July 27, 2005

Scientists identify new weapon to fight fraud

LONDON (Reuters) - Nearly all types of paper, plastic and
packaging have unique microscopic imperfections or fingerprints
on their surface that could be used as a cheaper way to prevent
fraud, scientists said Wednesday.

The identity code is virtually impossible to change and can
be easily read with a portable laser scanner to combat the
forgery of passports, ID cards and other documents.

"Our findings open up the way to a new and much simpler
approach to authentication and tracking," said Russell Cowburn,
a professor of nanotechnology at Imperial College London.

"This is a system so secure that not even the inventors
would be able to crack it since there is no known manufacturing
process for copying surface imperfections at the necessary
level of precision," he added.

Nanotechnology involves the manipulation of materials on an
atomic or molecular scale.

In research published in the science journal Nature,
Cowburn and colleagues at Imperial College and Durham
University studied the flaws on plastic, paper and coated
cardboard surfaces using a focused laser and recorded the
intensity of the reflections in scattered light.

Each surface had a distinctive pattern that remained even
if the material was mangled, baked, submerged in cold water or
scoured with an abrasive cleaning pad.

"The beauty of this system is that there is no need to
modify the item being protected in any way with tags, chips or
ink -- it's as if documents and packaging have their own unique
DNA," Cowburn explained in a statement.

The scientists are now working with a technology company to
take the product to the market.