yellow dots on color-laser customer originals that was being scanned for enlargement to poster size. I'd always remove them during cleanup, because it was easy if you knew Photoshop. They were really obvious when you blew the image up 450% on the screen to get rid of dust (a dust speck on an 8.5 x 11 will look like a big drop of ink at 36 x 48).

        Up till now I've always assumed the dots I saw (usually in empty areas, and always in a regular, widely-spaced square grid pattern) were the scanner picking up the paper tone as a very light yellow and trying to dither to match. But was I actually seeing these anti-counterfeiting dots? And if so, was I committing a felony by removing them? :)

        I never noticed our Tektronix color lasers (780/7700) putting them on its output, nor the Xerox DocuColor four-color xerographic copiers (DC12/DC2045/DC6060), although the only ones I really gave the eagle-eye inspection to a lot were the DC output since the Teks were in the customer area and we usually only heard about those when they were out of toner or paper. You could see them on the customer originals if you really looked and turned the paper so the light shone off the toner, but you wouldn't notice them if you weren't looking for them.

        And if any of you out there in Kinko-land have a grid chart in your store that gives you enlargement and reduction proportions so you don't have to play with the damned wheel, yeah, I made up that chart.

    • bad idea (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ArbitraryConstant (763964) on Monday November 22, 2004 @08:09PM (#10893486) Homepage
      If I were doing something that I wouldn't want traced back to me, I would assume that any printer would leave unique markings on the paper, on purpose or not. Bullets have rifling marks, tires have unique markings, etc. Those aren't intentional. Also, the paper might be traceable in the same way.

      You can bet there's tricks they don't advertise on the discovery channel, particularly the intelligence agencies.

      You can't be paranoid enough. :)
    • by cyanman (833646) on Monday November 22, 2004 @08:33PM (#10893770)
      First, this technology has been in use since the very beginning of color laser devices, even before you could use them as a printer. Meaning this started when a color laser printer retailed for close to $100k. It was there (along with other technology) to mark everything that came out of the machine. On the Canon CLC line there is a bar code imbedded on a plate next to the copier glass. Every time you hit the start button, it reads the bar code and compares it to the value stored on the controller board to make sure you had not monkeyed with it, then it prints that bar code all over the page with single yellow pixels. How did they track it? Easy, the thing cost over $75,000. Every one that left the factory was tracked by the manufacturer. They knew where every serial number went. The feds would call up those manufacturers a few times a year asking who a machine with such and such a serial number was sold to. Fast forward to todays commercial equipment and that same thing still applies. I can't vouch for whether you can run down to Best Buy and walk out with a color laser without Best Buy recording the serial number and tying it to your name, but it will dang sure still print identifying info on every page that comes out. It would not suprise me if most of the stuff you drag home marks its territory too, including ink jets. Even if the authorities can't look you up in a database and knock on your door, if they happen to raid your place and grab your printer, try to make new friends in prison.
  • by Kenja (541830) on Monday November 22, 2004 @07:31PM (#10893064)
    This is why I always print my ransom letters using an old daisy wheel printer.
    • by commodoresloat (172735) on Monday November 22, 2004 @07:38PM (#10893170)
      It's Microsoft Word. There was no printer available in 1972 that could have printed those....

      Oh, sorry. Wrong discussion.

    • Re:I was right! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by DanteBlack (656808) on Monday November 22, 2004 @07:50PM (#10893307)
      Of course a daisy wheel printer can be tracked forensicly anyway since they suffer the same "signature" issues that a typewriter does. Hammer based printers, manual and electric typewriters, leave distinct, identifiable, characteristics in the copy that they produce. For example, wear on the hammer, a tendancy to "drop" a letter etc.
    • Re:I was right! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Drakonite (523948) on Monday November 22, 2004 @07:50PM (#10893314) Homepage
      You overlooked a vital problem in your plan.. The prints created by a daisy wheel are as unique to the printer used as fingerprints to a person, if not more so.
      • Re:I was right! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by lawpoop (604919) on Monday November 22, 2004 @08:02PM (#10893423) Homepage Journal
        Yes, but the feds can't go the the daisey wheel printer manufacturer and say "which printer of yours makes this unique pattern?", whereas with the vendor embedded watermarks, they can.

        Well, they can still ask the daisey wheel vendor, but they will get an "I don't know" answer.

      • Re:I was right! (Score:3, Insightful)

        by wankledot (712148)
        At least with a daisy wheel it requires "the feds" to have possession of the wheel in order to determine which one it came from. With the dots, they will already know where and when the printer was sold as soon as the have the document.
      • by Epistax (544591) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {xatsipe}> on Monday November 22, 2004 @08:43PM (#10893863) Journal
        My soldering iron says that fingerprints might be unique, but they aren't permanent.
  • by LilMikey (615759) on Monday November 22, 2004 @07:32PM (#10893077) Homepage
    Get dazzling colors, the blackest blacks, and the highest resolution from your new HP Ashcroft.
  • by MrDyrden (833392) on Monday November 22, 2004 @07:32PM (#10893085) Homepage
    To be lazy and NOT send in your product registration card!

    I mean, seriously. How else would they know who bought it and how to get a name from that serial number? I guess maybe if the store kept your credit card info on file or something and associated it with the serial number, but how often would that happen?

    Lesson learned, if you want to print hundreds of forged checks or counterfeit bills, pay for the printer in cash!

    • by 6Yankee (597075) on Monday November 22, 2004 @07:37PM (#10893164)

      Lesson learned, if you want to print hundreds of forged checks or counterfeit bills, pay for the printer in cash!

      But not cash that you printed yourself on a printer that wasn't paid for with cash you didn't print yourself. Or something.

    • by bunyip (17018) on Monday November 22, 2004 @07:39PM (#10893179)
      To be lazy and NOT send in your product registration card!

      I mean, seriously. How else would they know who bought it and how to get a name from that serial number? I guess maybe if the store kept your credit card info on file or something and associated it with the serial number, but how often would that happen?

      Lesson learned, if you want to print hundreds of forged checks or counterfeit bills, pay for the printer in cash!



      Actually, if you're going to do anything illegal, cash is king. Just print some up and, well, ....

      Anyway, police officer friend of mine once who said that if you're going to do something illegal, do it big, do it once and don't tell anybody.

      That "once" part of it is key, you could print up a bunch of cash one afternoon, enough to pay for the next printer (with cash, of course), then dispose of the printer.

      Greed will get you in the end.

      Alan.
    • I think the reasoning behind this isn't necessarily that they need you to register the product (but they'd still love you to I'm sure). All this really does is give the police something to compare against when they do a raid on a suspected counterfeiting location.They bust your door down and check the forged bills printed serial number against the serial number your printer embeds in every image. If it matches, say goodbye to your anal virginity and ability to vote for the rest of your life (if you're an Am
      • by Cylix (55374) * on Monday November 22, 2004 @08:31PM (#10893758) Homepage Journal
        Sweet...

        Now I just have to buy a printer at a yard sale and commit some heinous crime with it.

        Later on...

        "Yep, looks like he was murdered with this printer, but don't worry we will track it right back to the owner."
  • Although... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 22, 2004 @07:32PM (#10893087)
    "A Xerox researcher says that the number-embedding chip lies 'way in the machine, right near the laser' and that 'standard mischief won't get you around it.'"

    Although I hear not buying a Xerox printer will.
  • Engadget (Score:4, Informative)

    by Linuxthess (529239) on Monday November 22, 2004 @07:33PM (#10893100) Journal
    Well I'm glad someone else here is reading Engadget [engadget.com] and followed the subsequent link to the PC World [pcworld.com] article [pcworld.com].
  • And then what? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by OpenSourced (323149) on Monday November 22, 2004 @07:35PM (#10893129) Journal
    You find some counterfeits, you track the printer, and then what? It's been sold over the counter somewhere to who-knows-whom. That's just a publicity stunt to avoid being ever held responsible for anything done with their printers.
  • CSI (Score:5, Funny)

    by The_Rippa (181699) * on Monday November 22, 2004 @07:35PM (#10893131)
    And as we all know very well, CSI has a machine that will read the code and bring up a 3d map with your current location, a recent photo of you, and a list of every cash purchase you've made in the last six months.
    • Re:CSI (Score:5, Funny)

      by chill (34294) on Monday November 22, 2004 @08:06PM (#10893460) Journal
      You are confusing CSI with WalMart. You also forgot the computer that tracks every RFID-tagged item you ever bought from there or Sam's Club.

      Wait a minute...I think the last box of tin foil I bought was from WalMart! That means it probably has an RFID tag...

      IS NOTHING SACRED?!

      =Charles
  • by pherris (314792) on Monday November 22, 2004 @07:35PM (#10893137) Homepage Journal
    The early photocopiers in the USSR had a state issued serial number eched on the glass so copies could tracked to that machine and possible the user(s). And the tracking wasn't about counterfeiting either.

    It seems they were ahead of the US by 30+ years. Another sign of a dying empire.

  • odd (Score:5, Funny)

    by name773 (696972) on Monday November 22, 2004 @07:36PM (#10893138)
    The technology... was created by Xerox about 20 years ago.
    It was 1984 twenty years ago.
  • by LegendOfLink (574790) on Monday November 22, 2004 @07:37PM (#10893162) Homepage
    ...by printing tons of encoded, "dots", so when police read them, they will read, "All Your Base Are Belong to Us!"

    The Geek revolution has begun.
  • Standard Mischief (Score:3, Interesting)

    by softspokenrevolution (644206) on Monday November 22, 2004 @07:38PM (#10893167) Journal
    Ha, they don't know who they're dealing with if they think that they only need to protect their devices against standard mischief.
  • by physicsphairy (720718) on Monday November 22, 2004 @07:41PM (#10893214) Homepage
    A Xerox researcher says that the number-embedding chip lies 'way in the machine, right near the laser' and that 'standard mischief won't get you around it.'

    So use substandard mischief. :p

    I'm quite serious really. Unless the serial number is tiled, just print a full border and keep whatever stuff you want to cut out away from the serial.

    If it is tiled, you have a number of options. You could script a program to 'split' the image so that you print unmarked bands in multiple runthroughs which eventually add up to a full image. You could offset some unknown amount and then surround the serial number with other sequences to disguise the actual serial (would take some knowledge of how serials are assigned to do a good diguise). Both of those would require a little hardware modification. But if you're printing $100 bills. . . .

    Anyway, those are just some ideas off the top of my head. The point is that if people know what they're up against, they can find a workaround. Ideally, these kinds of tricks would be kept secret. In the case, the point is trip up ignorant cons who don't account for something they don't realize exists.

    Oh well. This will still nail the 16 year old delingquents who decide to pull a fast one on the clerk at their local grocery store.

    • by FFFish (7567)
      Seems to me you could swap the yellow and red or blue toner cartridges and easily identify exactly where the dots are being placed. Then... I dunno, make a printer driver that prints black dots at exactly those locations?
    • The point is that if people know what they're up against, they can find a workaround. Ideally, these kinds of tricks would be kept secret.

      You don't know what you are up against and I question your ideals. That's the problem with non free software and this crap is definitely non free. This trick is 20 years old, how do you know what other patterns they put in? Subtle changes in letter spacing, and other color manipulation can do the same thing. This kind of thing is very disturbing.

      This is an area whe

  • by MagicDude (727944) on Monday November 22, 2004 @07:42PM (#10893223)
    Well, looks like it's back to cutting out newspaper headlines to make my blackmail notes.
  • Old News (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JWSmythe (446288) <jwsmythe@jwsm[ ]e.com ['yth' in gap]> on Monday November 22, 2004 @07:47PM (#10893280) Homepage Journal

    This is old news.

    There have been news stories about serial numbers being embedded in printing for years. The first I read of it, at least 7 or 8 years ago was the same yellow microprint from color inkjet printers, which was mandated by the U.S. Gov't, to prevent counterfit bills from being printed.

    All I've ever done myself is scan in bills at the highest resolution, to show people the microprint (note the double lines around the portrait, one is really text).

    It actually doesn't stop anything, people still print them. I remember back in high school there was a story in the local paper about some kids getting dragged away by the Secret Service for photocopying $1 bills and putting them in soda machines. They only had to do one side, and it didn't care about the color, so easy drinks. Our school had a better 'hack'. If you took a water pistol and sprayed water into the bill slot, it'd short out the electronics of it, and you could push buttons all day to get free drinks. I saw it done a few times. :)

    But hey, just assume that anything you print is being tracked. Chances are pretty good that nothing you print is going to be all that interesting.

    Extremely paranoid? Pay cash for your printer, and get someone else to actually purchase it. Or don't leave home, because 'they' may be watching. Ha!
    • Re:Old News (Score:3, Insightful)

      by John Seminal (698722)

      There have been news stories about serial numbers being embedded in printing for years. The first I read of it, at least 7 or 8 years ago was the same yellow microprint from color inkjet printers, which was mandated by the U.S. Gov't, to prevent counterfit bills from being printed

      What is this serial number like? Is it like a MAC address? Is there any way to print the secret serial number out without printing any text or is the serial number embedded in the text?

      I wonder if counterfitting is that much of

    • HS soda hacks (Score:4, Informative)

      by r00t (33219) on Monday November 22, 2004 @10:27PM (#10894537) Journal
      Here's two:

      1. Just grab a drink. This works on some machines,
      with some choices of drink, if you have long and
      skinny arms.

      2. Put two pieces of 2-inch clear packing tape
      together, so that the sticky side is in. On one
      edge, include 1/8 inch of a bill. So about 98% of
      the bill is not taped. Give yourself about two
      feet of tape hanging off the bill. Soon after the
      bill goes in, yank it out.

      Note: only do this if you have permission from
      the machine's owner. :-)
  • Full Disclosure (Score:3, Insightful)

    by UpLateDrinkingCoffee (605179) on Monday November 22, 2004 @07:52PM (#10893340)
    I don't have so much a problem with the technology in this case, but the lack of disclosure by the companies that produce this stuff (or the agencies that "suggest" they do so). I have no idea whether HP discloses this feature in their manuel, but I know when it was revealed that photoshop now has "anti counterfit technology" embedded in it that no one was told about, people were more than a little irate.
  • by the_unknown_soldier (675161) on Monday November 22, 2004 @07:54PM (#10893354)
    I hate to break your "They can't stop me i pay cash" party, but i think the idea of these serial numbers is so that if the police suspect someone and have evidence to get a warrant tehy can use printer data to secure a conviction.
  • by xv4n (639231) on Monday November 22, 2004 @08:03PM (#10893432)
    The printer has a hidden GPS receiver (yes it works indoors even inside a cave, it's very sophisticated you know), every time you print something, the current location of the printer is also imprinted in yellow using a secret code impossible to detect by human eye. So, there you have it.
  • by kuzb (724081) on Monday November 22, 2004 @08:06PM (#10893465)
    I never worry about this stuff because unlike some people, I don't race to fill in that warranty/registration card in the box with all my personal information.

    The local retailers I deal with will warranty these items with nothing more than a reciept, which doesn't have any kind of personal information on it. On top of that, if you pay cash (not with a CC/Bank card) how is this serial number useful to them?
  • Funny (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hawkbug (94280) <psxNO@SPAMfimble.com> on Monday November 22, 2004 @08:15PM (#10893547) Homepage
    This is hilarious for several reasons.

    1) I never register a printer with the manufacturer after I purchase it. I also don't know anybody else who did either. It's a waste of time and an invasion of privacy.

    2) Let's say a printer was never registered - and it was paid for with cash at a store like Best Buy. Good luck tracking down the buyer.

    3) Even if both the above were not true and the manfucturer knew who originally bought it, one word foils their plans: Ebay. If you buy a printer on ebay, who knows how many hands it's been through before yours. While it is still possible to track it after a sale on ebay, it just got a whole hell of a lot harder.
  • by theparanoidcynic (705438) on Monday November 22, 2004 @08:45PM (#10893882)
    'standard mischief won't get you around it.'

    Now that every hacker on the internet knows about it that chip has a life expectancy of . . . maybe friday.
  • PROM??? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Monday November 22, 2004 @08:46PM (#10893888)
    a chip located "way in the machine, right near the laser" that embeds the dots when the document "is about 20 billionths of a second" from printing.

    What are the chances that this is in PROM that is burned internally once the serial number is assigned? If so, overwrite it with a new code, perhaps through an undocumented command to the printer controller. After all, you don't think each of these chips is uniquely made, or that they don't have to do something like this to keep them all properly matched to the corresponding external serial numbers.

    Or is it RAM, loaded by the firmware on each power-up? Then change your internal printer serial number. Those things are set during manufacture somehow.

    Or look up Xerox's patent on the process.

    Or swap your yellow, cyan, and magenta toners around, and make the corrections in Photoshop to get the desired image with the transposed colors. They'll be looking for the wrong color dots.

    Or add lots of dots of your own.

    Ever notice that this isn't the only anti-counterfeiting technology that likes to use yellow. Why is that?

  • by Guppy06 (410832) on Monday November 22, 2004 @08:49PM (#10893913)
    "standard mischief won't get you around it."

    It's nice to know that tinkering with a machine I bought and paid for is now referred to as "mischief." I didn't realize they started "licensing" hardware the way some people do software.
  • by Dark Coder (66759) on Monday November 22, 2004 @08:50PM (#10893923)
    When you install the driver, significant information is sent back to the printer vendor's website.

    What kind of information do you think is sent back to them?

    Unless you can print this using Linux CUPS driver at 4800x4800 (which I've yet to see one).
  • by wjsteele (255130) on Monday November 22, 2004 @08:53PM (#10893947)
    Ok... how's this look?

    1). Make your money in your favorite photo editing software.

    2.) Take it to CompUSA/MicroCenter/Frys on a USB Thumb Drive.

    3.) Pop the thumb drive into one of those new printers with the ability to print from there.

    4.) Print Cash in one of their demo printers.

    5.) Use Cash to buy printer.

    6.) Return Printer.

    7.) Get Real Cash.

    8.) Profit.

    Seems complex, but... I have to run... I'm off to CompUSA.

    Bill
  • what? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by AC-x (735297) on Monday November 22, 2004 @09:08PM (#10894039)
    Crean describes the device as a chip located "way in the machine, right near the laser" that embeds the dots when the document "is about 20 billionths of a second" from printing.

    what is this gibberish? Why can't the say it's on a chip built into the printer rather then spouting off about the time it takes the electrons to go from the printers CPU to the laser driver.
  • by p51d007 (656414) on Monday November 22, 2004 @09:16PM (#10894084)
    Anyone in the business of repairing any full color laser printer, photo copier etc, is usually told of this in certification class. At least it is when I go to school on these. On our full color copiers & printers, they specifically tell us that if you attempt to make a color copy of any "money" it will lock up, requiring a phone call to unlock it, and a visit from someone in a black suit and dark glasses LOL. We make a blank copy, and get out a high power loop, and you can see the faint yellow microdots that contain the information. A few years ago, some idiot bought a full color copier, and started on one end of the country, driving to the other end passing off phony money. When the treasury agents got the copies, they looked up the serial number and traced it back to the dealer who was more than happy to supply the information, and they got the guys vehicle info (he wasn't smart enough to fudge his name, etc when he bought it) and they caught up with him, with the machine in his van, and loads of fake bills. Personally, I don't care if they put serial numbers on this, you can't see them anyway, plus, if you are STUPID enough to forge documents, you deserve what you get!
  • by laughingcoyote (762272) <barghesthowlNO@SPAMexcite.com> on Monday November 22, 2004 @09:25PM (#10894142) Journal

    I have seen several arguments here that this is a perfectly harmless technology, and some of those arguments have been logical and valid. However, it still begs one question: If it is such a useful, valuable technology, why are the manufacturers not informing the customers of this "feature" in their instruction manuals or on their packaging? I checked the websites of Canon, HP, and Xerox, including the specifications of several laser printers. In none of the feature or specification listings is it said "Prints unique serial number to easily identify printer of every document!"

    If this technology is so useful, wonderful, and defensible, please feel free to inform those who pay money for your products. They might have a different view to give you. There are legitimate reasons to remain anonymous. (Even if that's just that you want to.) A desire for anonymity doesn't mean that you're doing something illegal, and that mindset is extremely dangerous, getting into the "Well if you don't want cameras in your living room, what do you have to hide?" territory.

  • by Animats (122034) on Monday November 22, 2004 @09:47PM (#10894276) Homepage
    Where are programs that read these serial numbers? This could be helpful in many ways, such as tracing phony mail-in campaigns aimed at influencing legislation.

    And is there a page on the web with the "uncopyable" pattern of little circles that identifies European money and prevents printing? That would make a useful background image for web sites.

  • by buckhead_buddy (186384) on Monday November 22, 2004 @10:06PM (#10894414)
    I used to work at a check printing company. My gut feeling is that this smacks of a manipulative urban legend rather than a real technology.

    Yes, I'm sure that it is feasible with today's technology, but the expense of doing this on all color printers in the low profit margin color printer market makes me dubious. It will take a law to get all the suppliers to comply and create an "even-playing field" of expense for everyone. The patriotism Xerox demostrates may be commendable that their products are more trackable but it isn't profitable.

    Looking at the problems with the coordination of the ISBN book publishing numbers or the social security numbers makes coordiantion of a secret serial number system that's shared between international suppliers even more absurd. "Oops, we accidentally re-used the secret id numbers for the Xerox printers with these knock-off Zerox printers for Tiger Direct."

    Finding the serial number is a good first step. Refill an empty toner cartridge with black toner. This will not tell you the serial number (you'll have to do comparisons between printers of the same model to get that), but the presence of the serial number should be easier to find. If it's not there with the black toner then it's either a more subtle technology (modulating the laser itself?) or it's not going to be found.

    The great thing about color laser is its comparative cheapness. Dye Sublimation printers were what the check people would use for very impressive mock-ups, but the dye refills were very, very expensive compared to the laser printer refills. Still, when someone in the art department wanted to make a fake United Federation of Planets Passport, they'd go for the dye sub printer when the boss wasn't looking.
  • by Tangential (266113) on Monday November 22, 2004 @10:18PM (#10894490) Homepage
    I wonder if running the same sheet of paper, printed as a blank page, thru 10-20 printers if it would garble this registration info to the point of uselessness?

What this country needs is a dime that will buy a good five-cent bagel.

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