Entries Tagged "currency"

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Counterfeiting Is not Terrorism

This is a surreal story of someone who was chained up for hours for trying to spend $2 bills. Clerks at Best Buy thought the bills were counterfeit, and had him arrested.

The most surreal quote of the article is the last sentence:

Commenting on the incident, Baltimore County police spokesman Bill Toohey told the Sun: “It’s a sign that we’re all a little nervous in the post-9/11 world.”

What in the world do the terrorist attacks of 9/11 have to do with counterfeiting? How does being “a little nervous in the post-9/11 world” have anything to do with this incident? Counterfeiting is not terrorism; it isn’t even a little bit like terrorism.

EDITED TO ADD (5/30): The story is from 2005.

Posted on May 30, 2007 at 1:03 PMView Comments

Poppy Coins Are not Radio Transmitters

Remember the weird story about radio transmitters found in Canadian coins in order to spy on Americans?

Complete nonsense:

The worried contractors described the coins as “anomalous” and “filled with something man-made that looked like nanotechnology,” according to once-classified U.S. government reports and e-mails obtained by the AP.

The silver-colored 25-cent piece features the red image of a poppy—Canada’s flower of remembrance—inlaid over a maple leaf. The unorthodox quarter is identical to the coins pictured and described as suspicious in the contractors’ accounts.

The supposed nanotechnology actually was a conventional protective coating the Royal Canadian Mint applied to prevent the poppy’s red color from rubbing off. The mint produced nearly 30 million such quarters in 2004 commemorating Canada’s 117,000 war dead.

“It did not appear to be electronic [analog] in nature or have a power source,” wrote one U.S. contractor, who discovered the coin in the cup holder of a rental car. “Under high power microscope, it appeared to be complex consisting of several layers of clear, but different material, with a wire-like mesh suspended on top.”

The confidential accounts led to a sensational warning from the Defense Security Service, an agency of the Defense Department, that mysterious coins with radio frequency transmitters were found planted on U.S. contractors with classified security clearances on at least three separate occasions between October 2005 and January 2006 as the contractors traveled through Canada.

One contractor believed someone had placed two of the quarters in an outer coat pocket after the contractor had emptied the pocket hours earlier. “Coat pockets were empty that morning and I was keeping all of my coins in a plastic bag in my inner coat pocket,” the contractor wrote.

Posted on May 9, 2007 at 11:28 AMView Comments

Radio Transmitters Found in Canadian Coins

Radio transmitters have been found in Canadian coins:

Canadian coins containing tiny transmitters have mysteriously turned up in the pockets of at least three American contractors who visited Canada, says a branch of the U.S. Defense Department.

Security experts believe the miniature devices could be used to track the movements of defence industry personnel dealing in sensitive military technology.

Sounds implausible, really. There are far easier ways to track someone than to give him something he’s going to give away the next time he buys a cup of coffee. Like, maybe, by his cell phone.

And then we have this:

A report that some Canadian coins have been compromised by secretly embedded spy transmitters is overblown, according to a U.S. official familiar with the case.

“There is no story there,” the official, who asked not to be named, told The Globe and Mail.

He said that while some odd-looking Canadian coins briefly triggered suspicions in the United States, he said that the fears proved groundless: “We have no evidence to indicate anything connected with these coins poses a risk or danger.”

Take your pick. Either the original story was overblown, or those involved are trying to spin the news to cover their tracks. We definitely don’t have very many facts here.

EDITED TO ADD (1/18): The U.S. retracts the story.

Posted on January 11, 2007 at 12:07 PMView Comments

Employee Theft at Australian Mint

You’d think a national mint would have better security against insiders.

But Justice Connolly also criticised security at the mint, saying he was amazed a theft on this scale could happen.

The court heard Grzeskowiac, 48, of the southern Canberra suburb of Monash, simply scooped coins from the production line into his pockets before transferring them to his boots or lunchbox in a toilet cubicle.

Over a 10-month period he walked out with an average of $600 a day.

Justice Connolly expressed astonishment that the mint’s security procedures were so lax.

“I find it hard to believe that 150 coins could be concealed in each boot and a person could still walk through the security system,” he said.

Justice Connolly also said he was amazed the mint could give no indication of just how many coins had actually gone missing.

“I would like to think those working at the other mint factory printing $100 notes might be subject to a better system of security,” he said.

Posted on June 27, 2006 at 7:45 AMView Comments

Fake 300, 600, and 1,000 Euro Notes Passed as Real

They’re deliberately fake, made in Germany for a promotion. But they’re being passed as real:

Cologne newsagent Bernd Friedhelm, 33, accepted one of the fake 600 euro notes from an unknown customer who bought two cartons of cigarettes and walked off with 534 euros in change.

Friedhelm said: “He told me it was a new type of note and I just figured I hadn’t seen one before.”

This is why security is so hard: people.

Posted on March 21, 2006 at 6:47 AMView Comments

Kent Robbery

Something like 50 million pounds was stolen from a banknote storage depot in the UK. BBC has a good chronology of the theft.

The Times writes:

Large-scale cash robbery was once a technical challenge: drilling through walls, short-circuiting alarms, gagging guards and stationing the get-away car. Today, the weak points in the banks’ defences are not grilles and vaults, but human beings. Stealing money is now partly a matter of psychology. The success of the Tonbridge robbers depended on terrifying Mr Dixon into opening the doors. They had studied their victim. They knew the route he took home, and how he would respond when his wife and child were in mortal danger. It did not take gelignite to blow open the vaults; it took fear, in the hostage technique known as “tiger kidnapping”, so called because of the predatory stalking that precedes it. Tiger kidnapping is the point where old-fashioned crime meets modern terrorism.

Posted on February 27, 2006 at 12:26 PMView Comments

Counterfeiting Ring in Colombia


Police assisted by U.S. Secret Service agents on Sunday broke up a network capable of printing millions of dollars a month of excellent quality counterfeit money and arrested five suspects during a raid on a remote village in northwest Colombia, officials said.

It’s a big industry there:

Fernandez said Valle del Cauca, of which Cali is the state capital, has turned into a center of global counterfeiting. “Entire families are dedicated to falsifying and trafficking money.”


Colombia is thought to produce more than 40 percent of fake money circulating around the world.

Posted on November 29, 2005 at 4:29 PMView Comments

Fingerprinting Paper

This could make an enormous difference in security against forgeries:

The scientists built a laser scanner that sweeps across the surface of paper, cardboard, or plastic, recording all of the unique microscopic imperfections that are a natural part of manufacturing such materials.

This scan serves as a fingerprint which, the scientists said, has two surprising properties: The fingerprints are robust, surviving scorching, dousing in water, crumpling, and scribbling over with pens. And these fingerprints depend on structures that are so complex and so small—on the scale of between one tenth and one ten-thousandth the diameter of a human hair—that nobody on the planet will be able to copy one for the foreseeable future. Unlike other methods such as using holograms or special inks, the fingerprint is already there.

Scientific American has more details:

All nonreflective surfaces are rough on a microscopic level. James D. R. Buchanan and his colleagues at Imperial College London report today in the journal Nature on the potential for this characteristic to “provide strong, in-built, hidden security for a wide range of paper, plastic or cardboard objects.” Using a focused laser to scan a variety of objects, the team measured how the light scattered at four different angles. By calculating how far the light moved from a mean value, and transforming the fluctuations into ones and zeros, the researchers developed a unique fingerprint code for each object. The scanning of two pieces of paper from the same pack yielded two different identifiers, whereas the fingerprint for one sheet stayed the same even after three days of regular use. Furthermore, when the team put the paper through its paces—screwing it into a tight ball, submerging it in cold water, baking it at 180 degrees Celsius, among other abuses—its fingerprint remained easily recognizable.

The team calculates that the odds of two pieces of paper having indistinguishable fingerprints are less than 10-72. For smoother surfaces such as matte-finished plastic cards, the probability increases, but only to 10-20. “Our findings open the way to a new and much simpler approach to authentication and tracking,” co-author Russell Cowburn remarks. “This is a system so secure that not even the inventors would be able to crack it since there is no known manufacturing process for copying surface imperfections at the necessary level of precision.”

To ensure the security of currency, you could fingerprint every bill and store the fingerprints in a large database. Or you can digitally sign the fingerprint and print it on the bill itself. The fingerprint is large enough to use as an encryption key, which opens up a bunch of other security possibilities.

This idea isn’t new. I remember currency anti-counterfeiting research in which fiber-optic bits were added to the paper pulp, and a “fingerprint” was taken using a laser. It didn’t work then, but it was clever.

Posted on August 12, 2005 at 10:30 AMView Comments

Counterfeiting in the Sudan

It’s an NPR audio story: “Peace Also Brings New Currency to Southern Sudan.”

Sudanese currency is printed on plain paper with very inconsistent color and image quality, and has no security features—not even serial numbers. How does that work?

While [he] concedes the bills are poorly printed, he’s not worried about counterfeiting. This is because anyone who does it will be put in front of a firing squad and shot.

That’s one way to solve the problem.

Posted on June 6, 2005 at 7:46 AMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.