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Researchers in South Korea believe they have figured out a practical and affordable way to protect your plastic from counterfeiters. The scientists have contrived a complex method with nanowires, which are strands so small they are virtually invisible to the naked eye. These strands generate a unique pattern or “fingerprint” type of identifying market. Researchers propose to embed this one-of-a-kind randomized pattern of tiny nanowires directly into financial products like credit cards and bank cards.
This type of technology could make the act of counterfeiting those valuable items practically impossible, and could conceivably put an end to illegal credit card copying and forgery as we know it. The team of scientific inventors, from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), announced their work in an article published in the March 2014 issue of the academic Journal of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology.
How Nanowire Technology Works.
The report explained how the tiny identification tags are made from silver that can be formed into unique patterns similar to those that are seen in a spider web or that of a butterfly wing.
The first step in the process is to manufacture silver nanowires that typically measure about half the width of a strand of human hair. These strands are then coated with fluorescent dyes so that they can be easily viewed under a special fluorescent microscope. Next, these tiny glowing strands are put into a liquid solution to make it easy to apply them in droplets to a super-thin film of plastic. From there, they are arranged in random patterns comprised of dozens of individual nanowires.
After that solution dries the microscopic patterns can be catalogued according to their positions to generate what is essentially a unique signature or fingerprint design. Those images are copied and stored in a computer database, the way law enforcement agencies archive fingerprints. To verify the authenticity of any object that is tagged with nanowires, the database is searched to look for corresponding matches. If nothing matches up the product is a fake.
To expedite the process of matching up nanowire signatures, researchers state they can put a barcode on each nanowire image that’s scanned in order to find a match. Criminals could conceivably falsify barcodes, of course, but they would be tripped-up when the fluorescent image on the counterfeit product was compared to the one in the database and shown to be dissimilar.
Cost Effective Potential
One of the biggest advantages to this innovative kind of tagging is that it has practical potential due to less cost compared to anti-counterfeiting technologies such as synthetic DNA. That’s a key to success, because no matter how successful and sophisticated a security measure may be, if it is not cost effective, it will never gain widespread traction.
The authors of the journal article, however, expect that it would be relatively easy to create original nanowire fingerprints for less than a dollar apiece, and state the technology will be so user-friendly that even merchants and consumers can build their own nanowire identification tags.
A Wide Number of Potential Applications
You could just embed a droplet of nanowire-rich liquid onto a product like a designer handbag, credit card, or $100 bill, for instance, and it would be permanently identified. By the same token though, generating an identical counterfeit pattern would be so prohibitively expensive that it would remove any financial incentive for counterfeiters.
Counterfeiting of all sorts of products is a huge source of revenue for criminal organizations, which isn’t limited to their exploits to credit cards or currency. Nearly $200 million a year in various kinds of counterfeited products are seized by U.S. Customs agents and other law enforcement agencies. Having a tool to imprint legitimate products with a nanowire fingerprint could significantly stifle counterfeiters’ attempts to re-create illegal products.