Adobe Anti-Counterfeiting: Feature or Bug?

By John Pallatto  |  Posted 2004-01-16 Print this article Print

By not disclosing to its users that it added technology to PhotoShop that helps prevent counterfeiting, the feature looked more like a bug. But Adobe's move raises deeper questions.

Adobe Systems got a bit of a black eye when the company recently acknowledged it complied with a request from government treasury officials to add a feature to its flagship PhotoShop graphics production software that blocks users from making copies of major international currencies. The news has caused a considerable stir among PhotoShop users who encountered the glitch when they tried to copy and manipulate currency. PhotoShop blocked the scan and displayed a warning that counterfeiting is illegal.
Taken by surprise, users have been complaining on Adobe Internet forums about the companys readiness to insert technological restraints in its product—even if it is for the nominally laudable purpose of discouraging counterfeiting.
Whats disturbing is not so much that Adobe cooperated with the government to block currency copying, but that it did so without acknowledging the fact upfront. If Adobe truly believes that preventing counterfeiting is an important corporate duty, it should have had the courage of its convictions and said so in its product announcements and documentation. Its hard to see any benefit from withholding this information. Clearly it didnt take users long to discover the problem. Why remain silent if its clear that users are going to be confused and perplexed by what would seem to be a bug in their new $649 copy of PhotoShop? Company officials indicated they remained silent because they didnt want to make it any easier for counterfeiters to find a way to thwart the restriction. But how would disclosure alone make it easier to devise a countermeasure unless the company also provided details about how it was done? Undoubtedly counterfeiters, like any other kind of hacker, are trying to find a way around the Adobe restriction. Read the news article on Adobe PhotoShops anti-counterfeiting feature. In counterfeiting as in war, the adversary is always looking for ways to thwart the latest defenses. Digital imaging and printing technologies have given counterfeiters access to the most sophisticated tools they have ever had for churning out bogus currency. That is why the government is redesigning U.S. greenbacks for the second time in less than a decade after earlier designs had remained in print virtually unchanged for more than 40 years. The government certainly has an interest in trying to persuade imaging technology designers to build into their products features that make at least a modest effort to make counterfeiters work more difficult. No doubt Adobe felt some pressure to be a good corporate citizen by voluntarily cooperating with the request. Voluntary measures are generally greatly preferable to action mandated by federal legislation. Adobe certainly didnt want to be singled out as a company that allows criminals to use their product to debase the national currency. Next page: Where will Adobes covert measures lead?

John Pallatto John Pallatto is's Managing Editor News/West Coast. He directs eWEEK's news coverage in Silicon Valley and throughout the West Coast region. He has more than 35 years of experience as a professional journalist, which began as a report with the Hartford Courant daily newspaper in Connecticut. He was also a member of the founding staff of PC Week in March 1984. Pallatto was PC Week's West Coast bureau chief, a senior editor at Ziff Davis' Internet Computing magazine and the West Coast bureau chief at Internet World magazine.

Submit a Comment

Loading Comments...
Manage your Newsletters: Login   Register My Newsletters

Rocket Fuel