Bangalore: In 2008, one batch of students at the Indian Institute of Information Technology in Bangalore (IIIT-B) graduated with unique mark sheets—they were tamper-proof. The mark sheets carried a bar code, generated by a new technology from Hewlett-Packard (HP) Labs India. The bar code could be printed on paper by any printer and scanned by normal scanners.
The test run at IIIT-B of the Trusted Hardcopy Solution (THS) is part of a programme at HP Labs, the advanced research group of the technology corporation Hewlett-Packard Development Co. Lp, that is trying to address paper-based frauds which—it estimates, globally cost firms $660 billion (Rs32 trillion) annually.
The innovation allows companies and institutions to use their existing methods of generating paper documents with machine readable data or two-dimensional bar codes, printed on them.
Tech solutions: HP Labs India research director Anjaneyulu Kuchibhotla says the new software consists of generation and verification modules, which can be easily integrated with any existing IT system in a firm. Hemant Mishra / Mint
“Most of the existing technologies in this space either address the digital world or the paper world, but this one (THS) bridges the gap, so we decided to be the experimental site,” said S. Sadagopan, director of IIIT-B.
Since the 1990s, digital watermarking technology has been largely used for ensuring data integrity, but THS is different in the sense that it tests the content, whereas the former tests the veracity of the source of the document. Moreover, its low cost and simplicity make it useful for large institutions; forgery of documents is a growing concern, said Sadagopan.
In fact, in the first quarter of this year, the discrepancy rate in recruitment background checking is as high as 26% in India, according to First Advantage, one of the largest pre-employment screening services providers in Asia.
So, in a way, HP’s market is cut out. Its new software consists of generation and verification modules, which can be easily integrated with any existing IT system in a company or an institution, said Anjaneyulu Kuchibhotla, a research director at HP Labs. Besides automating the verification system, THS enables remote or online verification. Kuchibhotla said the tool is in the process of a commercial roll-out.
But even before that happens, as is the norm in technology, the next generation tool is ready. Called “content integrity of printed documents using error correction”, the new software automatically detects even small changes made to a printed document and displays them. All that a document issuer and a receiver need to do is to run the installed software on the new document. Any tampering in the document, even at the pixel level, pops up in colour.
Researchers say even old legacy documents can be protected by this with a scanned copy acting as the original.
Forged documents are a bane for businesses everywhere, but the problem is particularly severe in India. In a “Fraud Survey” in 2008 by audit firm KPMG India involving 1,000 top business executives, 60% of the respondents reported instances of fraud in their organization within a year and most of them felt that fraud cases would increase in the next two years.
Even though forged documents are one of the Top 3 causes of fraud in companies, HP’s technology is not the silver bullet, said Murali Talasila, director-Forensic Services, KPMG India, as several other kinds of frauds happen. Still, it’s a very useful tool which could eradicate fraud in sectors such as education, or inventory management which is not easily automatable, but its success would depend on how HP manages to leverage this innovation, he said. “It has to be implemented top-down as well as bottom-up. HP must tie up with government bodies and end users to ensure that it is used.”
Globally, HP says determining the authenticity of documents is not just a technical challenge, but a logistical nightmare. There are hundreds of authorities issuing documents such as birth certificates, driver’s licences, educational degrees, property rights, etc., which need tens of thousands of verifiers. Creating a dedicated online infrastructure for these agencies is expensive and sometimes not feasible.
Unlike in the past, deriving business propositions in fundamental research which also affect society is the new maxim at HP Labs, especially since August 2007 when Prith Banerjee came at the helm in the headquarters at Palo Alto, California.
It’s no different at the Bangalore centre.
For instance, the Lab recently tested TVPrintCast or print augmented broadcasting technology, which simultaneously broadcasts data that can be printed at the consumer end, without any disruption to TV viewing. During the trials, seven out of 176 centres of the Training and Development Communication Channel Network of Abdul Nasir Sab State Institute of Rural Development in Karnataka were augmented with TVPrintCast.
Researchers demonstrated that this technology requires little learning and expertise to operate and provides a ready vehicle to leapfrog to the digital world. HP is now looking to licence the technology.
However, the biggest thrust of the Lab in India is on making the computing interface more people friendly by using “multimodal interaction”, particularly speech.
“The work is in progress and we hope to demonstrate this in the near future,” said Sudhir Dixit, who took over as the new director of HP Labs India in May.