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Scientists Create "DNA Barcodes" To Thwart Counterfeiters

samzenpus posted about 7 months ago | from the swab-it dept.

Crime 42

Zothecula writes "Earlier this year, we heard about a gun and a fogging system, both of which tag criminals with synthesized DNA. The idea is that when those people are apprehended later, they can be linked to the crime by analyzing the location- or event-specific DNA still on their skin or clothing. Now, scientists at the Technology Transfer Unit of Portugal's University of Aveiro are developing something similar – 'DNA barcodes' that can be applied to products, then subsequently read as a means of identification."

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42 comments

Read "Rule 34" by Charlie Stross (4, Interesting)

plover (150551) | about 7 months ago | (#44966979)

It's set a few years from now, when police DNA testing is ubiquitous. There was a very clever criminal who stumbled into a crime scene by accident. He had a spray bottle of "Stadium DNA" with him, so he squirted it around the room before leaving.

Tagging with DNA is fine, if you can pick out the exact molecule you need. But anything can be defeated.

Re:Read "Rule 34" by Charlie Stross (3, Funny)

SternisheFan (2529412) | about 7 months ago | (#44967253)

It's set a few years from now, when police DNA testing is ubiquitous. There was a very clever criminal who stumbled into a crime scene by accident. He had a spray bottle of "Stadium DNA" with him, so he squirted it around the room before leaving.

And another Kickstarter project is born...

Re:Read "Rule 34" by Charlie Stross (1)

drkim (1559875) | about 7 months ago | (#44968451)

It's set a few years from now, when police DNA testing is ubiquitous. There was a very clever criminal who stumbled into a crime scene by accident. He had a spray bottle of "Stadium DNA" with him, so he squirted it around the room before leaving.

And another Kickstarter project is born...

Except I'm calling the product: "$5 Hooker DNA"

Re:Read "Rule 34" by Charlie Stross (1)

DarkRat (1302849) | about 7 months ago | (#44968519)

No kickstarter needed. you can get that for $5

Re:Read "Rule 34" by Charlie Stross (1)

drkim (1559875) | about 7 months ago | (#44968995)

No kickstarter needed. you can get that for $5

Well, I'm a 5 cent whore, so I'm hoping to get 100 people to "pledge."

Not human DNA (1)

dutchwhizzman (817898) | about 7 months ago | (#44968515)

This is not about human DNA, it's synthesized. They already tag stuff with "micro markers" that are extremely hard to get all off. These micro markers have lots of "serial numbers" on them. By making specific "micro markers" that have DNA-style serial numbers, you can make the markers even smaller.

Unless you have your own synthesizer to make these micro markers yourself and you are able to make a zillion different serial numbers, you spray bottle of "stadium dna" won't help a thing here.

Then again, it's already common for criminals to steal hair from barbershops so they can litter a crime scene with random DNA samples. It's also not uncommon to steal DNA from criminals they want to frame for a crime and place that on a crime scene. DNA testing and finger prints are by no means a solid proof someone did commit the crime. It only proves that their DNA or finger prints were placed on the scene at a certain time.

Actually, most DNA "proof" is only a statistical probability. Given the fact that a large part of that probability is based on extremely common genes, the likelihood of someone's DNA being "unique" enough is rather limited. Just the fact that it's male DNA and from a certain ethnic group may rule out 7/8th of the world population easily, but more often than not, a male hispanic is a rather common denominator when you have to solve a drug crime just north of the Mexican border. There are many more genes that are common to a region or demographic that are typical to that region or demographic. Plotting those against a full world population and saying it increases the likelihood that someone from that demographic and region has a higher chance of being the source of that DNA isn't proper, but it's common to do that in DNA "proof". It'd be much more fair to look at the amount of people that actually match the identified markers in the immediate area of where the sample was found, the likelihood of them being a perpetrator and then do a statistical match. Chances are, you'll find that a large portion of the possible people that could have done the crime, have at least a lot of common denominators with the sample and you'll need to do a lot more thorough testing to find a single match that can rule out all other people on the planet, except identical twins.

Re:Not human DNA (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about 7 months ago | (#44971541)

"Unless you have your own synthesizer to make these micro markers yourself and you are able to make a zillion different serial numbers, you spray bottle of "stadium dna" won't help a thing here. "

See my other post from yesterday. I found some used PCR machines on Ebay for as little as $250.

Today DNA, "synthesized" or not, is ridiculously easy to replicate. It doesn't have to be "re-synthesized", it only needs to be copied. And all you need for copying is a small sample of the original and one of those PCRs.

Further, copying today is ridiculously cheap, compared to just a few years ago.

Using it for security purposes is misguided at best. I won't use the word I'm really thinking.

Re:Read "Rule 34" by Charlie Stross (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44971447)

But officer, I just tried on the pants in the dressing room and they didn't fit.

Shut up criminal! You've got the DNA on ya! Yer gonna git the chair!

Blade Runner (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44966987)

Only needed is a cheap reader to check for artificial snake scales.

Neat! Now we can catch all the slaves (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44966995)

On Freenet (FMS board politics) we were just discussing if there is need to remove violent democracy (that allows kidnapping of people that do not obey imaginary property and patents) - or will just new technology like replicators, nano tech solve it all.

Apparently I was right, just technology will not solve it, as long as we have a system where all it takes are couple of corrupted politicians or scared majority of idiots to pass bad laws that will limit people's freedom.

If law is bad, then techinique like this could make it more feasible to ban non-authorized 3d printing for example.

{Please, fell free to join political uncensorable and not-spied-by-PRISM (so easily) discussion on FMS in Freente, most secure (and most slow ;) boards system, or ask us on #freenet on irc.freenode.org for any help how to use that boards system}.

Re:Neat! Now we can catch all the slaves (2)

viperidaenz (2515578) | about 7 months ago | (#44967083)

Can I join in on your freenet discussions, I swear I don't work for the NSA and won't forward anything on to PRISM...

Re:Neat! Now we can catch all the slaves (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44968991)

Everyone can, freenetproject.org as described on slashdot in past (now works better with recent upgrades)

Brilliant!!! (4, Funny)

king neckbeard (1801738) | about 7 months ago | (#44967005)

I don't see any way this can possibly fail. We all know it's very difficult for DNA to be replicated, and it certainly isn't self-replicating, so it's not as if some party could obtain the DNA, replicate it, and then place it on their counterfeit product.

Re:Brilliant!!! (1)

MtHuurne (602934) | about 7 months ago | (#44967199)

The duplication equipment would be an additional expense and isolating and duplicating the marker DNA an additional skill set required for counterfeiting, so it is a deterrent even if it can be circumvented.

Re:Brilliant!!! (2)

2fuf (993808) | about 7 months ago | (#44967391)

Here in Europe, ATMs are constantly being targeted by Romanian criminals. Not because Romanians are particularly bad people, but because the manufacturing plant that built the ATMs is located there. These people are robbing the cash machines they built themselves a couples of months earlier. The people who know how to hack them sell this information and complete toolkits on a thriving black market.

So, yes, it does require additional resources and skills to bypass sophisticated technology. But don't underestimate the number of people that still are within relatively easy reach of those resources and skills. The more complex a technology is, the more people you need to build it in the first place. And there's always a bunch of them that don't mind "dropping" a can of spray marker in the distribution parking lot for the right price.

Re:Brilliant!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44967571)

The duplication equipment can be as simple as two water baths, one set to temperature of 95C the other to something between 58 and 65C. Or you can buy some pretty good equipment from ebay for under $1000: http://www.ebay.com/sch/i.html?_trksid=p2050601.m570.l1313.TR2.TRC1.A0.Xthermocycler&_nkw=thermocycler&_sacat=0&_from=R40

Synthetic DNA can be ordered for as little as 9 cents per base.

Re:Brilliant!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44967989)

Duplicating DNA is not hard or expensive. We did DNA isolation and replication in junior college 10 years ago. Since then it's gotten even cheaper with fully automatic equipment smaller than a toaster. Just add DNA polymerase, cheaply and widely available and your off to the races.

Re:Brilliant!!! (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44967239)

no problem, you just have to change your own dna afterwards

Re:Brilliant!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44967527)

Actually, it's not too difficult to replicate in your kitchen if you know what you are doing. So I must disagree that it is hard to replicate.

Re:Brilliant!!! (1)

TubeSteak (669689) | about 7 months ago | (#44967647)

I can't find the article, but I recall reading about a fiasco with one of these DNA tagging companies.
They were supposed to be selling high security (unique) DNA tagging solutions,
but it turns out they were sourcing their product from a third party (instead of manufacturing it themselves, per their contract).

They took this third party solution and were selling the same exact stuff to multiple companies as unique.
TLDR: You don't have to replicate the DNA if you can just buy it from the source.

Re:Brilliant!!! (1)

sjwt (161428) | about 7 months ago | (#44967697)

Some of the councils over here in Australia have had issues with smaller items like plants being stolen from public places and resold, and have been using this for years.

http://www.datadotdna.com/au/datadot_home_protection.php [datadotdna.com]

Re:Brilliant!!! (1)

king neckbeard (1801738) | about 7 months ago | (#44969297)

The problem being solved there is the opposite of the problem here. By tagging your stuff with the DNA, you are saying that it is yours. A thief isn't going to make something appear to be yours, because there's no value when fencing goods in proving that something is stolen. That's the opposite of why fencing exists. By contrast, a counterfeiter has strong incentives to make something appear to be made by someone else, because that's exactly what counterfeiting is.

Re:Brilliant!!! (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about 7 months ago | (#44971619)

"The problem being solved there is the opposite of the problem here. By tagging your stuff with the DNA, you are saying that it is yours. A thief isn't going to make something appear to be yours, because there's no value when fencing goods in proving that something is stolen. "

No, it isn't. Not completely, anyway.

If you can show that the DNA marker is not "unique", you defeat its entire purpose. So spraying it around is actually an effective countermeasure.

Re:Brilliant!!! (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about 7 months ago | (#44971715)

" A thief isn't going to make something appear to be yours, because there's no value when fencing goods in proving that something is stolen. "

Further, there's another use here: by getting one of those cheap PCRs and copying the "signature" DNA, you can make copies of the product and sell them as "genuine"... after all, the tag shows up as an "individual, unique" number in the "national database" that the company keeps.

Far from being much in the way of security, this actually hurts the consumer because what they really get is a false sense of security. It's security theater, not much better than that of the TSA.

Re:Brilliant!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44967699)

Fat lot of good replication will do you if the DNA code is using PGP or similar methods to package extra data such as date, ID, etc. only the true maker can fake a DNA signature that is encrypted like that.

d@3-e.net

Re:Brilliant!!! (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about 7 months ago | (#44967769)

"We all know it's very difficult for DNA to be replicated, and it certainly isn't self-replicating, so it's not as if some party could obtain the DNA, replicate it, and then place it on their counterfeit product."

Do I detect a note of sarcasm? :)

The comments say you can get a used PCR thing for less than $1000. I wasn't too sure, so I looked.

Sure enough, it looks like Ebay is a pretty good source. [ebay.com]

Re:Brilliant!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44968233)

You could do a crime and give the coat you borrowed back.
And boom proof positive coat owner did the crime?

Great point, because even I can. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44971477)

It's weird too because when it comes to all sorts of other counterfeit shit, I wouldn't have the first clue how. Not to belittle myself of course.

Re:Brilliant!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44971527)

For any who missed the /sarcasm tag, this is sarcasm. You can replicate DNA in your kitchen with about $20 worth of DIY gear.

nothing new (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44967209)

Stuff like this is around for a couple of yeras now: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SelectaDNA http://www.selectadna.co.uk

DNA is actually fairly fragile (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44967339)

DNA doesn't hold up well in the environment. The reason it's used as a "measure of identity" is because we have really good technology for amplifying it.

When used as a marker in a commercial/industrial/everyday-exposure environment, I think it will fail quickly

Ironically, when discussing counterfit purses, there is already a better option that will not fail: you can sequence the proteins in the leather fairly easily, and those proteins can be a good MOI when you get enough coverage of the right sequences. You can't amplify the proteins, but the sensitivity for unamplified material is top-notch. So you can imagine that it's possible to identify the exact cow that produced a purse, and so long as you have a physical scrap of the purse left, you can still get a result. Contrast this to a DNA-barren purse because it sat in the sun too long.

Since you can't really amplify proteins, it's somewhat counterfit-proof as well, and the detection is less stochastic than with DNA, so it has potential to be more quantitative at trace levels.

Obviously this technology has other applications as well, which is why it's being funded by the FBI (forensics), DoD (body ID), etc. You can read more about it by looking up work by Glendon Parker, although it's not 100% public yet due to IP concerns, privacy (working with human samples), etc.

Re:DNA is actually fairly fragile (0)

cascadingstylesheet (140919) | about 7 months ago | (#44968733)

Ironically, when discussing counterfit purses, there is already a better option that will not fail: you can sequence the proteins in the leather fairly easily, and those proteins can be a good MOI when you get enough coverage of the right sequences. You can't amplify the proteins, but the sensitivity for unamplified material is top-notch. So you can imagine that it's possible to identify the exact cow that produced a purse, and so long as you have a physical scrap of the purse left, you can still get a result. Contrast this to a DNA-barren purse because it sat in the sun too long.

Man ... if it's that good of a counterfeit that you need to go to this level, then who cares?

I'm assuming that nobody intends to breed their purses, so sheesh. Does pedigree matter that much?

Re:DNA is actually fairly fragile (1)

Opportunist (166417) | about 7 months ago | (#44969501)

Just you wait 'til the rich trash gets a whiff of that, and the next fad will be leather from certain animals with pedigree.

Embedded NFC/RFID tags (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44967423)

How about embedding RFID or NFC tags into the barrel and/or magazines that is logged by sensitive readers located in say for example street lights/traffic lights or any other public appliances that have power. Then take that data and make it public, via map boards and/or phone apps so that everyone has visibility on where a gun (not specific gun) is at any particular time. You could even go so far as to take this unique ID and use it together with an encrypted database of gun ID to registered person ID to also make public whether a gun is currently not either with it's owner or at a predetermined registered place and is moving or has been recently. If it's public then the carriers are more aware and the general public gets to know if there's a gun on the loose somewhere.

The actual data correlating this to an actual gun and it's current owner (and possibly location) could be reserved purely for court records/requirements. Yeah I know this is ever so slightly big brother like but there could be some form of encryption used to require a specific key to unlock the actual gun ID to person ID and this would be solely owned by the judiciary system.

I hereby release this concept into the public domain under copyright to me ConceptRat

Re:Embedded NFC/RFID tags (1)

John.Banister (1291556) | about 7 months ago | (#44969205)

You're describing a lot of infrastructure investment in order to convert concealed carry into open carry. Places that permit open carry still generally prefer that people who carry do so concealed (with the appropriate permit).

Re:Embedded NFC/RFID tags (1)

IndustrialComplex (975015) | about 7 months ago | (#44969919)

Yeah I know this is ever so slightly big brother like but

As a general rule, if you ever preface a statement with with the following:
"I'm not a racist, but"
You can feel pretty confident that the person making that statement is probably racist.

So when you say that it is 'ever so slightly big brother like'
I'm pretty sure that it's not slightly big brother-like, but full blown victory gin and increased chocolate rations big brother-like.

Re:Embedded NFC/RFID tags (1)

kwbauer (1677400) | about 7 months ago | (#44973701)

Why go to all that bother to notify people "where a gun (not specific gun) is at any particular time"? In the US they are pretty much everywhere all the time. That is the number one proof that the ubiquitousness of guns does not even correlate well with crime let alone cause crime.

On the Production of Guilt (1)

WOOFYGOOFY (1334993) | about 7 months ago | (#44969377)

This is taken from a top secret paper titled-

"Advances In The Arbitrary Production of Guilt in Innocent Individuals- On The Way To Jury-Proof Convictions.

I'd link you you to it, but that would make me a leaker.

Bad Idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44969599)

Fog drifts with the air currents.

This DNA could drift with the air and end up on somebody in the vicinity, but actually not involved or even have any knowledge of the crime. They would be falsely accused, which is one of the reasons people do not want their personal information stored in some database.

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