Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 security features key to fighting document fraud
When it comes to security features on ID cards and other identity credentials, it’s often the holograms and ultra-violet inks that get a lot of the glory. But adding embedded security features into the advanced card materials that make up the card itself can go a long way toward confounding counterfeiters.
Identity credentials include security features that fit into three categories: overt, covert and forensic.
- Overt security features, or Level 1 features, are visible to the naked eye or are tactile and can be felt via touch. They include elements such as holograms, colored inks and security threads.
- Covert security features, called Level 2 features, are only visible to trained examiners using basic, readily available tools such as lights or magnifying lenses. Covert features include ultraviolet images, hidden text or images and other hidden items embedded into a document.
- Forensic security features, Level 3 features, are ones that can only be viewed in laboratory settings using microscopes or other specialized equipment. Forensic features include nanotext and nanoimages, document DNA or substrate analysis.
Embedding security features into advanced card material substrate can go a long way to improving the security of the credential by making it more difficult to counterfeit. “Having unique materials raises the bar against counterfeiters,” says Pierre Scaglia, global segment manager for Secure Credentials at PPG Industries. “And having card materials with embedded security features can be one of the strongest elements in putting together a secure credential.”
PPG produces Teslin, a paper-like substrate that can add durability to a credential and enable inclusion of secure printing and other security elements. Teslin can be printed with different ultra violet or infrared security elements that are unique to an issuer. “These are dots and particles that will give a visible response to infra red or ultra violet light,” Scaglia says.
These types of powerful security options are commonly used in electronic passports, national IDs and driver licenses, but their use is also ideal for smaller issuers with high security needs.
By embedding the element in the card substrate and making it unique to the issuer, counterfeiters have a much more difficult time spoofing the card or document. “Issuers need to take a holistic approach to document security and integrate the different features in a way that makes it difficult to replicate,” Scaglia adds.
You don’t need advanced card materials to produce a secure document, but it definitely helps, says Steve Purdy, director of business development and government affairs at Gemalto. “PVC, PET (polyester), Teslin and polycarbonate all have the ability to print security features with offset lithography and use specialty inks,” he explains.
But the difference comes when you add data to the documents, Purdy says. With PVC and polyester composite cards the data is added to the core of the card and then protected with a laminate. Security features – like holograms – can be added to each of these layers but it adds complexity and cost to the credential.
There’s also the challenge of making sure the security features on the document can be easily validated, says Wayne Fletcher, global director of government vertical marketing at Entrust Datacard. “We want to provide features that are easy to recognize and make alteration of the card difficult,” he explains. We ultimately strive to make Level 1 features – the visible, overt features – easy and quick to identify. If you’re a police officer trying to authentication a national ID card you might not have tools available to check other features.”
Many high-security credential issuers are turning to polycarbonate for this reason. Polycarbonate cards can include high-security overt features that are extremely difficult to counterfeit without the correct equipment. Polycarbonate cards are laser engraved and can include personalized data in the form of raised text, which someone can feel when confirming the authenticity of the document, Fletcher says.
“During personalization you can take the biographic data of the individual – name, date of birth, document number – and create a tactile features with the variable data,” Fletcher explains. “You can also overlap this data with the laser engraved photo.”
The tactile feature with the biographical data is a compelling overt security features, Purdy says. “This makes it much harder to modify,” he explains. “You can’t scratch it off and replace it and you don’t need a laminate to protect the data on top of it.”
Prior to 9/11 the vast majority of driver licenses issued in the U.S. were done on desktop printers using PVC and a laminate, Purdy says. That made them somewhat susceptible to alteration as people could remove the laminate and scratch off the information below.
States have improved their driver license issuance in the past decade, with a majority now issuing composite cards with Teslin or other advanced materials. A few states have started to use polycarbonate with laser engraving in the last year or so, Purdy says.
The improved Level 1 security features are a primary reason these moves are taking place. “The real drive is for those Level One security features, because that’s what’s checked 99% of the time,” he explains. “It’s the most important thing because it enables you to discern very quickly whether or not it’s a fake.”