Even Your Printer Has DNA
Yes, it's true. In an effort to snare counterfeiters, the US government has persuaded some color laser printer manufacturers to encode each page with identifying information. 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 every page they print, which reveals when the page was printed, and the serial number of the printer on which it was printed.
You might might not think it's a big deal that your printer's serial number is embedded on every page. But if you registered your printer with the manufacturer when you bought it, the manufacturer knows that you are associated with that printer's serial number. In a recent article, the Internet Patrol mulls the disturbing potential impact of this.
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. You can see the EFF's machine identification codes at their Machine Identification Code Technology project site.
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."
If you find this story interesting, and you have a Lexmark printer, you should read about the Lx-CATS spyware that comes free with certain Lexmark printers.
BOB RANKIN... is a tech writer and computer programmer who enjoys exploring the Internet and sharing the fruit of his experience with others. His work has appeared in ComputerWorld, NetGuide, and NY Newsday. Bob is publisher of the Internet TOURBUS newsletter, author of several computer books, and creator of the http://LowfatLinux.com website. Visit Bob Rankin's website for more helpful articles and free tech support.
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