Front line document verification

By Dr. Bernhard Deufel, Giesecke & Devrient

Security features that really count and devices you really need – The standard of security to be found in modern travel documents, whether MRTDs, ID cards or driving licences, has been raised considerably in recent years. More and more advanced security features are making it increasingly difficult for forgers to fully counterfeit or even alter such documents. As a result, there is a growing trend toward identity fraud which does not require document alteration, where impostors present a genuine document issued to another person and pretend to be this person.

Nevertheless, a large number of forged documents are still in use. The clever design and placement of security features can uncover attempted fraud if these features are inspected properly, while Mobile Verification Devices (MVDs) could offer further assistance in future.

The illegal use of counterfeit documents is not restricted to border crossings and it is not only border control officers who have to check the authenticity of these documents today. Police officers check identities during stop-and-search operations on highways to detect illegal immigration or human trafficking, and as part of inspections of construction sites when looking for cases of illegal employment. Additionally, normal employees in banks, car rental stations, telephone shops and many other situations deal with

customers who have to give proof of their identity by presenting passports, ID cards or driving licenses. Are these people in a position to detect counterfeits? And do they all know what they have to look out for?

Unfortunately the answer is “no!” and this is why identity fraud still goes undetected in many situations, causing huge economic damage. Would the answer be different if the people who deal with documents had some basic knowledge of security features? Clearly the answer is “yes”, the simple reason being that the majority of counterfeiters make some basic errors when manipulating or forging an identity document.

Bright is bad and dark is good

Front-line document verification will not succeed if the people conducting checks do not have a basic knowledge of the security concepts in passports, ID cards and driving licenses. Despite all the highly sophisticated security features available in the market today, the heart of a passport is still security paper. Surprisingly, its UV dullness is one of the biggest technical hurdles for forgers; many counterfeits are detected at the front line with a simple UV lamp, as false paper shines brightly. It is as simple as that: “bright is bad and dark is good!” The same is true for any type of plastic ID card. These are produced using materials which are UV dull. For any attempt to affix additional layers onto these ID cards to have a hope of success, forgers would have to obtain materials that do not react to UV.

Besides UV dullness, mention must be made of the mould made multi-tone watermark. Although they are one of the oldest security features, mould-made watermarks still provide maximum security for the paper data page of a passport. Of course, not every watermark does this job equally well. A good watermark must be cleverly placed if it is to play to its full strength in document protection. Both bright and dark shades should preferably be positioned in the photo area, which is the main target for forgers. A watermark’s subtle transitions from thicker paper to thinner paper cannot be copied. Its appearance is vivid and its structures tangible. Additionally, it does not exhibit any UV reactivity, whereas printed imitations mostly do.

The watermark in a data page is an unrivaled security feature, and it took quite some effort to develop features which offer a comparable level of security for plastic data pages and plastic ID cards. Nowadays, features such as perforated ghost images or Multiple/Changeable Laser Images (MLI/CLI) do offer a comparable level of security, but these concepts are still not well known to the general public. To verify watermarks or perforated ghost images, a torch is recommended. And so we see that the two classic verification devices for anyone dealing with document verification are the UV lamp and the torch.

Look at the print quality

Another classic inspection tool is the magnifying glass. This should not only be used for verifying micro-lettering – which is characteristic of every security document. The real secret lies in checking the print pattern! But how many people really understand the art of printing, with fine intaglio, elaborate guilloches, and subtle color transitions created by the iris print, or the changing colors created by optically variable inks? Do people know about printing techniques such as offset, silk screen, letterpress and intaglio printing? Of course, border control officers are familiar with the inherent concepts, but other users, such as highway control police, bank clerks and employees in car rental stations, might not be familiar with them. It cannot be repeated often enough that staff dealing with document inspections must be well trained!

What about counterfeiters? When trying to forge a document or a data page, they are confronted with the demands of security printing technology too. Luckily these are another hurdle. Forgers do not have access to intaglio printing machines and neither are offset machines commonplace. The best laser and inkjet printers do not achieve the print quality of a good offset machine. This means that, under the magnifying glass, any guilloches printed with standard equipment will resolve into dot screens, at the latest where forgers have tried to counterfeit the subtle color transitions of the iris print. What is more, the hidden letters of latent images or the tactile sensation of the intaglio print cannot be copied.

Finally – as simple as it might seem – even letterpress numbering can be used as a security feature. Document numbers applied using a letterpress have characteristic marks where the ink was squeezed out at the rim, and they are rarely counterfeited with sufficient quality. Unfortunately, more and more documents are appearing on the market with the document number already printed by the security printer using inkjet technology.

The basic document check

As outlined above, the basic document check can be conducted with three simple tools: a UV lamp, a torch and a magnifying glass. Surprisingly, a good deal of document security still relies on well-known and long-standing features. It is not necessarily new inventions that boost physical document security but rather the quality with which the traditional features are executed. These features must be realized to the highest perfection and applied thoughtfully by expert document designers.

Bearing this in mind, a basic document check should include four basic investigations, starting with a comparison of the personalized image with the face of the document holder. Well-trained, experienced personnel are required to detect impostors at this stage. This visual check should be followed by the use of a UV lamp to detect bright and shiny fake data pages or manipulations. Then a torch should be used to investigate the watermark and to look for scratch marks in the paper. Finally, the offset print pattern, microlettering, print technologies and document numbers (if applied by letter press) can be verified with a magnifying glass.

The advanced document check

Huge efforts have been made in the last couple of years to introduce MRTDs and ePassports. Now, finally, document inspection officers can benefit from these new technologies. Though the details are freely available in the internet, many forgers – even those capable of producing high-quality counterfeits – make errors when it comes to the Machine Readable Zone (MRZ). Using the specified fonts and the right size for letters and numbers seems to be as big a challenge for them as ensuring the check digits are correct. Fonts and character sizes are easy to check by visual inspection, again using the magnifying glass.

What about the check digits themselves? The algorithm to calculate the check digits on the basis of the document number, birth date and expiry date is quite simple. But is it realistic to assume that these digits will be recalculated “manually” during an identity check? Obviously not, and that is why it is time to introduce handheld devices which can relieve officers of this task and are capable of making use of the whole electronic identity infrastructure that has been set up in recent years.

The time has come for Mobile Verification Devices (MVDs)

Modern identity documents offer huge advantages because they feature a contactless IC (Integrated Circuit) with a travel application containing biometric data, the facial image and fingerprints. Fingerprint biometrics is included in most passports in the European Union, but only in a small number of countries outside the EU.

However, to date these assets have not been used on a broader scale. In most countries, the use of integrity checks to verify the authenticity of ePassports via Passive Authentication (PA) is restricted to a few border control stations. The good news is that we are seeing a steady increase in the number of border controls with access to the necessary document and country signing certificates via national Public Key Directories (PKDs) which are connected to the ICAO PKD. But we are still a long way from having a Europe-wide verification system for electronic documents – not to mention fingerprint checks, which are protected by the EAC (Extended Access Control) protocol. Infrastructure to allow certification requests by readers (for terminal authentication) and the exchange of document verification certificates via SPOCs (Single Points of Contact) has yet to be implemented on a broader scale. Despite the fact that fingerprint checks are the ideal means to detect fraud by impostors, fingerprint data are largely unused in ePassports.

How will it be possible to bring electronic verification from border controls at airports to police checkpoints on the street and to other interested (and authorized) organizations? There is clearly a need for a “portable border control”. Hand-held devices – which with their small screens and small keyboards are truly portable – are available today. They run on offthe- shelf operating systems, and come with reasonable CPUs and long-lasting batteries. So the task is to bring the business processes of document verification onto these devices. If they were additionally equipped with MRZ readers, contactless and contact readers, and fingerprint scanners, these devices could be used as mobile verification centers. Fingerprint biometrics will play a crucial role in MVDs. Facial biometrics will not be so easy to check, considering that these devices might have to be used under difficult light conditions. So a camera will not help much for biometric verification, in contrast to the Automated Border Control (ABC) gates at airports, where facial biometrics are most commonly used.

The mobile devices of course need an online connection (e. g. via 3G networks) to a national PKD infrastructure and they must be able to store keys in integrated high-security modules. It is the responsibility of countries to implement these interfaces in cooperation with industry and put in place country-specific solutions, but today all technical prerequisites have been fulfilled. The time has come to bring electronic document verification to mobile units.

MVDs can in principle be used for any kind of document verification. These devices are not restricted to passports and ID cards alone. They can also be used to check electronic residence permits, electronic vehicle registration cards, electronic driving licenses and tachograph cards. So the MVD is set to become the fourth inspection device police officers will carry along with their UV lamps, torches and magnifying glasses.

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Categories: Identification


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