Stephen P. McGrew, President
Anti-counterfeit technologies are (or should be) designed to ensure that counterfeiting is too expensive to be profitable-- because of risk of getting caught and/or the cost of overcoming the anti- counterfeiting technologies. The counterfeiter often has an advantage, though, because he does not have all the costs that the copyright holder has in creating and producing the product. An anti- counterfeit technology needs to reverse the counterfeiter's advantage: it must make the counterfeit product more expensive to produce than the valid product.
Time is a crucial parameter in the anti-counterfeit/counterfeit cycle. In the long run, a counterfeiter will always be able to duplicate any security device such as a tag, label, seal or special packaging material' and in the long run the counterfeiter will be able to produce it just as inexpensively as the copyright holder. To the counterfeiter, time and cost are directly connected. It is normally vastly more expensive and risky to counterfeit a new security device in a few days than in a few months. Then, if the copyright holder changes the security device every few weeks, the counterfeiter is unlikely to be able to make a profit; the copyright holder wins the race.
The counterfeit/anti-counterfeit cycle
Holography offers certain advantages as a security device. First, producing an original hologram is expensive and time consuming, but mass-produced replicas from the original are relatively inexpensive. Second, the equipment and skills necessary for mass producing holograms has been fairly difficult to obtain in the past. Third' holograms look distinctively different from printed labels. Fourth, the tools counterfeiters have traditionally used for counterfeiting (the camera and the printing press) do not work on holograms.
At the same time, holography has disadvantages. Because most holograms are embossed, mechanical copies are relatively easy to make. A skilled holographer can make optical copies of holograms that are very difficult to distinguish from the originals.
What the copyright owner wants:
And, once a good master copy has been made, high quality replicas are very easy to make.
Despite some disadvantages, holography is currently an effective counterfeit deterrent. However, if holography companies want to continue to enjoy a high share of the anti-counterfeit security market, they must look to the future. They must realize that today's hologram technology has become relatively easy and inexpensive to obtain, and hologram counterfeiting will surely become both feasible and profitable in the relatively near future. Holographic anti-counterfeiting technology needs to make new advances, comparable to the initial advance in 1980 when Light Impressions introduced embossed holograms to the world.
An effective anti-counterfeit security device will take longer to reverse-engineer than is required to create it in the first place. it will be accompanied by an automated and reliable validation process that allows for updating of security tag or label designs in a time that is short compared to reverse-engineering time.
Some excellent techniques have been developed in the data encryption field, by which a message can be distributed in an encrypted form, along with a public key that allows the message to be read. Although the message is easy to read, the method for encrypting the message in the first place is dependent on a separate key that is kept secret. So, it is very difficult to produce a fake message containing new information.
In the book, "Optical Document Security", K. J. Schell stated that "We would compare our strategy with that of computer security, where the security of encrypting algorithms is based on keys, and not on the secrecy of the algorithms". The same encryption techniques can be used in an "inverted" way to provide a label with a secure "signature" that is very difficult to counterfeit but very easy to verify.
Current holographic anti-counterfeit security methods usually use mass-produced, identical embossed holograms. An advanced holographic security label or ID card will not be mass produced. Instead, each hologram will be unique, bearing a unique encrypted "signature" whose validity can be checked electronically. This advance will require several significant advances in holographic technology.
In order to be affordable, the new hologram labels will need to be recorded on an inexpensive, high photographic sensitivity, rapid-development medium. Photo polymers are currently too expensive, but they are almost sensitive enough and they develop very rapidly. Silver halide films are too expensive, they are environmentally unstable, and require toxic chemicals for developing. We believe that either lower-cost, higher sensitivity photo polymers or some other advanced recording material will be developed in the near future.
The new hologram labels will need to be recorded using a high-speed optical system capable of creating three-dimensional, multicolored holographic images from computer generated imagery, in a small fraction of a second. There are "one step" holographic stereogram recording techniques that will make this possible. Although there will be some security in the materials and in the recording systems used to make these labels, the biggest security factor will be an encrypted signature built into the holographic image. Since each hologram is created "on the fly", each hologram will have its own unique, traceable signature. Although there will be some security in the materials and in the recording systems used to make these labels, the biggest security factor will be an encrypted signature built into the holographic image. Since each hologram is created "on the fly", each hologram will have its own unique, traceable signature.
This combination of technologies will become available within the next 5 years. It will cost more than embossed holograms, but will produce tags, labels and ID cards that are relatively inexpensive and extremely difficult to counterfeit. Learning how to make the recording material or having the recording system will not be enough; the counterfeiter will still have to crack the encryption key. And, the copyright owner can change the key for each production run. Modern data communication systems used to verify credit cards by telephone can easily be used to track labels and ensure not only that counterfeits will be detected but also that many types of fraud such as re-used of labels can be detected.
For lower-security applications, the security value of embossed holograms can be improved without greatly adding to the cost by improving the properties of adhesives and substrate and laminate materials. There are several techniques that can be employed to make mechanical or optical copying much more difficult. For example, extremely high frequency holograms can be made which are only embossable on special equipment. If these improvements are incorporated, embossed holograms will continue to be useful low-cost anti-counterfeit security devices for decades into the Future.
Holograms have been useful anti-counterfeit devices since the late 1970's Hologram embossing, developed in 1980, made holograms inexpensive enough that they have now been used on everything from passports to breakfast cereal, and from currency to cosmetics, to deter counterfeiters. The spread of hologram technology will soon reduce the value of ordinary embossed holograms as anti-counterfeit devices. On the other hand, advances we foresee in recording materials, hologram recording systems and embossing substrate materials should greatly increase the security value of holograms within three or four years.