How smartphones and computer vision can take security to a new level | #itsecurity | #infosec


The latest mobile device technology is making it possible to use holography to create new ways of tackling counterfeiting.

Holography has helped to bring smartphone digital interaction closer in the brand protection and authentication space as security technology discovers new outlets and applications. In turn, this is driving continued expansion, with an increasing number of organisations accepting the advantages holograms offer and investing in digital-based interactive solutions to protect their products against global brand piracy and counterfeiters.

In particular, myriad opportunities are emerging for brand protection and anti-counterfeiting through hologram validation using computer vision on smartphones. The use of smartphones with integrated cameras has been transformative, and image and video content captured on these devices dominates so much of contemporary life through social media, entertainment, recognition and validation. So called ‘computer vision’ has become both ubiquitous and familiar; a powerful tool for the validation and recognition of holograms.

For example, a consumer can validate the integrity of a holographic tax stamp on a wine bottle while a unique identifier links it to a track and trace information system that will confirm the authenticity (or not) of the product. A smartphone app ‘interrogates’ the hologram and searches for all the embedded security elements by examining the interaction via reflected light.

As a security element, holograms are already powerful devices in their own right. Fake holograms are not only expensive to produce, but can be rapidly detected because they are usually duller than, or lack the complexity and fine details of, bona fide ones.

All this presupposes that people – in particular consumers – know what they are looking for in the first place. Too often, they don’t. Added to this, whilst the visual properties of holograms are intended as a first line of defence for the public, they frequently incorporate hidden features for inspectors such as customs officials which require special readers. Although not necessarily costly, such devices need to be put in the hands of inspectors, which can be logistically problematic.

This is where holograms using computer vision come into their own, providing all the advantages of physical digital protection through ubiquitous smartphone readers for authentication, supply chain track and trace, and grey market monitoring. They can also be used as an integral part of an enhanced, upgraded warranty management scheme and product return programmes to inspire stronger consumer confidence.

Offering a high level of counterfeit deterrence, a new generation of digital enhanced optical features, which incorporate holographic effects and offer overt, covert and forensic features, herald a step change. For example, the Portuguese mint and official printing office INCMLAB’s UNIQODE project has developed an encoding technology generated by and embedded into holograms that can be verified by online and offline mobile devices, preventing product adulteration and facilitating traceability.

Highly flexible, this is an effective machine-readable information system used to check and quickly validate security documents which also has wider brand-protection applications in the consumer marketplace. UNIQODE incorporates a security hologram that encodes unique and irreproducible layers of optical features. By being accessible to its users, it also allows the consumer to help brands and authorities in the fight against counterfeiting, further promoting confidence in the market.

It’s possible to use the same authentication technology to support systems that certify people who have immunity against the Covid-19 virus. In an interesting development, OpSec has a track-and-trace product to link a Covid test result or vaccination, which carries a unique identifier with a code on a government-grade holographic smart label. This can be attached to a person’s passport or other identity document and then be verified, by passport control officials for example, using a simple smartphone app.

As holography continues to find ever new and different ways to embrace digital interaction, the technology itself remains undimmed – a highly secure element suitable for visual identities for brand protection, protecting against counterfeiting and securing tax revenues as part of tax stamp track and trace programmes.

The use of smartphones takes it to a new level, combining those virtues with the ability to supplement visual protection with a raft of new opportunities for digital protection and product management.

Dr Paul Dunn is chair of the International Hologram Manufacturers Association.

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