This Secret Code in Your Printer is Helping Governments to Spy On You


printer-spyingShort Bytes: According to a latest EFF research, it’s possible that you own printer is leaking the important information about you to the government. By printing some secret yellow codes on each document, Xerox, Brother, Dell, HP, and Canon printers are “helping” the Secret Service.

A research team at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has cracked the secret code in printers that some color printers secretly hide in every document.

In the past, U.S. Secret Service has admitted that the hidden printer code was a part of a deal with laser printer manufacturers. These secret codes in printers help the government to identify the counterfeited documents. The new revelations have uncovered the private information that was encoded in each document printed on these printers.

“We’ve found that the dots from at least one line of printers encode the date and time your document was printed, as well as the serial number of the printer,” said EFF Staff Technologist Seth David Schoen.

Image of a dot grid produced by a Xerox DocuColor 12, magnified 10x and photographed by a Digital Blue QX5 computer microscope under white light. While yellow dots are visible, they are very hard to see (EFF)

The coded dots were found on the documents printed using machines by Xerox, Brother, Dell, HP, and Canon. These secret dots measure less than a millimeter in diameter and are yellow in color.

The secret codes in printers are repeated on every printed page and can only be seen under blue light, using a magnifying glass or a microscope.

The researchers at EFF have been able to decode the Xerox DocuColor printer codes and they believe that the other printer makers include the same kind of coding mechanisms.

Use of computer graphics software to overlay the black dots in the microscope image with larger yellow dots for greater visibility. Finally, explanatory text added to show the significance of the dots. (EFF)

Such moves by the governments are harmful to the underground democracy movements as there is no legislation to stop the governments from sniffing the information. However, the Secret Service maintains its stance that the information found in secret codes in printers, is only used for criminal investigations.

In the past, Xerox has admitted that these secret codes in printers are provided to the government but stated that only the Secret Service had the ability to read them.

Also read: Facebook Will Tell You if Your Government is Trying to HACK You

Outlining the danger involved, the EFF Senior Staff Attorney Lee Tien says, “Even worse, it shows how the government and private industry make backroom deals to weaken our privacy by compromising everyday equipment like printers. The logical next question is: what other deals have been or are being made to ensure that our technology rats on us?”

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Adarsh Verma

Adarsh Verma

Fossbytes co-founder and an aspiring entrepreneur who keeps a close eye on open source, tech giants, and security. Get in touch with him by sending an email — [email protected]
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