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Weblog Entry

Faking It

July 25, 2006

Currency counterfeiting is inevitably a growing problem in the age of Photoshop and high-quality laser printers. Photographic reproductions are ridiculously easy, so those with slippery ethics are figuring out that casually minting their own 20’s here and there is as easy as clicking a few buttons.

To help combat the problem, graphical editors are starting to incorporate currency-detection algorithms. I’d heard about this as one of the new “features” in recent versions of Photoshop, but today was the first time I had personally butted up against it:

Photoshop currency detection warning dialogue

Photoshop allows you to open the image anyway, so I played with it a bit to see what the limitations are. Obviously when you try to print it you get a slap on the wrist:

Photoshop warning dialogue when attempting to print currency

However, it appears the bill needs to be mostly uncovered (or at least key detection points need to be). If you cover it with something else, you’re able to print the document. So the bill may be used without altering a document’s printability, provided it doesn’t appear to Photoshop that you’re using it for counterfeiting purposes.

You can fool it, however. If you rotate the bill 45 degrees, the warnings go away. The detection algorithm appears a bit immature yet, since it only appears to work when the bill is prominently featured and at close to a horizontal alignment.

My copies of other currency were too low-res to trigger the detection, I only experienced this on US bills. The euros, pounds, and Canadian dollars I tried didn’t issue a warning. However, were the EURion constellation clearly visible on my samples (it wasn’t), I’m sure I’d have seen the same warning.

If you want to try it yourself, the current first Google Images search for 50 dollar bill nets a perfect example. (And yes, there are legitimate uses for opening reproductions of currency in an image editor that don’t constitute counterfeiting; ever work with a company in the financial sector?)


1
Rémi says:
July 25, 11h

Interesting, I didn’t know Photoshop had that feature.

2
Brian says:
July 25, 11h

Or you can just scan it at full, high resolution and then open it up in ImageReady, save it, and then open it in Photoshop. Voila, no currency protection.

3
July 25, 12h

An easy way to bypass the print warning is to switch over to Image Ready and print from there.

4
Adam says:
July 25, 12h

Yeah, I found this feature while scanning Euros and Pounds for a travel blog design, and, yeah, it caught both of them. but, you’re right, after rotating them, the warning disappeared… It’s an interesting feature.

5
Rob Lewis says:
July 25, 12h

Yep, I blogged about this a few months ago: http://wv4.co.uk/miscellany/forging-bank-notes-in-photoshop/, it’s an interesting bit of programming, even if it is reasonably easy to bypass.

Rob.

6
July 25, 12h

This has been going on since Photoshop CS. In fact, CS won’t even let you open the file, let alone print. You’re simply ‘not allowed to process bank note images.’ I remember there being a bit of a controversy about this when CS first came out. People were saying that this algorithm was unjustly slowing down the program due to it being unoptimized.

http://www.jaani.net/view/2004/01/09/photoshop-counterfeit-currency

I seem to remember a patch being released that eliminated the offending algorithm (unofficial, of course) but I’m not having any luck finding it.

7
Sascha says:
July 25, 13h

Don’t know that photoshop got this feature. But the copiers in my office can’t copie banknotes, too. I’ll try this with photoshop and Euros (€) soon.

8
July 25, 14h

You may be interested in this page of experiments:

http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/~sjm217/projects/currency/

They’ve done computer searches on a English ten pound note to find the minimum areas that will trigger the detection algorithm.

9
Dave says:
July 25, 16h

Interesting. All the workarounds here seem to fail for me in CS2. It seems to detect it pretty well on the fly. I tried it with Dave’s 45 degree… still complained when I “printed” it (try using the preview feature or print to a PDF).

It looks like ImageReady also doesn’t have a print command at all (or at least one under the File menu) so that workaround won’t work either.

10
Paul D says:
July 26, 02h

I think you’re far too kind, Dave. This bug (not a “feature”) is implemented to please the government and hassle users. And really, it’s the paper and ink that are hard to copy anyway, not the artwork.

11
Robert says:
July 26, 03h

@Sascha: ‘can’t’ - ie severe quality issues, or ‘won’t’ - a digital photocopy system that complains?

12
James says:
July 26, 05h

But everyone knows serious money counterfeiters use MS Paint, no?

13
July 26, 05h

I wonder if that works with polish currency?? I don’t have PS CS so i can’t check this…

14
July 26, 07h

Interesting to see how many people seem to have the “antidote”…

As far as Euro bills are concerned, I think printing them on any kind of personal printer (even laser color) wouldn’t make a satisfactory counterfeit; the aluminum stripe wouldn’t look anywhere near decent.

15
Ruben says:
July 26, 09h

Wow!

I didn’t know Photoshop bundled that feature either.

But honestly, I don’t think these measures will help stopping the fraud.

16
Mike G. says:
July 27, 08h

Impressive, although there are obviously ways around it that many people have pointed out. Thanks for the link Chris Mear, very interesting.

17
Zach says:
July 27, 11h

I agree, people who want to print their own currency will find a way around a simple block. It’s a feel-good measure by Adobe at best.

18
July 27, 23h

Australian currency prints fine. But then, a printed Australian note would never pass as valid currency since our notes are plastic.

19
scott says:
July 28, 12h

If you don’t need 100% of the detail, you should be able to take a digithal photo of the bill and not trip the algorithms.

20
jack says:
July 28, 22h

heh, photoshop 7 doesnt mind it one bit. horray for older still fully functional software.

21
Chinese Chi says:
July 28, 23h

It makes you wonder what other govt funded algorithms are inbedded into the code and what else thay are looking for. Does this send a flag if you are connected to the internet. Obviously the OFFICIAL line is NO, but what do you think?

22
Chris says:
July 28, 23h

It’s to do with the group of o’s on the note. Alot of the notes around the world use this and photocopiers/photoshop use things rings to pick up it is a currency note.

23
July 28, 23h

This is an interesting example of how technology and software companies are building crime prevention features into their consumer products.

24
tester says:
July 28, 23h

You can print bank notes fine with photoshop 5.5 :P

25
phlux says:
July 28, 23h

This feature has been in CS since photoshop added the CS minker to its title. In fact - an article I read when CS came out stated that the ‘CS’ denoted counterfeit supression technology - although it didnt say that CS actually was an acronym for ‘counterfeit supression’

26
Ray says:
July 28, 23h

As Courtney Miles pointed out, although this would work with Aussie Bank Notes, it wouldn’t help counterfeit people that are trying to copy our notes, since we use Polymer Banknotes (Plastic Banknote) not paper ones, and every business knows how to check for a forged note.

27
Jesse says:
July 28, 23h

That’s immediately what I thought as well - why print it in photoshop anyway? Save the file and print it off somewhere else if you have to.

And can you imagine the work these poor people at adobe had to do to make that? XD I bet they were all thinking the exact same thing. Maybe it’s an Adobe-based legal issue though, so as to omit thier program from being one of the possible programs that could have been used to print money. Keeps them in the clear for any legal battles (though highly unfeasible in this scenario) there may be.

29
July 28, 23h

May I ask which CDN dollars you used? The latest CDN bills have pretty foil on a side and see-through at the light.

Can’t you just use an old version of Photoshop?

30
Martin says:
July 28, 23h

Same warning when using euro’s… well at least with 20 euro’s..

31
July 29, 00h

You’ve got to be kidding me. I’ve seen ludicrous claims for Photoshop before, but to suggest it’s the favorite tool of counterfeiters? *Ahem* It’s not just a matter of the design. There is a special grade of paper used by the mint. This has tiny microthreads woven into it and is much more durable than ordinary paper. Besides, the inks are also special and are printed on the currency in three different layers. Finally, there are watermarks embedded into the paper itself. And I’m not even saying what else.

The technology to make US currency is well outside the capacity of your scanner, jet printer, and *any* software, much less Photoshop. And this is a past career in the banking industry as well as a collector of world coins and currency talking. Somebody needs to get over themselves.

32
Cliff says:
July 29, 01h

Right, it does take a lot of hardware to make a passable counterfeit bill, that could get past the eyes of an expert banker. But, to run off a few 10’s or 20’s that you can wrinkle up a bit and slip in with some real bills and pass off to your local Wal-Mart underpaid cashier, it doesn’t take a lot. I worked at Wal-Mart for 2 straight years, and most cashiers barely look at the cash. Obviously the bank notices if it makes it past our cash handler, but the person who spent it is off scott free. And yes, a counter-feit that only needs that level of realism _can_ be easily made with Photoshop, a decent color laserjet, and the right sheets of paper from, well, Wal-Mart (gotta spend money to fake money, eh?).

33
Dave S. says:
July 29, 06h

Pete, please read the Wired article linked in the original post by the phrase ‘as easy as clicking a few buttons’.

The gist: Cliff’s exactly right. The only person you have to fool is the one accepting it, and that can be remarkably easy. You’ll never get accurate currency off an inkjet, but you don’t have to.

34
Kev says:
July 30, 01h

Dave said: “(And yes, there are legitimate uses for opening reproductions of currency in an image editor that don’t constitute counterfeiting; ever work with a company in the financial sector?)”

My understanding is that it is in fact illegal in most jurisdictions to scan currency at all (it certainly is here in Australia, though I doubt PS knows much about Aussie currency), which by logical extension would make all subsequent dealings with such a scan legally dubious too. I pretty much read it that, as far as the law is concerned, there is *no* legitimate reason for opening reproductions of currency.

35
Peehlstruhm says:
August 02, 04h

Yeah, this has been around for a while..
Had some issues with it, closing in on a couple years back (right after CS was released).. Which required me eventually to get on a different computer with an older photoshop version. :)

36
Peehlstruhm says:
August 02, 04h

For that matter, with the latest CS2 I can’t seem to get it to show that message. It just let me print several perfect bank notes without complaining, which I used to carry our evil deeds..

37
August 02, 08h

Hehe, fun article. I stumbled onto this problem as I was doing a prank on the daughter in the house. I was suprised that Photoshop didn’t allow to open the image at all! It pops up, but when removing the warning that popups it closes down. Naturally I was interested in getting around this, one more hurdle to bypass, :D I already have the Canon Picma MP500 which let’s me scan the bill with nice quality. I quickly found out that inserting the image into a photoshop image with the place function as a PDF worked. Then you could save the document from Photoshop again. I then went through MSPaint, I believe, and opened it as a TIFF and went for Print.

Hold your horses, the technology is also inside the printers, :D Atleast my Canon stops printing as soon as the pattern is detected, so no print comes out. Well, you get the tip of the bill.

I did some research, and from what i recall most modern printers have the technology already in place, just as more expensive laser printers also have that nice little identifying pattern which is printed on every print containing serial number of the printer, date of print and so much more, :D This code is by the way hacked now, you find it if you google.

38
Thorsten says:
October 20, 15h

I have no problems to print the 50 Dollar bill with PS8CS. But I agree with most comments, Photoshop is not the first choice of conterfeiters.