Overt versus covert technologies

July 1, 2010

Pharmaceutical Technology Europe

Despite the development of covert security technologies, overt solutions are still very important when it comes to product security strategies.

Despite the development of covert security technologies, overt solutions are still very important when it comes to product security strategies. Some of the bigger advantages of overt technologies include the ability to involve the consumer in the authentication process, no need for additional verification devices and the ease with which overt technologies can be located and checked. These can all be invaluable for brand owners, although care needs to be taken when involving consumers because the inclusion of such technologies can give a false sense of security if technologies are easily replicated.

Richard Burhouse. Business Development Manager at Payne Security.

There are many sophisticated overt technologies available that offer an extremely high level of security in terms of how difficult it is to copy them. However, many of the features are only known to trained personnel and require careful inspection, so it is not necessarily a case of improving the security of overt technologies, but more about improving the knowledge and awareness of their existence. Holograms, for example, are well known by the general public, but only a small number of a hologram’s features ever need to be copied, such as an element of image reflectance and shift, for most members of the general public to accept them as genuine.

One way of improving the security of overt technologies is not to focus on any given technology exclusively, but to combine technologies and take a “sum is greater than its parts” approach. One example of this is to combine holography with security print. Taking the widely recognised advantages of holograms and using them in conjunction with precisely registered complex security print designs makes it much more difficult for counterfeiters because the knowledge required to design, produce and convert such products in unison is much greater. In many cases, counterfeiters will move on to an easier target — their motivation is money, so they will shy away from anything that is not cost effective and/or time consuming.

The benefits of covert technologies

Covert technologies come into their own during product recall situations because they allow a brand owner to quickly and easily separate genuine from fake products. This can help stop rogue warranty claims, defend the integrity of products and identify weaknesses in the supply chain — all of which can help protect brand value and give brand owners more choices about how to deal with consumers and distributors.

As the use of covert technologies has become more widespread, so too has the awareness of counterfeiters. Whether they choose to try to copy these features, however, is an entirely different matter because many counterfeiters are only interested in producing a product that is good enough to fool the consumer at the point of purchase. This said, some covert technologies are available to counterfeiters because of unsecure supply chains.

The availability of technology and materials is another important factor of product security because counterfeiters take this into account, as well as how difficult a particular security feature is to copy. For example, simple taggants give a visible response when activated by a laser, but these can readily be purchased over the internet in pigment form. Therefore, it is important to purchase services and materials from reputable businesses with a pedigree in the security industry. To help prevent covert technologies from being compromised, it is also important to make sure the technologies themselves are difficult to find so that counterfeiters are unaware of their existence. For instance, invisible covert technologies have a much lower chance of being discovered by counterfeiters, particularly if they can only be detected by proprietary readers and are exclusive to that brand owner or a limited number of brand owners.

A balanced approach

Counterfeiting damages brand reputation. A weakened brand can take years and millions of Euros to recover, leading to long‑term negative impact on financial performance, investment, product development and growth. By introducing state‑of‑the‑art overt and covert printing features on packaging, however, companies can be confident that a high level of security is in place. Covert features help provide confidence in product authentication, whilst overt technologies enable brand owners to actively engage consumers in their anti‑counterfeiting strategy by offering instant authentication via visual inspection at the point of purchase. As such, companies should be taking a balanced approach to anti‑counterfeiting that combines both covert solutions and overt solutions to ensure that their supply chains are thoroughly protected.