The Layered Look: The Latest Trend in ID Card Security

While microprocessors raise the digital security of cards, printing and designs keep up with the high-tech push


Keeping ahead of ID counterfeiters is becoming more and more challenging, but organizations today have an arsenal of sophisticated visual, covert and forensic security tools at their disposal. Through the strategic application of more than one technology, they can apply layer upon layer of security, resulting in the most counterfeit-proof ID cards possible.

What's the problem?

False IDs are easier to make and duplicate than ever. A quick Google search on the Internet reveals dozens of sources eager to share templates for counterfeit documents, raising the quality and accessibility of fake ID cards to levels never before seen. In the past week, the Department of Homeland Security also fell victim to a fake ID used to gain admittance to its facility, as part of a unofficial security "test" by a retired police officer.

The consequences of counterfeit IDs are stunning. Ten million false IDs were confiscated in the United States alone in 2003, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Identity Theft Survey Report of September 2003. That same report cited $47.6 billion in U.S. losses to business and financial institutions caused by fraud and counterfeiting.

Unfortunately, the losses are not just financial. It is no secret that several of the terrorists involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, World Trade Center disaster used false ID cards to gain access to facilities and equipment. In addition, John Malvo, the Washington, D.C., sniper, was caught with fraudulent driver's licenses from three states, which enabled him to purchase materials and rent hotel rooms prior to his attack. And a phony ID card issued to the suicide bomber who blew up the U.S.S. Cole in 2000 enabled him to hire a boat and rent an apartment.

Start with the Basics

Most organizations today recognize the need for at least a couple of basic layers of security, often a magnetic stripe or bar code to encode, transfer and collect data.

Others opt to use smart cards, which contain internal microprocessors or memory chips that perform much like a miniature computer. Today's microprocessor chips can manipulate up to 32,000 bytes of information, while memory chips can hold up to 16,000 bits of data. Smart cards can be designed as either contact cards, which require physical insertion into a card reader, or as proximity cards, which release the card's serial number when held near a card reader. An antenna inside the smart card enables it to communicate.

Despite the technology options that smart cards offer to authenticate a card holder, there are times when eyeing up a card visually is equally important. Security guards stationed a front desk often optically ID the card holders; Event managers need to visually scan a crowd to quickly see who has proper credentials; Power outages or disasters can cause electronic authentication systems to fail. This is where visual security elements on a card can enhance security.

Add a Hologram

Today, there is a tremendous variety of choices when it comes to holographic security, from simple, inexpensive, peel-and-stick holographic seals to forensic nano text, viewable only under high-powered magnification. The more layers of security, the greater the protection.

Many organizations, bound by time and money, start with standard, pressure-sensitive holographic seals, a quick and inexpensive way to add a visual holographic feature to an ID card. These seals contain an adhesive that leaves a disruptive pattern on the card if someone tries to remove them.

For organizations with additional resources, holographic security foils provide the next layer of security. Here a holographic feature (or simply a 2D custom logo, text or graphics) can be hot-stamped onto silver or gold foil and applied to a card or permanently embedded onto a blank card. Choices range from standard 3D holograms to fancier, custom-designed holograms, resulting in a secure card without having to invest in lamination hardware.

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