Color printers' little yellow secret (and Picture Bork)

In today's IT Blogwatch, we look at the EFF decoding the spooky super-secret tracking dots that color laser printers add to pages. Not to mention an "unusual" take on the HP Picture Book TV spots.

Big brother is watching more than you thought!  As reported by Dr. Evil ... sorry, no ... Seth Schoen of the Electronic Frontier Foundation: "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 ... A research team led by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) recently broke the code behind tiny tracking dots that some color laser printers secretly hide in every document. Xerox previously admitted that it provided these tracking dots to the government, but indicated that only the Secret Service had the ability to read the code. The Secret Service maintains that it only uses the information for criminal counterfeit investigations."

» Steve Huff, The Dark Side: What the article goes on to tell us is that this little code isn't new. They found it on papers printed as long as 10 years ago.  Now, you may put on your tinfoil hat. [Governments doing something we don't know about, for years? Surely not ;-)]

» Pbrla Beach Blogger: "Consumer privacy advocates at EFF, however, counter that people under the rule of 'repressive governments or those who have a legitimate need for privacy' could be threatened by the secret encoding program. One pointed out that 'after months collecting samples from printers around the world' it took an intern only 'about a week' to break the code."

» Neitherday, The Madwoman of Menotomy: "I don't believe for one second the United States government will in anyway limit how they use these codes, especially with no laws requiring such limitations. Furthermore if this were only about counterfeiting as the feds claim, why do the printers print the code on every document, including the black and white ones?"

» Edward W. Felten, Freedom to Tinker: This could have been prevented by using cryptography, to make marks that can only be decoded by the Secret Service, and that don’t allow anyone but the secret service to detect whether two documents came from the same printer. This would have added some complexity to the scheme, but that seems like a good tradeoff in a system that was supposed to stay secret for a while."

» Davi Ottenheimer's comment:  "Note: this is not new at all. There was a big blow-up about it late last year, and I believe it was in the news the year before related to catching a suspect in a high-profile case. When I have some more time I'll see if I can dig up the actual story. In the meantime, here's a good reference."

Buffer overflow:

And finally... Ben Ryves: "I tried to recreate that HP ad thingummy. Don't think I quite got it right..."

He's baaack ... Richi Jennings is an independent technology and marketing consultant, specializing in email, blogging, Linux, and computer security. A 20 year, cross-functional IT veteran, he is also an analyst at Ferris Research. Contact Richi at Also contributing to today's post: Judi Dey, our very own Antipodean Kylie-lookalikie.
Shop Tech Products at Amazon