Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Eurion Project Launch and Update

Numismatists find it difficult to impossible to catalog, archive, and study modern banknotes using modern computer equipment. The hardware in scanners and printers, and the software for them (both the lower-level drivers and the higher level graphics arts programs), can and do identify money and refuse to copy it.  That would seem to be appropriate to prevent counterfeiting.  But it also thwarts legitimate scholars and hobbyists from advancing the field of study. 

(Originally published here, February 11, 2011. Pulled, republished, and pulled again.  Merged with an Update and reposted October 18, 2014.)

Since 1997, security features integrated into paper money make it increasingly difficult - sometimes impossible - for numismatists and other researchers to archive and reproduce images of these cultural artifacts.  The goal of this project is to create a database of digital solutions to permit the lawful creation and use of digital images of these commercial instruments.

In coordination with the manufacturers of computer equipment, central banks have created anti-counterfeiting measures that thwart numismatists. Our computer hardware and software stop working when they detect modern paper money. The reactions of scanners, printers, and graphics programs are not consistent across manufacturers, makes and models. Some multi-function devices will copy or scan but not print. Others will not scan. Some software recognizes paper money while other programs from the same company do not. Typically, if you can scan a modern banknote and store the image, when you send it to output, the printer stops. The last thing the printer gives you is a message telling you to visit the website which was established by the Central Bank Deterrence Group.

This is as far as my scanner would go.
Originally, it was thought that the "EURion constellation" was the problem. If you look at a large denomination bill you will see that the little yellow zeroes in the fields are roughly in the shape of a trapezoid with one in the middle, sort of like the constellation of Orion. On the UK £20 commemorating Sir Edward Elgar, the little circles were the bodies of musical notes on a staff.  In 1997, Austria, France, and Belgium integrated these into their banknotes.  Computer science professor Markus Kuhn identified them on the new euro notes of 2000, hence the name EURion.  Then his colleague Steven J. Murdoch found that this not the same trigger that causes problems for numismatist.

Numismatics is the art and science that studies the forms and users of money.  Most people think of it as "coin collecting" but numismatics encompasses fine art medals, merchant tokens, and all forms of fiduciary paper, including the promissory notes of governments and central banks, as well as the bank drafts of individuals, and corporate stock certificates.  Numismatists write and publish about these artifacts, of course.  That creates the initial need for reliable, repeatable research that meets the standards of good science.  In addition, at our conventions, we create and display museum quality educational exhibits. Graphical enlargements of key features are an important element in those presentations.
Sir Isaac Newton, once commemorated on a Bank of England 1-Pound Note
The book in his lap is opened to the proof at left.
Newton served as President of the Royal Society of which
colonist Benjamin Franklin later was a member.

In a previous era, it was always possible to photograph coins and currencies.  Today, we can scan images of coins and reproduce the electronic images, but with paper money, we are stopped. The root of the problem is that the means of recording and reporting are also the methods of counterfeiting.

 The laws that make it illegal to transport the tools of counterfeiting include various prohibitions against the electronic transmission of the electronic means of electronic reproduction.  The relevant laws in the USA are found under US Code Title 18, Part I, Chapter 17 Coins and Currency; and Chapter 25 Counterfeiting and Forgery. However, both U.. S. Code Title 18  Part I Chapter 25 Paragraph 474(b) and paragraph 504 mandate that the Treasury Department establish guidelines for the legitimate use images. Title  31 Chapter IV Part Part 411 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations permits limited reproduction of color images.

My goal is to create a database of clickable binary patches for hardware and software that will let a numismatist scan, archive, copy, and print modern banknotes for purposes of research, study, reporting, discussion, and education.  So far, no one has approached this systematically, working across banknotes, hardware, and software. I am working with computer security researchers to overcome those barriers.

On December 3, 2010, and January 5, 2011, I introduced the problem to ArbSec, a computer security research club in Ann Arbor, which grew out of DefCon734.  Piqued by the challenge, some are interested, but none is willing to contravene U.S. law.  I also contacted four of the leading dealers and archivists from the International Banknote Society: Audrius Tomonis (, Tom Chao (, Ron Wise ( and Owen Linzmayer (  Originally a Macintosh guru, Owen discovered what numismatists call "notaphily" when working Europe and enjoying a wide array of fascinating currencies.  Owen was most helpful with this project, forwarding problems for my database.

Austrian Economist Eugen von Boehm von Bawerk
On the back is the Institute of Science

Maria Sklodowska-Curie celebrated by Poland
and Demokritos of Abdera honored by Greec
(It is bit harder to pay homage to Benjamin Franklin)
Last year (November 2010) at this time, I launched a project to investigate the problem and seek ways around it. The status then was summarized on this blog here.  The project languished as I moved from Ann Arbor to Austin. 

However, the biggest impediment was the lack of understanding from the numismatic community itself.  Eariler this month, I received an email, a forwarded message, from a discussion board.  In it, the original writer claimed to have found a way around the problems by enlarging or reducing the images.  That, of course, was nonsense... or, at the least, incomplete.

Numismatists who count the reeds on the rim of a coin reported their successes or failures at scanning banknotes without giving the makes and models of their hardware or software or the issue and variety of the object being scanned or printed.  They reported their own personal workstations and projects as if these were universal and constant. They carried out uncontrolled and haphazard tests and claimed that these "proved" their "theories." I found it frustrating. The only thing proved was that science learning in America has all but failed for the great masses of nominally educated people who have no idea what a theory is or what constitutes proof.

Generally, professional numismatists and numismatic researchers are relying on older, pre-millennial hardware and software.  Some still shoot pictures to film.  As post-millennial computer platforms are replaced newer hardware and software stay ahead of the curve, just as new banknote issues engage security that is far beyond the classic "Omron rings" that defeated commercial photocopiers over a decade ago.
Claimant: The problems you are all finding with scanning new banknotes is not with the scanner itself but with the software used to scan. With most of the industry standard scanning software it is possible to scan at 150% or 200% enlargement, or at 50% reduction in actual size, without a problem. This is because most of the legal requirements for the reproduction of banknotes favours reproduction at less than half size or greater than double the size.

Tester: I just tried that (again) and it (still) does not work.  I have a Canon Pixma MG6120. I tried it in hardware mode, from the front panel of the copier/scanner and both menu paths led to the same result: at 183%, the scanner ran the length of  a US $10 Series 2006 bill, fed the paper and ejected a blank sheet with an error message: "Timed out." 
When you scan paper money with post-2000 equipment, the scanner records the action; and depending on the make and model, may also send a message via the Internet to the authorities.  See the current TV commercials to the tune of Melanie's "Brand New Roller Skates" about taking a picture on the road and having it print out at home.  Enter "print at home from anywhere" into a browser and follow the links. 

I am not saying any numismatist will get a knock on the door, but I am saying that if you are arrested for counterfeiting, they can go back and check their disk farms and find your work; and when they seize your computer, your printer/scanner will provide a record as well.  And that is fine as a law enforcement measure.  Unfortunately, it prevents the recording, archiving, study, and reporting about historical artifacts of trade and commerce.


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