Schneier on Security
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March 27, 2007
Security Measures in New £20 Note
Posted on March 27, 2007 at 7:33 AM
• 53 Comments
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What's so interesting? Aren't they all pretty much standard security features, apart from perhaps the "unpublicised covert features".
Looks pretty much like the features that the Euro already has.
IIRC, you were not so quite in favor of large lists of security features in bank notes that nobody would remember completely anyway.
You opted for a single "good" one (AFAIR it was a transparent polymer window on New Zealand (or somewhere nearby) money).
However, I think it was back in the good old times where there was no blog but only Crypto-Gram and I seem to be unable to find that article on your site right now...
The interesting thing is that they're not (mostly) relying on security through obscurity, but publishing details of the security measures to the public.
None of this looks new, except possibly the lettering visible only with a magnifying glass. Presumably, standard laser printers don't have high enough resolution to reproduce this.
@Dave Page: I fail to see the big deal - in fact, I fail to see how they'd even have a choice but to make these features public.
After all, if they didn't, how would people be able to tell genuine and counterfeit notes apart?
Keeping the security features secret would defeat the purpose. The intended users of the published features are the general public, who needs simple, low-tech methods to authenticate paper money. In a lab, they have many more tools available to detect fake money.
@MSB et al,
"general public, who needs simple, low-tech methods to authenticate paper money"
I can just see me know standing in the check out with my magnifying glass inspecting each note in turn, whilst all those happy shoppers are content to wait...
The security features need to be almost one way in nature, easiy to verify at a glance only but almost impossible to forge, Otherwise they are fairly usless to joe public.
Most bank notes (including this one) are not even close to this objective.
In the UK forged curency follows the "Hot Potato" game, if you are holding it when it's discovered then you take the heat/loss. So the check has not only to be quick but also very visable so you do not end up taking the loss simply by picking up a fake note.
AFAIK, the "big deal" is the engraved "20" that appears _over_ the hologram of Adam Smith, without destroying the hologram. This is apparently a new feature of printing technology that's not easily reproduced.
Personally I find Adam Smith appearing on the currency when Gordon Brown is running for president to be far too scary. Who are we getting for chancellor - Madsen Pirie?
@Clive Robinson: "I can just see me know standing in the check out with my magnifying glass inspecting each note in turn, whilst all those happy shoppers are content to wait..."
Well, as some shops start to check the money I give to them (with UV light or those pens), I do indeed check the notes the return to me (mostly by looking at the watermark and color-changing print).
(Dis)Trust works both ways -- although it would probably be wiser to check the money from shops that do not check themselves.
Yes, it sometimes causes a raised eyebrow with the cashier... ;-)
There doesn't appear to be much new here, even compared to old £20 notes, apart from perhaps the larger hologram. All the other features have been used on older notes (including the microlettering).
What is new is the keeping secret of other methods, which may or may not be new.
All looks very low tech compared with Swiss notes.
No microholes, no nondrying ink etc. etc.
There are no brail markers for blind people, and they still
have the stupid copyright notice.
The aesthetics are awful, couldn't they afford a designer?
There are also the yellow dots that I understand are recognised by some scanners and graphics software and will prevent exact copies being made.
I would think it would be better to just have 2 or 3 distinctive things that everyone could remember to check. Those working in busy environments, e.g. behind a bar, are not going to check all those things.
What's the bug deal? New issues of Canadian and other nations' currency notes have had these features since the late 1990s.
Micro-engraving has been used on currency notes for decades. Engraving that cannot be reproduced by advanced copiers and printers has been around for years as well -- the engraving gets smudged or forms new patterms that indicate something is "fishy".
None of this is new.
Nothing new on printing over the hologram image -- has been in place on Canadian currency for years. Canadian sgeild seal appears over the holo stri[p on the $5 bill for years now.
I love number 1)... "Some fake notes can feel waxy or limp" I've had no end of limp notes in my time... Usually ones that have been around a while. I don't think that they were fakes.
I don't think someone holding up Swiss notes as a fine example should complain about aesthetics.
I can understand keeping manufacturing methods secret but I wonder if there are benefits to security-through-obscurity for bank notes? Thoughts anyone?
What is most interesting is that as governments continue eroding away at the privacy of their citizenry, they expend tremendous effort in the last bit of privacy left in the cash transaction.
Counterfeit notes also don't have 'SPECIMEN' across them :-)
Weird that - all those features, but they still need to print big letters across the image, in case someone prints it out and passes it off as money.... ...and if that is a risk, those 'subtle' features aren't going to help that class of 'recipient'.
Technology is here to reduce the occurrence of dumb mistakes.
The same informations for Euro banknotes :
I read somewhere else that there are other secret security features. So, the europeen central bank is able to anthenticate a banknote. Imagine that someone can counterfeit all the mesures: it become a rela bank note ?.
Just my 2c...
Those are the publicly released "features" of the new note... but believe me there are other security measures that are not made public unless :)
"Other - Some unpublicised "covert features" are designed to further deter counterfeiters"
"lets make everyone think theres more features when there aren't any, that way we can keep the counterfeiters guessing/worried and our director will think all that money went on note design rather than hookers and beer"
What's the point? No one I've ever seen inspects US notes. And every time they change them, it gets harder to notice something out of place.
I wonder how much ca$h changes hands among the general public at large vs. at institutions (banks) that have well-trained employees?
> What's so interesting? Aren't they all
> pretty much standard security features
Hey, this is an American blog! Can't expect most of them to know what's going on in the rest of the world! (just kidding)
The trouble I had trying to change EU currency into dollars in a major US city with several million inhabitants just five years ago... I was sent from one bank to the next! Apparently most of the bank clerks had never seen foreign currency and didn't know what to do.
The new British note still appears to be printed on paper. Surprising considering that security is such an important feature of the publicity.
Reserve Bank of Australia document on Australia's polymer notes: http://www.rba.gov.au/CurrencyNotes/...
(The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) is the government organ responsible for managing Australia's monetary system, rather like the US Federal Reserve. It usually only hits the news when it changes/does not change the "official" interest rates.)
Further to Ctrl-Alt-Del's comments:
Australia has been using polymer banknotes for nearly 20 years. There are about 25 countries using polymer. Wikipedia has a good review/summary:
I cannot find a good summary of the security features. However I did find a comment that the rate of passing forged notes has risen recently ... with the forgeries printed on paper! People are still the weakest link.
The security features of the NPA polymer banknotes are described at http://www.noteprinting.com/...
Note Printing Australia is owned by the reserve bank and produces bank notes and passports and other security documents. It makes bank notes for about 25 countries.
The introduction of polymer notes wasn't without hitches. The holograms on the first ones rubbed off.
One of the advantages of polymer notes is their long life compared to "paper" notes and hence lower cost or (higher profit to the reserve bank).
The institution responsible for bank notes and other official documents in the Netherlands has a special take on these kinds of security features.
They print a list of the features on the bills or documents themselves.
This tradition got lost with the conversion to the Euro, but if you can get your hands on a good quality scan of an old 25 Guilder bill you can see that the last item in the list reads: "You should be able to read this print with your bare eyes or a magnifying glass" ;)
Right now I think only the drivers license still has a 4 item list printed on the top and bottom of the main page.
I don't think someone holding up Swiss notes as a fine example should complain about aesthetics."
Are you trying to tell me the 1000SFR note is not a thing of beauty?
covert anti-counterfeit features make perfect sense for a series of banknotes; once the counterfeiters have got a handle on all the public features, go and disclose one of the covert features to buy the note however long it takes for the fakes to catch up on that feature too. have a few handy in case some of them fail quickly. (and when you're down to just the covert/delayed-disclosure features, it's time to start rolling out your new series of notes, so the old ones can be out of circulation before you run out of features altogether.)
Security features that I (amateur) can find on a 50-Swiss-franc note, which has roughly equivalent value:
* Paper quality
* Non-drying ink (as mentioned above) -> you can rub traces of it off onto a blank piece of paper
* Colour alignment: different colours will form moire if the various inks are not precisely aligned
* Side alignment: Swiss crosses on each side are concentric when you hold the note up to the light
* Holograms, embossed with bank initials
* Metallic strip
* A line of "50"s printed in many ways: iridescent, invisible/dunno (UV?), plain, very fine pinpricks, different kind of iridescent, invisible/dunno, metallic, subtle derangement of the print raster
* Note length increases with denomination, so there's no point to wash a note and reprint it
All in all, pretty hard to forge. And it seems to work: the 200-franc (~= $160) note is casually accepted in normal commerce. The 1000-franc is often not; which probably shows (a) that it's not impossible, and (b) the currency is still a target for counterfeiters, so I would guess that the measures have paid for themselves by successfully guaranteeing denominations up to 200. Not bad going.
And, @kybernetikos, I think the graphic design knocks the socks off most countries'. :)
Andy - Gordon Brown's running for president? Has anyone told the Queen?
How timely! I received one such note for the first time yesterday and I had absolutely no clue what it was. Now I see the story. Ta!
It doesn't talk about colours here, but I remember seeing a documentary where the Bank of England guy visited a photocopier trade show with a bag of proof sheets to copy. They then looked at the copies and chose all the colours that photocopied worst on mass market machines....
As already mentioned in other comments, the list of security features is pretty much the same as those for the Euro banknotes. It should be noted however that Euro banknotes are nevertheless forged on a rather large scale.
"I wonder if there are benefits to security-through-obscurity for bank notes?"
I think the secret security features are there to help government investigators and forensic experts identify fake notes. If the counterfeiters don't know what features they need to replicate, the chance is low that they replicate those features well enough to fool someone who knows what to look for.
"I can just see me know standing in the check out with my magnifying glass inspecting each note in turn, whilst all those happy shoppers are content to wait..."
Perhaps not the microprinting, but here cashiers do visually check for watermarks and embedded security threads, for larger denomination notes.
"The security features need to be almost one way in nature, easiy to verify at a glance only but almost impossible to forge, Otherwise they are fairly usless to joe public.
Most bank notes (including this one) are not even close to this objective."
It's obvious that that's what governments and banks have been trying to achieve. Just because they don't achieve that goal perfectly doesn't mean that the security features are worthless, or that the new design in this case is not an improvement over the previous ones. Just as a thought experiment, imagine what would happen if the Bank of England decides to save printing costs by cutting corners, and comes up with yet another new design that has *none* of the published security features in the new 20-pound note.
Do you believe that it would have no effect on counterfeiting?
Note the interesting externality in the banknote system: the last person holding a fake note pays for the compromised banknote security. So one should expect security theatre for anti banknote forgery measures.
"It should be noted however that Euro banknotes are nevertheless forged on a rather large scale."
There was a lot of concern about forgeries when the Euro was introduced because people were not familiar with the look of the new notes but is there still a problem?
I wonder if the new dust size RFID motes are being used?
[see Pink Tentacle]
About euros. Here in Finland, number of police investigations of banknotes stopped growing in 2005. Coin investigations were still on the rise. In 2003, criminals circulated forged 100 euro notes that looked so real they went "through the shops" unnoticed. Source: Finnish National Bureau of Investigation, Annual report 2005.
"Current £20 notes, featuring English composer Edward Elgar, will be phased out over the coming two to three years."
Does this mean the Elgar notes will become invalidated as currency in the future? Does England do currency recalls or invalidate currency that is no longer currently circulated?
This is one way of preventing people from maintaining currency stashes, by requiring them to exchange old bills for new, and is a sign of an collapsing economy.
The old £20 had non drying ink and I've just tested a new one and it too has the same, unless I have a fake one of course.
The alignment of the £ sign is a little hard to see and I did have to refer back to the specimen to check I was looking at it correctly.
Even given this, I think the note is straight forward for "a man on the clapham omnibus" to identify as being real or fake.
"Does this mean the Elgar notes will become invalidated as currency in the future? Does England do currency recalls or invalidate currency that is no longer currently circulated?"
Bank of England notes that are out of circulation may always be exchanged at the Bank of England itself.
"by requiring them to exchange old bills for new, and is a sign of an collapsing economy"
I am assuming from your comment you are a U.S. citizen...
Most European Countries used to change the currency on a regular basis (about once every 10 years or so). The reason was several fold, but mainly to stop criminals and other nations hording large quantities of bank notes (reserves) and thereby affecting the money supply.
The U.S. Dollar on the other hand was considered the trading currency of the world and therefor there where other issues for the U.S. Treasury to consider.
In fact the UST did not appear to be overly woried about forgeries. I think you will find that Iran was accused of forging several billion dollars several years ago but the UST decided there was little to done about it, in that they could have made changes to the notes but for other reasons did not.
More recently however with the Dollars position as the world trading currency put into question, and it's value having dropped significantly a U.S. congressional task force says the bills printed by the Iranians (using U.S. equipment and engravers and printers) is of an exceptionaly high standard and requires action.
The House Republican Research Committee's Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, has indicated that they belive the Iranian-printed cash is taken to Syria where it is divided up and sent to places such as China North Korea (and the other usual suspects in the Axis of Evil....)
There has been a persistant rumor in Europe that the main reason the U.S. went to war with Iraq had nothing to do with either WMD or Securing Oil Supplies. But was in fact due to Sadam sick of having U.S. instigated sanctions forced down his throat having approached various European countries to start trading Oil in Euros not Dollars in return for lifting the sanctions.
From an economic stand point having the worlds number two oil producing nation trading in Euros would have had very very significant detrimental effects on the Dollar.
The Dollar would quickly devalue which would have effectivly crippled the U.S. economy, and was effectivly the only weapon that Iraq had that they could effectivly use against the U.S. Also the general wisdom (based on what happened in WWI & WWII) was that a war would actively boost the ailing U.S. economy.
However times had changed and the money released from the U.S. reserves to buy war supplies etc effectivly went immediatly out of the country and not into the U.S. economy. Resulting in the continuing stagnation of the U.S. economy.
Various things such as NAFTA / outsourcing / globalisation virtulisation etc have been blamed by various pundits at one point or another.
More interestingly though is what happened to all the Iraq Oil money the U.S. had "held", it appears to have mainly dissappeared without benifiting either Iraq or the U.S....
when are the old £20 being withdawn ??
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