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Review: Secret codes in printers may allow government tracking
AFP via PHYSORG.COM ^ | Tuesday, October 25, 2005 | AFP

Posted on 10/25/2005 5:43:20 PM PDT by Momaw Nadon

Tiny dots produced by some laser printers are a secret code that can allow the government to track down counterfeiters, a new study concludes, raising the hackles of privacy advocates.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation said its researchers recently broke the code behind the tiny tracking dots and said the US Secret Service confirmed that the tracking is part of a deal struck with selected color laser printer manufacturers to identify counterfeiters.

"We've found that the dots from at least one line of printers encode the date and time your document was printed, as well as the serial number of the printer," said EFF researcher Seth Schoen.

EFF said the yellow dots are less than one millimeter in diameter and can be seen only with a blue light, magnifying glass or microscope.

Lorie Lewis, a spokeswoman at the Secret Service, declined to confirm the report directly but acknowledged that the agency "has worked together with other government agencies and industry on preventive technological countermeasures designed to discourage the illegal use of printers and copiers in the production of counterfeit currency."

Lewis said she could not elaborate on these measures but said they were "specific and limited to the reproduction of currency" and that the action "in no way tracks or measures the use of a personal computer's hardware or software."

EFF, a group promoting privacy, free speech and technological innovation, said the news has troubling implications for privacy even if the aim is to stop counterfeiting.

EFF spokeswoman Rebecca Jeschke said the same information could be used by governments to track down dissidents.

"Internationally, there are governments who would be very interested in what dissidents have to say and in tracking dissidents," she said.

Jeschke added that although the deal appeared to be with the US government, the fact that it was relatively easy to break the code would mean other governments could use the same codes for other purposes.

EFF broke a code in a Xerox DocuColor printer and identified other codes in printers from Canon, Brother, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Epson and other makers. And they noted that the codes are not limited to printers sold in the United States.

"We had test pages from Europe, and they do have the same codes on them," Jeschke said.

Xerox spokesman Bill McKee said the company would not comment on specific technology "for security reasons."

"Xerox does not routinely share any information about its customers," he said. "We, like any manufacturer, assist investigating agencies, when asked."

Beth Givens of the California-based Privacy Rights Clearinghouse said the report was troubling,

"It begs the question about what other kinds of secret tracking mechanisms are out there," she said.

Givens said the system could threaten a basic right to remain anonymous.

"The right to leaflet goes all the way back to the birth of this country," she said.

"If you print something on a color printer, you're no longer anonymous."

"Underground democracy movements that produce political or religious pamphlets and flyers, like the Russian samizdat of the 1980s, will always need the anonymity of simple paper documents, but this technology makes it easier for governments to find dissenters," said EFF senior attorney Lee Tien.

"Even worse, it shows how the government and private industry make backroom deals to weaken our privacy by compromising everyday equipment like printers. The logical next question is: what other deals have been or are being made to ensure that our technology rats on us?"


TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism; Crime/Corruption; Government; News/Current Events; Technical
KEYWORDS: anonymity; anonymous; bigbrother; codes; color; colorlaserprinter; counterfeit; counterfeiting; dissenters; dissidents; eff; government; laser; leaflet; printer; printers; privacy; samizdat; secret; secretservice; technology; tracking; uss; usss
FYI and discussion
1 posted on 10/25/2005 5:43:21 PM PDT by Momaw Nadon
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To: Momaw Nadon

Pretty crafty! ;~)


2 posted on 10/25/2005 5:46:24 PM PDT by HairOfTheDog (Join the Hobbit Hole Troop Support - http://freeper.the-hobbit-hole.net/)
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To: Momaw Nadon

Foil hat alert!


3 posted on 10/25/2005 5:47:11 PM PDT by whenigettime
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To: Momaw Nadon

been posted and discussed....


4 posted on 10/25/2005 5:47:36 PM PDT by MikefromOhio (Pwner of Noobs)
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To: Momaw Nadon

Nothing wrong with this. It was probably implimented to combat forging currency and can be used for other things such as ransom requests and threatening letters.


5 posted on 10/25/2005 5:48:12 PM PDT by aft_lizard (I oppose Miers, for the good of the Party and Conservatism, but not to the point of extremism.)
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To: Momaw Nadon

http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1504404/posts

http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1505440/posts

http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1504528/posts


6 posted on 10/25/2005 5:48:48 PM PDT by MikefromOhio (Pwner of Noobs)
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To: whenigettime

Nothing 'Foil Hat' about this. It's as true as the serial number on a firearm. If you don't believe it then perhaps you need a Dunce Hat.


7 posted on 10/25/2005 5:49:01 PM PDT by KoRn
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To: Momaw Nadon

" Electronic Frontier Foundation"

Up in arms about an attempt to prevent counterfeiting. The same group that was silent and unresponsive when, earlier this year, it looked like the FCC was going to create regulations, in response to a Supreme Court order, to restrict political free speech on the Internet.

(By the way, I never did hear about the resolution of the FCC situation, if there was any.)


8 posted on 10/25/2005 5:54:16 PM PDT by strategofr (The secret of happiness is freedom. And the secret of freedom is courage.---Thucydities)
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To: KoRn

Putting on Dunce Hat..... ;D


9 posted on 10/25/2005 5:54:43 PM PDT by whenigettime
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To: Momaw Nadon

as in many other cases,the potential problem is not with the technology,but with the motives of the user. (Big Brother?)


10 posted on 10/25/2005 5:55:04 PM PDT by shooter223 (the government should fear the citizens......not the other way around)
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To: whenigettime
"Putting on Dunce Hat..... ;D"

No worries. I have one for every day of the week, they vary in size lol

11 posted on 10/25/2005 5:55:59 PM PDT by KoRn
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To: KoRn

I really needed one today... there IS such a thing as asking a stupid question and boy did I find one....


12 posted on 10/25/2005 5:58:00 PM PDT by whenigettime
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To: Momaw Nadon

Oh yeah? Then how come we haven't caught OBL? Is it because he's working for us? You give the gov't too much credit.


13 posted on 10/25/2005 5:59:28 PM PDT by bubman
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To: whenigettime

Well you can't have any of my Dunce Hats because I need them all for myself!


14 posted on 10/25/2005 5:59:32 PM PDT by KoRn
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To: KoRn

Ha Ha on you!


15 posted on 10/25/2005 6:01:57 PM PDT by whenigettime (12 hours is just too long when work is slowwwwww)
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To: Momaw Nadon


Anyone tried to apply this to the Rather Documents yet?


16 posted on 10/25/2005 6:03:45 PM PDT by Fido969 ("And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32).)
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To: Fido969

Interesting.


17 posted on 10/25/2005 6:07:06 PM PDT by KoRn
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To: Fido969

Maybe I'm wrong but I think the only published copies of the Rather documents are the faxed copies. Those tiny dots would never show up on a document that was faxed. Microscopic yellow dots wouldn't show up on a copied document either.


18 posted on 10/25/2005 6:14:41 PM PDT by faq (cliche dissenting republican)
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To: Momaw Nadon
...US Secret Service confirmed that the tracking is part of a deal struck with selected color laser printer manufacturers to identify counterfeiters. ...

Interesting.

I've wondered if the US hasn't done the same thing with Microsoft's Windows software.

The Feds: "Bill, if you put in secret back doors in your software we'll let you off easy on our big lawsuit".

19 posted on 10/25/2005 6:16:54 PM PDT by FReepaholic (Taglines? We don't need no stinking taglines.)
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To: Momaw Nadon

This technology is not news. It's been open source on the bell-labs.com website for about 5 years. Every color laser printer in the world has this technology, unless someone pieced one together - but you'd need a Ph.D. in applied math to figure out how to build one.


20 posted on 10/25/2005 6:18:27 PM PDT by japaneseghost
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To: Momaw Nadon

So, if they can track all my funny money, can they also track my crackpot letters to the NY Times too?


21 posted on 10/25/2005 6:19:08 PM PDT by garyhope
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To: albertp; Allosaurs_r_us; Abram; AlexandriaDuke; Americanwolf; Annie03; Baby Bear; bassmaner; ...
Libertarian Ping List, Freepatriot32 has been suspended until November 1st. Unfortunately, he has said he will not be coming back after that and is now posting at libertypost.org under his same screen name there if you want to contact him - he said he's starting a ping list there too. Hopefully he will change his mind and return. However, until then he has emailed me his updated ping list and I'll be runnning the Libertarian Ping list. I take the responsibility seriously and will try to do a good job. Please ping me on any new Libertarian stories! -Travis Libertarian ping! To be added or removed from my ping list freepmail me or post a message here.
22 posted on 10/25/2005 6:30:01 PM PDT by traviskicks (http://www.neoperspectives.com/foundingoftheunitedstates.htm)
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To: Momaw Nadon

If the details of the code are published, I would think it might be interesting if some hacker found out the serial number of a politician's printer and made use of that information.


23 posted on 10/25/2005 6:41:22 PM PDT by supercat (Don't fix blame--FIX THE PROBLEM.)
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To: tscislaw
I've wondered if the US hasn't done the same thing with Microsoft's Windows software.

Actually, there is this little item called a GUID (Globally Unique Identifier) used liberally throughout Windows. They are generated on the fly and are supposedly unique to a computer because one of the pieces of data used to create it is the computer's hardware MAC address (i.e., a unique identifier for your ethernet card). Not sure what it uses if there is no ethernet card...

These GUIDs are also passed around between systems, applications, clients, servers, etc., and have (again supposedly) been used to track down a few hackers and virus writers.

24 posted on 10/25/2005 6:55:27 PM PDT by jim-x ("Let's Roll" - Todd Beamer, UA Flight 93, September 11, 2001)
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To: traviskicks

Thanks for taking over. Why was he suspended?


25 posted on 10/25/2005 7:04:11 PM PDT by Rob_DSM
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To: faq


I think you're righth. IF the contrast is high enough, they may create a dot pattern on the faxed document - but even then you'd have to sort that out of the background dirt.


26 posted on 10/25/2005 7:06:40 PM PDT by Fido969 ("And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32).)
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To: Rob_DSM

Id ask him when he gets back. I dont really know the details.


27 posted on 10/25/2005 7:54:46 PM PDT by traviskicks (http://www.neoperspectives.com/foundingoftheunitedstates.htm)
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To: traviskicks

Glad you were willing to take over. Freepatriot32 was pretty dilligent about keeping the threads coming. i've seen you on forum, you should be an adequate replacement. Best to you.

CDL


28 posted on 10/25/2005 8:05:39 PM PDT by Calvinist_Dark_Lord (I have come here to kick @$$ and chew bubblegum...and I'm all outta bubblegum! ~Roddy Piper)
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To: garyhope
Swap out your colour cartridge for a black one, and -- No, they can't.

You can reinsert your colour cartridge later.

29 posted on 10/25/2005 8:12:33 PM PDT by SAJ
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To: supercat
Possible, but you'd have to reprogramme the printer's firmware. Depending on the model, this is certainly possible, but is likely completely impractical. An intimate knowledge of, at minimum, the character generation algorithm would be required, as well as the firmware's API.

Possible. Not impossible. Not bloody likely.

30 posted on 10/25/2005 8:16:25 PM PDT by SAJ
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To: SAJ

If you pay cash for the printer and don't register it with the manufacturer, do you figure the software can contact the manufacturer anyway in order to give them your internet address and computer serial number?


31 posted on 10/25/2005 8:19:08 PM PDT by nygoose
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To: jim-x
MACaddys become irrelevant on a non-networked computer, even non-existent (if one considers the onboard NI to be a 'card', a MACaddress or the equivalent does exist, even if the box isn't attached to a net. To disable this address, though, is child's play. To erase it entirely is a bit more difficult...but not much (g!)).

So, create your (poison-pen letter, scandalous commentary, deliberate and well-deserved insults, whatever) on an old box (c. 1998, running Win95 or even DOS), then send it via 8-bit faxmodem, and tell the PC police to go whistle. Graphics are difficult w/this schema, but doable if you're quite dedicated.

Oh, yes, almost forgot. Route the transmission through a blind turnaround circuit (bit of hardware you can attach to any Western Electric deskset) at some other address, and you've no worries.

32 posted on 10/25/2005 8:26:15 PM PDT by SAJ
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To: nygoose
Good question. Point is that you don't know...so why guess, eh? Acquire an old legacy system and see my previous post. Lose the colour cartridge or ribbon, if you have one installed, in favour of all black (any potential ID dots will show up straightaway on your printout (you DO print things out before transmission, yes?), and you can clip these off or white these out.

Mark you, I've no interest in counterfeiting at all, merely in occasionally neatly gutting political filth using that well-known filet knife, the printed word. Nor have I any attention of getting any grief from said filth about doing so.

33 posted on 10/25/2005 8:31:35 PM PDT by SAJ
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To: garyhope
So, if they can track all my funny money, can they also track my crackpot letters to the NY Times too?

They're on their way to your door right now. Better get dressed. You don't want to do the perp walk in your underwear.

34 posted on 10/25/2005 11:21:10 PM PDT by my_pointy_head_is_sharp (We're living in the Dark Ages.)
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To: my_pointy_head_is_sharp

ROFL. I knew they were watching me.

Actually I'm wearing some new, rather stylish tinfoil PJ's and I'm watching the market online.


35 posted on 10/26/2005 7:25:05 AM PDT by garyhope
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