Combating counterfeiters with a PUF
It seems that as soon as manufacturers develop a new method to ensure product authenticity, counterfeiters find a way to outsmart it. Now, researchers have created an ‘unclonable’ tag that can never be replicated, even by the manufacturer.
Each year, counterfeit goods cost billions of dollars in economic losses. These knock-offs, typically of inferior quality, often masquerade as luxury brands. Manufacturers have tried to incorporate unique tags or barcodes on their products so that store owners and consumers can verify a product’s authenticity, but counterfeiters often figure out how to copy these. A team of researchers from the Nano-Science Center and Department of Chemistry, University of Copenhagen wanted to develop an authentication system using physical unclonable functions (PUFs) — tags based on random processes that are impossible to replicate. An example of a PUF would be throwing a handful of sand on a surface as each throw generates a random pattern that cannot be copied.
To develop their anti-counterfeiting system, the researchers laser-printed QR codes on paper and then sprayed the PUF pattern on the surface. The PUF inks contained microparticles, which formed random patterns that showed up as white spots on a black background when magnified.
To validate their system, the team generated 10,000 tags and imaged them with a smartphone camera to establish a registry. Then, they re-imaged the tags with different smartphone readers and tried to match them to the registry. The system correctly identified 76% of the PUF tags. None of the tags were identified incorrectly, but some codes that were dirty or out of focus required an additional scan. The researchers estimate that the system can generate 2.5 × 10120 unique codes.
The team’s results have been reported in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.
Originally published here.
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