OT Is your printer spying on you?

B.Verlik wrote on 10/20/2005, 1:05 PM
Found this posted at a different forum and found it interesting.

By Mike Musgrove
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 19, 2005; Page D01

It sounds like a conspiracy theory, but it isn't. The pages coming out of your color printer may contain hidden information that could be used to track you down if you ever cross the U.S. government.

Last year, an article in PC World magazine pointed out that printouts from many color laser printers contained yellow dots scattered across the page, viewable only with a special kind of flashlight. The article quoted a senior researcher at Xerox Corp. as saying the dots contain information useful to law-enforcement authorities, a secret digital "license tag" for tracking down criminals.

The content of the coded information was supposed to be a secret, available only to agencies looking for counterfeiters who use color printers.

Now, the secret is out.

Yesterday, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco consumer privacy group, said it had cracked the code used in a widely used line of Xerox printers, an invisible bar code of sorts that contains the serial number of the printer as well as the date and time a document was printed.

With the Xerox printers, the information appears as a pattern of yellow dots, each only a millimeter wide and visible only with a magnifying glass and a blue light.

The EFF said it has identified similar coding on pages printed from nearly every major printer manufacturer, including Hewlett-Packard Co., though its team has so far cracked the codes for only one type of Xerox printer.

The U.S. Secret Service acknowledged yesterday that the markings, which are not visible to the human eye, are there, but it played down the use for invading privacy.

"It's strictly a countermeasure to prevent illegal activity specific to counterfeiting," agency spokesman Eric Zahren said. "It's to protect our currency and to protect people's hard-earned money."

It's unclear whether the yellow-dot codes have ever been used to make an arrest. And no one would say how long the codes have been in use. But Seth Schoen, the EFF technologist who led the organization's research, said he had seen the coding on documents produced by printers that were at least 10 years old.

"It seems like someone in the government has managed to have a lot of influence in printing technology," he said.

Xerox spokesman Bill McKee confirmed the existence of the hidden codes, but he said the company was simply assisting an agency that asked for help. McKee said the program was part of a cooperation with government agencies, competing manufacturers and a "consortium of banks," but would not provide further details. HP said in a statement that it is involved in anti-counterfeiting measures and supports the cooperation between the printer industry and those who are working to reduce counterfeiting.


Edward wrote on 10/20/2005, 1:29 PM
Hey, I saw this on CSI, for real. They traced a memo back to a secretary because of an ID that the printer gave off. They traced the paper back to the specific printer. Thought it was just hollywood, but hey.
MH_Stevens wrote on 10/20/2005, 1:36 PM
It's true, so:

1.) Only buy CL printers for cash
2.) Do not register your warranty or contact customer service

Jimmy_W wrote on 10/20/2005, 1:54 PM
And don't do any counterfeiting. lol
filmy wrote on 10/20/2005, 2:07 PM
>>> And don't do any counterfeiting. lol<<<

Aside for child porn being printed that is really the only other "legit" reason I could see for doing this. Sure those leaked "highly secret" documents that pop out could also be traced back to the office and desk where they were "leaked" from I suppose. It makes sens though, going back to the counterfiting - up until recently the only way a home user could make anything decent was if they could afford a high end color laser printer and a scanner. Now though almost any ink jet could pop out something.
Edward wrote on 10/21/2005, 1:28 AM
maybe it was leaked out on purpose. then again, try and fool an idiot, someone would become a better idiot.
riredale wrote on 10/21/2005, 8:21 AM
Did a quick Google search and came across this. I guess it's a counterfeiting thing, or at least that's what originally drove it.

The article says that Adobe has quietly put the technology into Photoshop.
MH_Stevens wrote on 10/21/2005, 8:28 AM
What about blackmail letters or ransom demands or anonymous whistle blowers? On the other tack I guess if an honest person ever need write something they should be happy to put their name to it. Still, the whole idea and principle is very unAmerican, just like most of America is these days.

Just thinking Blu-Ray might incorporate this too as a copy protection measure or ISP's add a marker so illegal downloads can be traced or faked pictures uncovered. I think I would support this.


Laurence wrote on 10/21/2005, 8:38 AM
Most of America is trying to be so American that they're unAmerican!
Jay Gladwell wrote on 10/21/2005, 10:15 AM

Why does this not surprise me?

boomhower wrote on 10/21/2005, 1:42 PM
Haven't caught the printer yet, but I swear my scanner was eyeballing me the other day....