Mixing It Up

Mixing and rotating overt, covert, and forensic technologies can thwart counterfeiters.

By Donald Dobert
President and Chief Operating Officer

It has been said dozens of times already, maybe even in this publication and in Pharmaceutical & Medical Packaging News alone: there is no silver bullet against counterfeiters and diverters. You’ve got to layer, layer, and layer some more.

Specialty labels can leave messages behind after removal to provide tamper-evidence.

Just what exactly does layering  mean? What layer comes first, what layers need constant updates, and what layers stay put? Who decides when and where to layer, when to update the layers, and when do you need to inform FDA?

A “mix and rotate” approach brings multiple technologies together in one package. To “mix and rotate” can be compared to software updates. As computer hackers invent new “bugs,” software companies develop new “antibugs.” Every time you as a brand owner produce your product, you can “mix and rotate” the following security features:

• Tamper-evident breakaway closures.
• Invisible, hidden markers.
• Anticounterfeiting holograms.
• Color-shifting inks.
• Tamper-evident unit closure.
• Mass-serialization.
• Two-dimensional bar codes.
• RFID chips.
• Void security closures or destructible tapes.
• Triple-ply: Three-tier overt or covert levels of anticounterfeiting.

For example, tamper-evident substrates can employ destructible, paper-based face stock or nonreproducible covert security fibers. Distribution can be limited to approved secure suppliers for a secure chain of custody. Tamper-evident substrates can make label removal impossible without visible damage. Such features effectively deter remarking and help ensure product authenticity. They also provide simple in-field authentication.

In addition, color-shifting inks and other covert features can be public signals of authenticity. Invisible forensic markers alone can be used to detect whether a product has been repackaged or relabeled. Such forensic markers may be used in the varnish on the package as well as customized or serialized codes and holograms.

Combining these technologies, the hologram would be an overt feature, the forensic marker would be a covert one, and the code could be either overt or covert, depending on what you are doing with it. Special codes can be purchased or created that pertain to only one product, which tells the manufacturer where it was made, how it was distributed, and on what days. While there are codes that are very obvious and basically list manufacture date and product code, there is a wide range of options in customized codes.

Modern U.S. currency has changed many times over the past few years. With the exception of the one-dollar bill, all of these notes are obsolete. This is because the U.S. government “mixes and rotates” (M&R) its overt and covert techniques to stay one step ahead of the counterfeiters.

Overt and covert M&R anticounterfeiting measures include fine detail with raised intaglio printing on bills. This allows nonexperts to easily spot forgeries. As a side note, on coins, milled or reeded (marked with parallel grooves) edges are used to show that none of the valuable metal has been scraped off. This detects the shaving or clipping (paring off) of the rim of the coin. However, this does not detect sweating, or shaking coins in a bag and collecting the resulting dust. Since this technique removes a smaller amount, it is primarily used on the most valuable coins, such as gold.

For paper bills, in the late twentieth century, advances in computer and photocopy technology made it possible for people without sophisticated training to easily copy currency. To combat this, national engraving bureaus began to include new (more sophisticated) anticounterfeiting systems such as holograms, multicolored bills, and embedded devices such as strips, microprinting, and inks whose colors change depending on the angle of the light. New technology also includes the use of design features such as the “Eurion Constellation,” which disables modern photocopiers.

Detecting counterfeit bills often isn’t easy to do by eye. One bogus $100 bill believed to have been made in North Korea, for instance, would be nearly impossible for a novice to identify as a fake. It has the security strip on the left side of the bill and a watermark of Ben Franklin (whose portrait is on the bill) on the right-hand side, as well as replicating other security features. However, its paper contains no starch and doesn’t reflect ultraviolet light, which is one sign of a counterfeit.

There is now a scanner that searches for missing covert features in bogus “Super Dollars.” The device looks at several aspects of the bill to confirm its legitimacy. U.S. paper money is printed with magnetic ink, but that’s also used for many fraudulent bills. On real bills, the ink is distributed in a consistent pattern whose magnetic resonance can be mapped. The magnetic map is stored in the scanner, as well as three other maps containing ultraviolet, infrared, and other measurements taken from legitimate bills. Scanning a bill takes less than one second. If there’s any spike or anomaly in any of the threads of data, the scanner rejects the dollar.

What I have just described is a layered approach in anticounterfeiting. You may not be the government fighting “super dollars,” but then again, you are fighting to protect your brand from counterfeiters. The money a brand owner saves in brand protection and litigation should be considered as “super dollars” to the brand owner. In the process of saving money, the brand owner will be protecting the public, and he can advertise as such.

Here’s how forensic authentication works in an M&R layered approach:
• A unique digital code, “ATL 12-IDGJ,” is set up for a brand.
• A digital code is incorporated into the label through multiple-entry points (inks, varnishes, adhesives).
• The digital code is also incorporated into (or linked to) the pedigree
• A scanner will indicate that “ATL 12-IDGJ” is the established digital code, allowing traceability.

Such uniqueness cannot be duplicated because the invisible, nondegradable forensic digital code is virtually impossible for the counterfeiters to duplicate. It only takes a second to authenticate a product anywhere in the world.

Today, FDA does not need to know what type of anticounterfeiting measures you are taking. In fact, to protect themselves, brand owners should limit such details to a certain number of trained individuals who are monitoring what features are being used and for how long.

Most important in the anticounterfeiting arsenal is the brand owner’s mind-set. Nothing changes until this does. Counterfeiters have the mind-set that they can break the laws and provide fake or diluted products, and they do not care if they place the public in harms way.

We (you and I) have to assume the mind-set that says to the counterfeiter, “No, you cannot copy my products.” ■

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