Anti-counterfeiting solutions using RFID technology

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Anti-counterfeiting solutions using RFID technology

The unmistakeable Made in Italy mark has always been a source of pride in our country, and is instantly recognised and esteemed the world over.

20/10/2021

Being able to define a product as Made in Italy means that it rightfully ranks on the list of par excellence products, which it is associated with high-quality manufacturing, the use of premium, prestige, elegant and refined materials, and applied innovative solutions without sacrificing on detailed craftsmanship.

The Made in Italy label has an instant appeal to consumers and, indeed, this is a predominantly export-oriented market.

However, the attractive appeal that ‘produced in Italy’ goods have in the world make them amongst the most numerous victims of counterfeiting. It is estimated that the turnover of the counterfeit industry is worth between three and seven billion euros a year in Italy alone.

According to the World Customs Organisation, this business amounts to approximately €500 billion worldwide, i.e. 7% of world trade.

 

Counterfeiting not only damages the targeted brand, which sees a loss in value of its trademark. The production chain of the product is also damaged, with the risk of fuelling the grey market.

The most severe damage is, however, more importantly borne by consumers, who are defrauded of their most important rights – the right to choose and the right to invest their money in purchasing the trademark in question, expecting to find the features in the product that make the brand as well-known as it is.

Repercussions on the consumers may turn out to be even more detrimental when we consider products which may pose a hazard to health when they are counterfeited, in the case of medicines sold online, as an example.

Counterfeiting truly does cut across all product types – from designer clothes and accessories to footwear, leather goods, furniture, cars, wine, the agri-food sector in general.

These are typically sectors in which the goods are predominantly very expensive, but counterfeiting does not spare even those markets whose products do not enjoy great value with regard to the individual product, but enjoy an elevated image value, for example, in the agri-food sector.

Institutions in Italy, such as Chambers of Commerce, seek to protect companies, particularly SMEs, via a number of initiatives targeted at promoting economic development and enable companies to obtain information and services for funding purposes, take part in scientific and technological research, and register their trademarks in Italy, Europe and outside the European Union.

In addition to this outside assistance, however, companies have for years been on the constant lookout for new and more effective anti-counterfeiting strategies to protect their brands and their consumers.

To be considered truly effective, an anti-counterfeiting system must be able to guarantee protection from two points of view. Firstly, it must allow certain, unambiguous identification of a product, such that its provenance may be demonstrated. It must also be able to ensure that the product is traceable and trackable at all times.

Product traceability and trackability.

What is the difference between these two concepts?

Traceability is the monitoring of the entire production process of a good, through which the various stages of manufacture must be clearly identified so that they can then be stored in an archive which can be drawn on to ensure rightful manufacture.

Trackability is the process where this information is collected to verify product authenticity.

Product supply chain traceability is essential in combating the grey market, i.e. the parallel market where there is no guarantee of materials used, of the rights (very often non-existent) of persons who are made to execute the manufacturing processes, or rather are exploited, and thus ensure protection of all persons who work along the authorised supply chain.

Moreover, the grey market does not observe any fair trade agreements, so margins of counterfeit products are inevitably affected.
 
An example of an ‘incomplete’ counterfeiting method is the now ubiquitous bar code – this makes it possible to retrace all steps along the production chain but this is, however, easily duplicated and does not safeguard product authenticity, making it indistinguishable from a counterfeit.

Brand protection technologies: the RFID system.

The technologies currently available for brand protection are numerous and each inevitably has its pros and cons. One effective system for electronic brand protection is certainly RFID (Radio Frequency IDentification) technology.

Let’s look at what this consists of:

RFID uses an electromagnetic wave system that allows automatic identification of the monitored product, obviating the need for each item to be read individually.

It consists of an alphanumeric identification code (called UID or TID) embedded in a transponder (RFID tags or boards), and a reader with antenna required to read them. RFID tags are affixed to individual products and transceiver antennas are deployed along monitored areas, which track all movement, in and out, of each label/product.

The alphanumeric code inside the chip is indeed the label, which unequivocally guarantees product authenticity and provenance as it is unique and unmodifiable. This information is stored and, therefore, known exclusively by the person who produced the chip.

This is why RFID technology is proving to be one of the most effective weapons in the fight against counterfeiting – because protects the brand in both of the key aspects that have already been mentioned, product authenticity, and production chain traceability.

UHF and NFC

Two versions of the RFID system are available, namely UHF (Ultra High Frequency) and NFC (Near Field Communication).
 
The difference between the two systems, as their names suggest, lies in their differing coverage zones inside which the tags are readable. UHF allows coverage over several metres, proving accessible only to large industrial sectors such as logistics companies, whereas the latter is targeted at final consumers, owing to increasing numbers of NFC readers housed in smartphones and tablets.

Going back to two of the main markets targeted by the Made in Italy attack mentioned earlier, examples of an effective way of using RFID solutions can be found in the fashion sector, by inserting tags in clothing labels so as to complement existing anti-shoplifting systems, and in the food/beverage sector, by inserting tags in the corks of wine bottles so as to ensure traceability throughout the entire distribution channel.

Other areas where RFID technology is proving effective are logistics and freight transportation. In an industry where tracing all activities and monitoring the positioning of goods is essential, RFID enables geolocation of pallets in warehouses, minimising the risk of errors and boosting organisational efficiency.

RFID technology is an extremely attractive, versatile anti-counterfeiting, anti-tampering solution It adapts easily to the most diverse IT environments, making it ideal even for SMEs. It does not require major set-up or operational changes and, therefore, also guarantees very limited expenditure.

Its versatility is also due to the option of integrating the RFID system with other technologies that are available on the market. Let’s take a closer look at the various integrated solutions that may be implemented using an RFID.

UHF and NFC

RFID NFC & OTP

This anti-counterfeiting system combines RFID NFC technology with an OTP (One Time Password). The OTP is identical to the system we usually use for home banking, for example, and consists of a ‘one time’ code that appears on the RFID tag each time the tag is read.
 
In this way, the OTP acts as a password, further improving the security of the anti-counterfeiting system – even if the tag were to be read by unauthorised persons, the OTP would not grant the browser access to that address, having already detected previous use.

An advantage of this technology, in addition to the heightened security, is the considerable practicality ensured by the fact that there is no need to install software on the device used to read the tag, making it easy for anyone to use.

RFID & FIDES CODE

The Fides Code system (Frequency Identifier Double Encrypt Security Controlled Operation Dual Encoding) is a product certification system.

It consists of an algorithm which, used in conjunction with the RFID system, enables the codes assigned to each product by its RFID tag to be certified.
The added value of this combination of technologies is that certification is guaranteed and is unique, but with no need to access servers or databases.

Using readers parametrised in Fides Code mode, the code detected by the RFID tag can be received and the appropriate checks to ensure its validity carried out.

Anti-counterfeiting solutions using RFID technology

IoT technology now offers companies a variety of anti-counterfeiting solutions using RFID and cutting-edge technologies. A true ally for companies and brands in the fight against grey/parallel markets.