EFF Proves Secret Embedding of Machine Identification Codes in Xerox Printer Output

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Machine identification codes are being printed on every page of the printer output of some printers. Is your technology spying on you?

The EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) has recently proven what many have suspected for a long time – that at least some laser printers embed a secret machine identification code on each and every page they print, which reveals when the page was printed, and the serial number of the printer on which it was printed.


Explains the EFF, “Imagine that every time you printed a document, it automatically included a secret code that could be used to identify the printer – and potentially, the person who used it. Sounds like something from an episode of “Alias,” right? Unfortunately, the scenario isn’t fictional. In a purported effort to identify counterfeiters, the US government has succeeded in persuading some color laser printer manufacturers to encode each page with identifying information. That means that without your knowledge or consent, an act you assume is private could become public. A communication tool you’re using in everyday life could become a tool for government surveillance. And what’s worse, there are no laws to prevent abuse.”

Now the EFF’s Machine Identification Code Technology project, which has been investigating this for some time, has released the results of their success in identifying the hidden machine identification code which is printed by a Xerox DocuColor color laser printer. The results are startling, and troubling, and sure enough, the code is there. It looks like a bunch of yellow dots – a sort of printer braille, but if you know how to read them, they clearly translate to the date and printer serial number.

And we thought that Lexmark’s Lx-CATS was bad!

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Now, perhaps you don’t care that your printer’s serial number is embedded on every page. But think about this: did you register your printer with the manufacturer when you bought it? If so, of course, the manufacturer now knows that you are associated with that printer’s serial number. You probably realized that as you were registering it. But, had you considered, during that registration process, that by associating your name with that serial number, the manufacturer was surreptitiously branding every single document you print with a code which traces right back to you?

I thought not.

You can see the EFF’s machine identification codes at their Machine Identification Code Technology project site.

 

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3 thoughts on “EFF Proves Secret Embedding of Machine Identification Codes in Xerox Printer Output

  1. What effect would printing the page, then photocopying, and destroying the original before disseminating it have on the code? This could be really bad in foreign countries where goverments control information.

  2. Or perhaps it’s done in collaboration with the Secrect Service to tackle counterfeiting? Money, scanner, and a colour printer. Hmm…

  3. Sounds like a useful tool for lawyers, being able to identify what printer a subpoenaed document was printed on…

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