Counterfeit detection devices are devices that are used to prevent or mitigate the creation of counterfeit versions of a product. There are different kinds of counterfeit detection devices, each with their own advantages and disadvantages.
In this article, we will explore many of these state of the art mechanisms, along with the current best practices.
Counterfeit detection is a sector that many industries are strongly dependent upon. The sector is subject to rapid changes, due to the constant co-evolution between detection mechanisms and counterfeiters seeking to circumvent them. Therefore, technologies may become obsolete or deprecated in an unexpectedly short period of time as exploits are uncovered.
Certain devices may be more appropriate for some industries than others, especially premium luxury goods, or matters of potential life and death, such as medicines and aerospace components. Other contingent factors include the manner of how products are manufactured, packaged, labelled, and the opportunities for tampering or substitution at various stages. Depending on the complexity of a supply chain, and the degree of vertical integration, this may be more challenging. For example, sometimes unauthorized moonlighting operations may make secret second lines of products at the same production centres as a genuine product.
We will begin by going over a list of the various counterfeit detection devices within the field, outlining their pros and cons, and demonstrating by comparison how Alpvision’s Cryptoglyph® and AlpVision Fingerprint® deliver powerful alternatives that reshape the current state of the art.
Raman Spectroscopy is a chemical analysis device which uses light, based on how the light reacts with the chemical bonds within a material. It can provide detailed information about the chemical structure, phase and polymorphy, crystallinity, and molecular interactions within a particular material or substance.
This is particularly applicable within industries such as the pharmaceutical sector, as a ‘chemical fingerprint’ can be obtained for a medicine sample, and compared with a reference.
Though a powerful device, it does however have a few drawbacks. The Raman detector is quite expensive, and it requires specialist knowledge and training in order to operate it effectively. Studies show that It’s not always a fully reliable detection device, as counterfeiters are increasingly using the correct API (Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient, albeit in an unauthorized and potentially unsafe configuration). In such cases, detection of a counterfeit product cannot be ascertained through this device. It also may not detect certain chemicals or adulterants within the product, which may be dangerous. Lastly, detection also requires one to open the packaging of the product in order to verify it as being genuine, creating a direct economic cost from sampling products or components.
The drawbacks of Raman detection can be mitigated by performing authentication of the primary or secondary packaging. For the specific case of pharmaceutical tablets (for which Raman is the most used approach), the primary packaging is typically a blister pack or a plastic bottle with a label.
- Not simple to use
- Not fully reliable
- Counterfeiters can dupe the device
- May fail to detect sometimes dangerous chemicals
- Requires one to open the packaging in order to verify the product
Some counterfeit detection devices use UV (ultra violet) or IR (infrared) light. By using a device such as a UV/IR torch, and by covering a product in fluorescent elements that become visible only under UV or IR wavelengths. One can verify a product by shining the light from a UV/IR torch onto a product, revealing the fluorescent elements. The fluorescent elements are often mixed into inks so that they can be printed on documents and packaging. The fluorescent elements can also be integrated into plastic packaging itself, mitigating the reuse or cloning of labels. However, this may potentially be a source of health concerns, as physicians grow increasingly concerned about chemicals leaching from plastic packaging into ingestible products.
In general, UV/IR torches are an outdated technology, as it’s something that’s been in use since 1976. Though it is outdated, it still sees usage in specific scenarios such as with the detection of counterfeit currency. It is also limited to internal verification processes as it usually requires specialist UV and IR equipment. This creates additional burdens on the brand owner, for the supply and distribution of fluorescent substances and of the detection hardware.
- Limited to internal use and requires specific UV/IR detectors
- Creates additional burdens on supply and distribution
- Potential health and product contamination concerns
- Dependency and supplies
Electromagnetic Detection Device
Electromagnetic counterfeit detection devices are electronic devices that respond with reflected electromagnetic signature when polled by electromagnetic radiation of a specific frequency. Electromagnetic detection is commonly used to detect Radio Frequency IDentification or RFID chips. They are used in library books, and more recently in credit cards and smartphones via related Near-Field Communication technologies. There also exists electromagnetic inks that can be detected by electromagnetic detection devices.
From a security perspective, an RFID implementing a challenge-response approach can be very helpful for finding and tracking products within a supply chain. Moreover, these technologies can also potentially allow consumer-friendly authentication by NFC-enabled smartphones through unopened packaging, even prior to purchase. Its main drawbacks are the unit cost of the RFID tag and the product line integration costs which makes it unrealistic for many large scale deployments.
- Trackability of products offers supply chain advantages.
- Unit cost of the RFID and the integration cost makes it unrealistic for large deployments
- An expensive solution for brand protection
Magnification devices are often used to detect microtext, or microprinting that require the use of magnifying optics to detect and recognize. Microtext or microprinting is a printed security feature which reproduces graphical elements which are human readable/understandable, yet in a scale so small that it cannot be seen without a magnification device. The user must be aware of the presence of the feature, and they require training to find and recognise it. Overall Microtext is considered an increasingly outdated feature, given the availability of high resolution digital scanning/printing of hardware, as well as AI-enabled upscaling to restore any lost fidelity in the mark. It is easy to copy yet requires some expertise to recognize. On the plus side, it adds nothing to the packaging production cost, can be deployed easily worldwide, and is minimally invasive visually.
- Outdated device
- User must be properly trained to recognize it
- Easy to duplicate
There are even more classes of counterfeit detection devices, including
Chemicals can be used which react in a specific way with materials or substances within the product. Depending on the reaction (or lack thereof) this can tell if a product or document is genuine or not. For example, chemical pens may be used to test banknotes for paper of questionable quality. Because banknotes are printed on paper based on cotton fibers, which typically don’t contain starches that are reactive to the Iodine within the chemical pens.
This class of emerging devices involves tagging products with a unique cocktail of organic chemicals which can be sequenced to pinpoint a specific item, or an incident at a certain time and location (such as spraying a suspected burglar with the chemicals) A wide variety of chemicals enables a large variety of combinations and permutations, and the complexity and proprietary nature of the chemicals make them virtually impossible to duplicate. However, the tags may denature over time, and the long term safety and efficacy of such chemical cocktails upon health and the environment is unknown.
- Unique chemical signature that can be ‘sniffed’
- Tags may denature
- Potential health concerns
- Potential data protection concerns in some jurisdictions
- Analysis is time consuming
- Destroys sample
AlpVision technologies are using a smartphone as counterfeit detection devices.
Below is an overview of Alpvision technologies:
Alpvision Cryptoglyph varnish
Alpvision’s Cryptoglyph varnish is a technology specifically suited to printed products. Its ingenuity lies in the fact that it adds practically no manufacturing cost, yet is incredibly difficult to replicate. This industrially proven solution which protects billions of products each year, and can be deployed easily across many printing suppliers (since no dedicated hardware or consumable is required), yet is also very easy for an untrained user to detect with a smartphone.
- Prepress process remains the same
- Practically zero-cost
- Invisible to the naked eye
- Easy to deploy worldwide
- Simple to use, no training required
Alpvision Fingerprint advances upon the Cryptoglyph technology, with an offering perfectly suited for products which can be molded or stamped. Instead of a varnish, this device uses the unique patterns that naturally embed themselves in the product during the manufacturing process. Furthermore, it is deceptively simple to deploy since it only requires the capture of a few reference images for authenticating millions of products with hardware no more complicated or expensive than a simple smartphone. Finally, this is one of the exceedingly rare approaches which can be put in place “retroactively”, even after products are already on the market, without arousing consumer confusion. It’s only limitation of note is that it requires an initial qualification test to validate if the existing product micro-defects can be detected.
- Protect millions of products with few images
- Maintain manufacturing process
- Simple to use, no training required
- Cavity-level track and trace
- Applicable retroactively
Alpvision, is a unique competitor in this field, in that they have developed incredibly secure technologies, that also have effectively zero-cost, and have practically no barrier to entry in regards to implementation. They are truly an exemplary example of what it means, to have the insight to come up with simple but yet ingenious solutions, in a field wrought with overly expensive, over-engineered and outdated devices. The sophistication and genius of Alpvision’s technologies lie within their simplicity.
Alpvision’s world-beating innovations are championing a new era in the field of counterfeit detection technologies.
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