The Mysterious Photoshop Algorithm Prevents you from Opening Bill Images

If you have ever opened the image of a ticket with a commercial image editing program (such as Photoshop), you will have had an unpleasant surprise. Most likely, the software has warned you that you can not work with images of money in it. What do you want to make a composition? Or simply resize or retouch something? It does not matter: as a precaution, they assume that you are going to falsify currency and prevent you from working with them.

Of course, it’s nothing new: in the case of Photoshop, they introduced this currency detection algorithm in its CS version. Some printers and scanners also use a similar system and you will find that it is almost impossible to scan a ticket or print a copy of one. How exactly does this detection system work? It is not easy to answer this question for all the secrecy surrounding it, although some studies give us some clue.

Mysterious Photoshop Algorithm

The CBCDG, the body that controls everything

If you have ever seen this error, you will notice that it contains a URL to which you are redirected to learn more about it: (in fact, if you look in the drivers of any printer for this chain of text, you could easily know if it incorporates protection or not). The website belongs to the Central Bank Counterfeit Deterrence Group (CBCDG), a body comprising 27 central banks and in which the fight against “digital” counterfeiting of currency is centralized.

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They are responsible for the detection system (which they call CDS) that use programs such as Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro or Corel Draw, without supposedly even the developers of the programs themselves know exactly how the algorithm that provides them. In 2004, when Photoshop adopted the detection system for the first time, an Adobe product manager referred to the method as a “black box” whose contents were unknown.

Bill Images

“As a market leader and good citizens, it seems that we are simply doing the right thing,” said the product manager when asked about the reason for incorporating the algorithm into Adobe CS. Effectively: by law, developers are not obliged to implement such control (a clear example of this is GIMP, which does not have it), but they decided to accept the request (we do not know the degree of “insistence”) of the CBCDG and incorporate it. The same goes for other commercial image editing programs.

The EURion Constellation

But how exactly are the CDS inside? It is a great mystery. Initially, it was believed that the algorithm was prepared to detect a specific pattern: five points with a similar arrangement to the Orion Constellation so that this pattern was known as the “EURion Constellation”. Look at all these tickets, do you see anything in common? Indeed, the points that seem to be simple ornaments:

Markus Kuhn, a researcher, discovered the pattern in 2002 by chance when experimenting with a new Xerox printer that refused to print banknotes. The details on what conditions have to meet these five points to be detected are, however, a mystery: Kuhn explained in a recent interview that, if they are black and white, the algorithm does not detect them, but if they occur in any color. It is also unknown if the distance between points is another factor that is taken into account.

Bill Images

Anti-counterfeiting bodies do not usually refer to the existence of the EURion Constellation, although they are sometimes referred to as “Omron rings” in press releases from some central banks (for example, here in 2005 from India). ).

In addition, a former currency manager of the Government of India explained in his blog how this design emerged in response to the panic of home fakes that created the domestic color printers when they reached the consumer market. He attributes it to a Japanese company and claims that it has been used in some countries’ notes since 1996.

CDS, the mysterious system used

So, are these Omron rings the ones that Photoshop uses to know when you open the image of a ticket? No, or at least it is not the only system. Steven J. Murdoch, a researcher at University College London, tested Photoshop and Paint Shop Pro shortly after incorporating their detection algorithm. To their surprise, and once the rings of the constellation were covered, both programs continued to detect a ticket and prevented its edition:

In his experiment, Murdoch discovered that the Photoshop and PSP algorithm always had the same results, so he “seemed” to be the same. In addition, the time to return the error depended on each image to be analyzed, being higher in some cases in which simply a very small fragment of the ticket was shown. “This suggests that there is a series of tests, each of which provides a score of how the image looks like a ticket, with the latest tests being the ones that are most executed and presumably more accurate,” Murdoch concluded.

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During his analyzes, he tested a 20-pound note and broke it into smaller pieces. In the following image, you can see, in colors, the parts of the bill that independently triggered the protections of the scanned image editing programs.

Bill Images

His conclusion? After the tests and after an own investigation with the little public information available, Murdoch assured that Digimarc, a company specialized in the creation of watermarks, had developed and patented an advanced system of marking and detection of banknotes. How does this one work? It is unknown. Shortly after publishing his conclusions, Murdoch began to receive numerous visits on his website from members of the CBCDG … and also from Digimarc, although they never contacted him.

Nick Gessler, another researcher, although in this case from Duke University, wanted to go deeper into Murdoch’s conclusions and did more tests with a $ 20 bill. The result? When it altered the background pastel color of the banknote (making it whiter), it was not detected as currency. In other cases, yes. His preliminary conclusion is that the key could be in the background pastel color.

An infallible system?

Obviously, none of those involved in the creation or maintenance of this detection algorithm want to give clues to potential forgers who want to skip it. Hence, there is so little information. It is also a mystery why the algorithm jumps with some bills and not with others. In Hyperallergic they did the test and discovered how two bills marked “specimen” were detected ( this one and this one ), while with others, even with a photo of a ticket, no.

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In addition, it is more than proven that the system is very simple to jump. A simple search in Google throws several methods (like using other programs previously or modifying the images before abrir them). Anyway, and in the unlikely event that someone crosses their heads to use homemade equipment for counterfeiting bills, think about it several times: the most likely thing is that they end up catching you thanks to other identification systems in printing.

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