Businesses are now largely implementing anti-counterfeit measures and heavily investing more money in them than at any point in history. Firms are prepared to spend even more on covert and overt solutions than they are today. 


Many businesses consider combating counterfeit goods as their top priority. This makes sense, as counterfeiters are no longer small-scale manufacturers. Unfortunately, counterfeiters quickly adjust to the changing anti-counterfeiting technologies, especially overt ones. Intruders prioritize higher-priced goods and can understand advanced overt technology. Counterfeiters can trick the users into believing that their anti-counterfeiting feature is real.

It is vital that counterfeiters are unable to produce identical overt or covert solutions. Fulfilling this condition is challenging for basic overt technologies such as security graphics, scratch off technologies, older generations of holograms, and fugitive inks. However, sophisticated holograms with exceptionally high precision (based on electron beam rather than a laser) are also available. These are used on identification cards, and the finest ones dissuade counterfeiters from even attempting to duplicate. However, sometimes even these finest security features can fool the users with a very coarse imitation of an anti-counterfeit feature as they usually don’t have the expertise to make the difference.


Why overt technology based anti-counterfeiting features are always counterfeited?

Overt solutions don’t need a special equipment and are designed for unsupported usage by the user via direct human perception. That is, they are apparent in ambient light or are visually recognizable. Basic overt technology may also be imagined to reveal simple concealed features. Examples include guilloche, holograms, QR codes, scratch off codes, and implanted unique fibers in paper material. The visible elements in such covert technologies can make it easier for the counterfeiters to imitate overt solutions and trick the brand owner. However, even covert solutions are not safer than overt ones if they become visible with an appropriate tool.

Once an anti-counterfeiting feature is counterfeited, and the brand owner has somehow been tricked, he must now retain it. Otherwise, the public would believe the product is a forgery, which means he must continue paying for something worthless. As an alternative, some manufacturers try to pack their products with as many overt technologies based protective components as possible. Nevertheless, behavioral research demonstrates that an excessive number of overt technologies results in checker confusion rather than security increase.


Why covert solutions are safer?

Covert solutions are hidden anti-counterfeiting solutions designed for aided usage by the users. This means that counterfeit prevention is enabled by the employment of a special machine. A machine is a generally available nonproprietary instrument that acts on a feature to generate a human-perceivable signal. The machine determines the authenticity; therefore, machine-readable covert solutions are safer and more user-friendly than visible overt solutions. The user does not need to tilt the hologram across light or seek certain effects with their eyes. The machine automatically hides its recognition criteria; therefore, it is safer. Some basic covert solutions available for the general population include polarizing sheets, or penlights, digital watermarks, chemical tags, and laser coding.

Covert technologies can have additional hidden aspects to enable the examining individual to dig further in the event of doubt. An additional (hidden) layer of safety might take the following forms:

  • Additional visual effects in the hologram, for example, objects emerging from a fixed angle of red light.
  • Protected substance. Microscopic markers can be included in plastic or paper used to create packaging. Indicators with varying degrees of protection can be utilized.
  • Microletters or other tiny symbols, dots, or patterns.

Overt and covert technologies from a cost perspective

Historically, the detection of covert features required special hardware, but this has now been replaced by smartphones. From a price perspective, covert solutions cover the whole range from expensive nano-particles to virtually 0 cost like the Cryptoglyph. This can be put in perspective when we look at the price of overt solution which always have a manufacturing cost.

But the direct cost of overt/covert feature is not the only and not even the main concern. Indeed, the complexity of worldwide deployment of a technology across many countries and suppliers is even more critical.

For instance, consider a special taggant which has to be integrated in the plastic of a molded object. This requires secured shipping across the world special chemicals, which may be blocked at customs, which will expire, will require training of each supplier, toxicity approval by the national authorities, etc…

Actually, all overt solutions suffer from those deployment complexity issues (hologram, watermark, secured foils, OVI, etc) but many covert security solution issues also have the same issues as we saw (taggants, RFID, etc).

We listed here the most usual security features and it appears that very few are easy to deploy. Namely, there are

  • die-cut special shape (the shape of carton border), easy to counterfeit
  • microtext (that can be seen with a magnifying glass), easy to counterfeit
  • deliberate mistakes (letter spacing, letter shapes, typos, etc), easy to counterfeit
  • Cryptoglyph and Fingerprint (hidden microdefects detected by smartphones). Those are both difficult to counterfeit and easy to detect

Can you go for both overt and covert technologies?

More sophisticated and effective anti-counterfeiting systems may be developed by combining both overt and covert technologies. However, they must be evaluated against reliability and cost requirements. In particular, a balance must be found between the expenses of anti-counterfeiting elements and the price of the goods. Obviously, the induced costs should not exceed the losses induced by counterfeiting.

This brings a more fundamental problem of any anti-counterfeit strategy: it is very challenging to assess the actual financial losses caused by counterfeiting (indeed, such estimates should take into account the whole range of costs, from direct losses to indirect losses like reputation or shareholder confidence) .

It is also crucial to take into account the product and packaging lifecycle when thinking of integrating both overt and covert solutions. Indeed, it can become problematic when the packaging or product outlasts the anti-counterfeiting feature. For instance, spirit bottles featuring security features are often refilled.

However, in some other applications, outlasting the product lifetime is actually a requirement. Indeed, it enables for instance to authenticate used packages which have been thrown away and provide precious information about the counterfeiting status of products on specific markets.

Each technology application needs therefore to be tailored to the specific use case of the brand owner. But in all cases, as shown here, a security solution must remain covert. And this is exactly what AlpVision offers since over 20 years: tailored covert solutions.


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