Printer Spying Code Cracked

A team of researchers, who work as part of the digital rights lobby group Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), claim to have cracked secret tracking codes embedded by Fuji-Xerox DocuColor laser printers in documents.

According to ITNews, the codes are requested and used by the United States Secret Service and other national government agencies to associate printouts with specific printers, revealing information such as date, time, and device serial numbers.

Originally intended as an effort to track and identify counterfeiters, the use of embedded tracking information in printouts has been linked to government spying on political, human rights and environmental organisations over the past years, sparking fears of privacy violations.

Five EFF researchers spotted “anomalous yellow dots” on printouts from Fuji-Xerox DocuColor printers. The dots are visible but not easily seen by the naked eye. With a microscope, the researchers made them out and deduced the dots could be used to encode up to 14 seven-bit bytes of tracking data. The code can track down to the minute when a document was printed out.

Now EFF has made the source code publicly available as a free download, licensed under the GNU general public licence (GPL).

Fuji-Xerox is among the several printer manufacturers which agreed to embed a data tracking code in its devices upon government request. Testing showed that some devices from HP, OKI data, Samsung and Fuji-Xerox’s Phaser range did not include the yellow tracking dots in documents.



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