School of Computing

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Fighting forgery with paper fingerprints

Fingerprinting official documents could provide a cost-effective way to prevent forgery, new research shows.

Scientists from Newcastle University, UK, 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.

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 fingerprinting process remains highly reliable even if the paper is treated with rough handling such as crumpling, soaking, scribbling and heating.

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.

Unique to every single sheet of paper

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. This can massively reduce the possibility of forgery."

Cheap and tamper-proof

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.

One way of protecting against fraud is to embed electronics such as RFID chips within the document. This solution is currently used in e-passport to prevent forgery. However, the security of these relies on the tamper-resistance of the chip and the more secure systems bring with them a significant cost. As an example, with the addition of a "tamper resistant" RFID chip to the UK passports in 2006, the cost of an adult passport sharply rose from £42 in 2005 to £72 in 2007.

While on the surface a sheet of paper may seem like any other sheet, manufacturing paper is a complex process and each sheet is unique.

Read the full University Press Release here. The research was also reported at Chronicle Live and The Economist.

Fighting forgery with paper fingerprints

published on: 25 May 2017