Unique paper fingerprint may help preventing forgery – and it only requires a camera!

We are living in the digital age and everything is one the screens. However, a lot of documents are still being signed by hand. It is an old and traditional way of confirming authenticity of an important agreement or decision. With current technology faking a signature is relatively easy, but a team of scientists found a cheap way of confirming authenticity of paper documents.

This is how paper looks under a microscope. However, patterns can be observed using a simple camera. Image credit: Nicola Angeli/MUSE via Wikimedia(CC BY-SA 3.0)

Handwriting experts can analyse a single signature for hours and they will still fail to answer with certainty that the document is real. Current technologies allow faking signatures with extreme precision, which is pushing paper documents to extinction. However, because they are still used very widely, scientists did find a way to confirm their authenticity and effectively prevent forgery. The key in this new method is not recognizing real signatures, but looking at the unique fingerprint of the paper itself.

They always say that there are no people with identical fingerprints or two cats with noses with identical patterns. Paper is similar in this way – fibres are arranged in a unique random pattern. In fact, differences between two sheets of papers are so apparent that expensive imaging equipment is not needed to analyse these patterns. All you need is an off-the-shelf camera. Shining light through the paper enhances these patterns in the image, which allows for 100 % accuracy. Furthermore, even inappropriate handling of the document does not diminish this method – heated, soaked and scribbled paper can still be analysed for the unique fingerprint pattern.

All documents, printed on a translucent paper, can be analysed using this method: passports, agreements, receipts and so on. The best part about it is that it is cheap, compared to alternatives. How much would it cost for you to take a picture of a document after signing it? And now think about a microchip that can be inserted in the paper itself – the way they do this with passports. Of course, taking the picture with a simple standard camera is cheaper and easier.

Scientists designed a box, which is recognized by the algorithm. People just have to place the document in the box and take the picture. Later the original image can be compared with a document in question, which may be fake. Dr Siamak Shahandashti, one of the authors of the study, said: “our method basically provides an effective way to check if the sheet of paper the document is inscribed on is the same sheet used originally, hence catching copies and making counterfeiting practically impossible”.

Impossible may be a bold claim, but scientists are sure they removed any possibility of a human error and the method is 100 % accurate. And, most importantly, cheap. Paper is unique and no one can copy it with a precision required to fool this system.


Source: University of York

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