June 07, 2004

New public DRM technique from the Central Banks

Over in the UK, Bob Hettinga reports on an article in the Observer about how the EU legislators are preparing to mandate software and hardware to reject images of banknotes. Ya gotta hand it to the Europeans, they love fixing things with directives. Here's the technique:

"The software relies on features built into leading currencies. Latest banknotes contain a pattern of five tiny circles. On the £20 note, they're disguised as a musical notation, on the euro they appear in a constellation of stars; on the new $20 note, the pattern is hidden in the zeros of a background pattern. Imaging software or devices detect the pattern and refuse to deal with the image."

I think this is a great idea. I think we should all adopt this DRM technique for our imagery, and use the 5 circle pattern to stop people copying our logos, our holiday snaps, and our bedroom pictures posted on girlfriend swap sites.

The best part is that, as the pattern is part of the asset base of the governments, we the people already own it.

Security clampdown on the home PC banknote forgers

Banks win EU support for software blocks to tackle the cottage counterfeiters
Tony Thompson, crime correspondent - Observer
Sunday June 6, 2004

Computer and software manufacturers are to be forced to introduce new security measures to make it impossible for their products to be used to copy banknotes.

The move, to be drafted into European Union legislation by the year end, follows a surge in counterfeit currency produced using laser printers, home scanners and graphics software. Imaging software and printers have become so powerful and affordable that production of fake banknotes has become a booming cottage industry.

Though counterfeiters are usually unable to source the specialist paper on which genuine banknotes are printed, many are being mixed in with genuine notes in high volume batches. The copies are often good enough to fool vending machines. By using a fake £20 note to purchase a £2 rail fare, the criminal can take away £18 in genuine change.

Although the Bank of England refuses to issue figures for the number of counterfeit notes in circulation and insists they represent a negligible fraction of notes issued, it also admits fakes are on the increase.

Anti-counterfeiting software developed by the Central Bank Counterfeit Deterrence Group, an organisation of 27 leading world banks including the Bank of England, has been distributed free of charge to computer and software manufacturers since the beginning of the year. At present use of the software is voluntary though several companies have incorporated it into their products.

The latest version of Adobe Photoshop, a popular graphics package, generates an error message if the user attempts to scan banknotes of main currencies. A number of printer manufactures have also incorporated the software so that only an inch or so of a banknote will reproduce, to be followed by the web address of a site displaying regulations governing the reproduction of money.

The software relies on features built into leading currencies. Latest banknotes contain a pattern of five tiny circles. On the £20 note, they're disguised as a musical notation, on the euro they appear in a constellation of stars; on the new $20 note, the pattern is hidden in the zeros of a background pattern. Imaging software or devices detect the pattern and refuse to deal with the image.

Certain colour copiers now come loaded with software that detects when a banknote has been placed on the glass, and refuses to make a copy or produces a blank sheet.

Researchers at Hewlett Packard are to introduce technology that would allow printers to detect colours similar to those used in currency. The printer will automatically alter the colour so that the difference between the final product and a genuine banknote will be easily detectable by the naked eye.

Adobe acted after it emerged that several counterfeiting gangs had used Photoshop to manipulate and enhance images. The security feature, which is not mentioned in any product documentation, has outraged users who say it could interfere with genuine artistic projects. There were also concerns that the software would automatically report duplication attempts to the software company or police via the internet.

A spokesman for the National Criminal Intelligence Service said criminals traditionally used offset lithographic printing for counterfeiting. 'Developments in electrostatic photocopying equipment, together with advances in computer and reprographic technology, have led to a rise in the proportion of counterfeit notes produced in a domestic environment. The use of this technology generally results in a lower quality counterfeit, although this varies according to the skill of the counterfeiter and the equipment and techniques used.'

Although some countries, most notably America, allow reproduction of banknotes for artistic purposes if they are either significantly larger or smaller than the real thing, in the UK it is a criminal offence to reproduce 'on any substance whatsoever, and whether or not on the correct scale', any part of any Bank of England banknote.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004

Posted by iang at June 7, 2004 04:44 AM | TrackBack

Well if you measure the amount of regulation compared to the development of the technological understanding it seems less and less qualified opinions constitute the basis for regulations.

Example: at one time those that made regulation had some history in the industry they suggested regulation upon. Now there are abstract and derived notions on what should or should not be based upon, white papers and expert opinion reports that are submitted to regulators to judge. As it turns out the regulators are lobbied by those with vested interests, contorting even the best suggestions.

Eventually technological break throughs will not be made public and will be used exclusively for small groups organized to keep government out and maintain their advantage. Imagine if you will a group of folks that found they could use phone lines to tranmit complex sets of data and messages in real time, thereby leveraging the phone system already in place, but did not tell anyone. In fact no one had a Personal Computer because the same group had it as their own. The world would be the same as it was in 1970, only a very few folks would have the information, for what purpose, I do not know.

Posted by: Jim at June 7, 2004 07:13 AM

Heh! What if the bad guys keep using the equipment they already have? I guess this only starts to work, after all the older equipment wears out.

I guess these sorts of ideas will make the world a better place for our grandchildren... or should I say, enrich some of them and impoverish and subjugate others.

The really valuable technologies are the ones that enrich the current generation and systematically enslave future generations. Or enrich the population within one political unit, by systematically tapping people far away. You gotta hand it to the Europeans, they really know how to work from the high-level Requirements,


Posted by: Todd at June 7, 2004 12:58 PM

As a side note not to be taken too seriously: the EU has understood that technology can't fix problems ;-)

Posted by: Axel at June 8, 2004 02:45 AM

In the FC we often say: first comes physic, then economics, and then laws. Which is to say that physics drives economics and economics drives laws.

So hopefully the EU hasn't taken an alternative view that they can fix technology with law...

Posted by: Iang at June 8, 2004 04:04 AM

The EU is trying hard to normalize any- and everything (even dumpster format). The reason is that they want to enable companies to work pan-European. Whether that makes sense is a whole different matter. Where the US started off as individuals that believed in money the EU started off as an economic society and it still shows even if many European citizens nowadays believe in the political power of the Union.

Posted by: Axel at June 8, 2004 04:15 AM

Uh, one more thing I almost forgot: the current PhotoShop and PaintShop Pro versions don't allow scanning and working with banknotes for some time. There was mention of this on January 8, 2004 on the German Heise Newsticker forum (http://www.heise.de/newsticker/meldung/43456).

Posted by: Axel at June 8, 2004 04:49 AM

Over on cryptography@metzdowd.com, John Gilmore writes:

My proposal, when this stuff surfaced a few months ago, was that we build two filter modules for the GIMP:

* One *detects* the banknote pattern, putting up a little constellation symbol or currency symbol in the corner of the GUI, or optionally some sort of unobtrusive pop-up. And does nothing else.

* One *inserts* the banknote pattern into existing images. This makes them unprocessable by PhotoShop and other government-monkeywrenched proprietary software or printers. Isn't mandatory DRM wonderful?

In my malicious moments, I think GIMP should ship with both of these filters turned on by default.

A third filter would remove the banknote pattern from images -- or would cripple it sufficiently well that it is not detectable by other software.

Every country is going to have to work out for itself whether it thinks that free countries can ban expressive works such as software. Though we set early precedents in the US (Bernstein & Junger), this is still not considered a settled question (or DeCSS and DVD X-Copy would not have lost in court). The less honest judges are still willing to twist fundamental principles, in order to get the result that Hollywood wants. Now in the EU we'll see the first round of TRUE mischief that the wrong answer can cause.


Posted by: Iang at June 16, 2004 01:31 PM

Also on cryptography@metzdowd.com, Richard Clayton writes:

The circles act as a "do not copy" for recent models of colour photocopier. They are NOT the mechanism involved in the latest round of software detection by Adobe et al .. hence the fun is limited :(

The circles have been on UK and EU notes for some time, you can also see them all over the latest US $20 bill. It is suggested that there is more information to be extracted from the way that the basic five circle units are combined together (said to identify the issuing bank), but no firm results are known.

Just the five circles on an otherwise blank sheet are definitely sufficient to cause the particular copier experimented with to indicate the presence of currency. ie: it's all true :)

Markus Kuhn originally worked out the nature of the pattern in February 2002. It is now believed to have been invented by Omron, but this is hearsay :( not something citable.


-- richard Richard Clayton

Posted by: Iang at June 16, 2004 01:34 PM