Big Brother Dept: Think printouts can't be traced to you? Think again.

Big Brother Dept: Think printouts can't be traced to you? Think again.

Summary: The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has apparently uncovered the mystery behind the tiny dots that some color printers have been secretly inserting into printed documents.  According to the report by the EFF's Seth Schoen, the Secret Service has issued the following admission:The U.

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TOPICS: Printers
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The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has apparently uncovered the mystery behind the tiny dots that some color printers have been secretly inserting into printed documents.  According to the report by the EFF's Seth Schoen, the Secret Service has issued the following admission:

The U.S. Secret Service admitted that the tracking information is part of a deal struck with selected color laser printer manufacturers, ostensibly to identify counterfeiters. However, the nature of the private information encoded in each document was not previously known.

According to Schoen, "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."  To give you an idea of how surreptitious the dots are, Schoen's report goes on to say:

The dots are yellow, less than one millimeter in diameter, and are typically repeated over each page of a document. In order to see the pattern, you need a blue light, a magnifying glass, or a microscope (for instructions on how to see the dots, see: http://www.eff.org/Privacy/printers/docucolor/).

The EFF has also published a list of the printers that it has tested so far.

Topic: Printers

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13 comments
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  • I guess it's back to...

    ...cutting letters out of magazines for my ransom letters again.
    Zinoron
    • Or...

      You could just buy your printer with cash from a store a few states over from your own.
      ibabadur1
      • Could still link...

        ...different notes to the one device. In the event of a house search, the serial number of the printer could be identified and used as evidence in court to link it to the printings.

        But crazy manifestos take a long time to put together with the ol' clip and paste method!
        Zinoron
        • It's a moot point...

          Crazy manifestos are more convincing in nth-generation b/w photocopy anyway.
          johnay
          • Counterfeit money

            But money is more convincing in colour... ;)
            brilang
  • Security by obscurity? :) NT

    NT
    wolf_z
  • Questionable but kind of cool

    What a waste of time. Just some random thoughs here:

    Where does the code print? If someone prints a bill, cuts it out and the code isn't on the part cut out, what was the point in the first place?

    Even if the serial number of the printer is on printed docs, who cares if it was bought with cash and never registered?

    When is the code placed onto the doc? In the print driver or by the printer itself. Most likely the printer itself so that it can't be bypassed.

    Why can't enterprises tap this as as feature to protect its assets when printed to paper. For example, a staff person prints a client's personal info and doesn't shred it. It then ends up in the hands of a criminal who is caught with it. The company then can trace the doc back to who and when it was printed and can fire the idiot who didn't follow procedure.
    ibabadur1
    • Since when did my color cartridge...

      contain an extra chamber of "blue light only invisible ink"?
      John Zern
      • Basic color theory

        Yellow pigment absorbs blue light. The white paper doesn't. View yellow print on white paper under blue light (only) and the print looks darker than under white light.
        johnay
    • Read again

      The code prints repeatedly throughout the page. Presumably the printed portion of the page.
      brilang
  • That's why I always write with my left hand ...

    across the mirror or a nice clean wall at the crime scene.
    An_Axe_to_Grind
  • Not a bad idea, really

    I know, I know - this is one step closer to big brother watching your every move, but this seems clearly aimed at capturing counterfeiters and I even liked the idea about businesses using it to track leaked documents.

    My own view about the big brother aspect reminds me of when I tried to calm down friends/relatives considering buying something online for the first time. Could someone snatch your card info online? Yes - no question. However someone can also climb that telephone pole outside your house and attach a headset and listen in on all your calls while you order from a catalog using your credit card. Possible - yes! Likely - no! Crooks and busybodies go after bigger fish than you and I.

    Seems similar here - I don't worry at all about someone sifting through the trash at home or my office with a blue light to see what I've been printing. I think people have other things to do.

    Cheers -
    dave.hofert@...
  • The next big thing

    Color cartridges with the yellow pigment removed post-manufacturing. Look for my store on eBay! ;)
    ejhonda