No matter the type and the location in which it is performed, an identity check’s value is based on two fundamentals: firstly, the document must be difficult to falsify, which is done by either doctoring an original document or producing a forgery from scratch. Secondly, it must be easy to check and authenticate. Checks should not require significant human effort or technological investment, nor much hardware, as these may present financial reasons for failing to fully implement the checks, or for them not running smoothly.

Proper consideration of these two aspects is all the more important because the number of identity checks is always rising, mainly due to the explosion in international air travel. According to the International Air Transport Association, 2013 was the year when the number of air passengers crossed the symbolic threshold of 3 billion travelers across all air links worldwide. The civil aviation sector is benefitting from the economic and demographic dynamism of developing countries, which have enabled it to double the number of passengers transported every 15 years. In France, an estimated 90% of identity checks are made in Parisian airports.

For the vast majority of honest travelers, checks need to be fast, hassle-free, and effective. They must also evolve to deal with huge and still growing passenger numbers: maintaining a high degree of security by using technologies that are increasingly difficult to fake, and non-invasive security solutions that will boost speed and effectiveness.

“Traditional documents are now too complicated to check. They require large numbers of experts in the field, and training them is a daily challenge”, explains Benoît Berthe, Director of Product Development at OT’s Citizen Access and Identity business.

“Some features are revealed when viewed from certain angles, others change color… Imagine the difficulty in keeping staff up to date with all of this for the full range of international documents currently in use. We need automatic systems to check documents using scanners or everyday objects like smartphones so that we are no longer forced to rely on a handful of experts. The trained experts can then concentrate on documents flagged by the automated systems. Such systems are already available and we are seeing them implemented on an increasingly large scale”.

Innovation making forgery more complex

The major innovation of our time with regard to documents is of course biometrics. A chip contains personal data about a citizen: at the very least a photo, but also fingerprints and biographical information. An NFC reader or cell phone can be used to retrieve the information contained on the chip, and provide almost certain authentication of the owner’s identity.

The second major evolution in physical documents is the rapid development of polycarbonate documents, used for ID cards as well as the page in passports featuring personal information, initially chosen for its durability. Commonly used in industry, from headlight lenses to airplane cockpits, polycarbonate can withstand the ravages of time far better than all competing plastics, whether they be PVC or other PETF plastics. But its main advantage is its ability to take high-quality laser engraving, and to enable the printing of a photo within the material thickness, making it extremely difficult to swap the owner’s photo.

“When you split a laser-engraved document in two, you not only need to change the printing on one layer, but on every layer of the document. This makes a forger’s job vastly more difficult”, specifies Benoit Berthe.

A pioneer in this segment, OT has invented LASINK™, a solution that adds further levels of security. “Firstly, the photo is printed within the document thickness in color, and we are the first to do this. But most of all, the printing process is unique and cannot be reproduced by a forger. To make a LASINK™ photo, you need an offset fiducial equipment, image processing software developed exclusively by and for OT, and a very particular kind of laser“.

LASINK™ offers a dual advantage: it is the first document in the world where the photo cannot be printed at home using a printer. It is also easy to spot, with practice with the naked eye, or using a smartphone camera, a scanner, or a 10x magnifying glass. No more need to be an expert or to invest in expensive hardware: banks, merchants, pharmacists, weapon seller and all those who may be targeted by fraudsters can easily identify individuals with this type of ID.

Online identity: a new security-check challenge

While identity checks must adapt to a more mobile world, they must also find ways to adapt to people spending more of their lives online. As the growth of our economy is mainly based on services, people are increasingly encouraged to dematerialize their identity: for travel, shopping, and every day administrative or private actions, the need to identify yourself without any physical checks is becoming a daily occurrence.

So while our online lives are becoming ever more important, should we be satisfied with a simple username and password system? For Benoît Berthe, the answer is a clear “no”. “Every day in the news we hear how passwords have been compromised by hackers and harvested in their hundreds of millions. It’s clear that this situation, with highly secure physical identities and weaker online identities at the mercy of hackers, cannot be allowed to go on. It’s all the more important that trust in the Internet and online services must remain as high as possible, as the growth of our developed economy depends upon it”.

The expert consensus takes 2 words: “derived identity”. The concept is to use an “official” document (passport, ID card, driving license), from which a secure online identity is then derived and then used to verify that a person using an online identity is authentic. The document owner uses his/her cell phone to take a photo of the MRZ line (Machine Readable Zone at the bottom of the document page containing the owner’s information). This data is then used to calculate a key that can be used to access the chip, authenticate and retrieve its biometric data through a communications link between the passport antenna and the smartphone antenna, for example. Then, the owner snaps a selfie, again with his/her smartphone, which is compared to the image retrieved from the chip. We can then be sure that we are really dealing with the real document owner. The passport and the identity of the physical individual are real.

Benoît Berthe believes that, “It’s important that identity checks, both in person and online, are based on a trustworthy official document. OT has a very important role to play as we provide precisely the infrastructure that can bridge this link between the world of online services that is growing at breakneck speed, individuals who want to enjoy its benefits without compromising security, and governments, for whom the recognition and security of all of our identities remains a top priority”.