Elevating Your Brand Protection Strategy with Multilayered Security Solutions

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By: Jeff Conroy, Chief Scientist, Authentix

Many companies are thinking more broadly about how to implement coordinated anti-counterfeiting, anti-diversion strategies across their brands and throughout different regions of the world. Just as tamper-evident seals on bottles of pills and liquid formulations became more common due to a tampering scare in the 1980s, attitudes toward anti-counterfeiting technologies are beginning to evolve.

Once viewing such measures narrowly as an “extra feature” that only “added cost” to the bottom line, brand owners are beginning to realize the importance of protecting the integrity of their brands and the most important part of the equation: protecting the safety of consumers. As serialization technologies continue to evolve, the tracking of individual units through the supply chain could enable very secure and traceable evidence of authentic products being supplied by manufacturers and distributors to end users.

Different Features, Different Purpose

Anti-counterfeiting features that can authenticate products are both overt and covert, and they can be applied in numerous ways: on labels, onto closure seals, on cartons where containers of products are stored, into plastic parts of individual packaging, and even onto metal and glass components of packaging.

The different types of features all serve a different purpose, from enabling end users to quickly identify a branded product as genuine, to covert markings that enable a manufacturer or inspector to identify the source of diversion or other illicit activity. When combined with the careful design and production quality controls used in authentic product manufacturing, these features raise the bar of complexity for counterfeiters and make the product a less attractive target.

With that said, it’s worth considering the value of individual security features versus a multilayered approach.

Overt security features: Visible security features serve a valuable purpose in the authentication stack. They offer a way for individuals to inspect packaging without any specialized tools, and the specialized color-shifting inks (similar to those used on currency) are often difficult to reproduce using scanners or reprographic methods. There are other types of optically variable features as well, including holograms, micro-optics (like the blue stripe found on the current US $100 bill), and reflective features.

Visible security features are a starting point, but counterfeiters are extremely creative and clever. Even if a visible authentication feature is hard to recreate perfectly, a counterfeiter only needs to copy it closely enough to confuse a consumer who just gives a package a quick glance. Additional features create layers of security.

Covert security features: High security covert features can be embedded into labels, closure seals, or other features of product packaging. Although such markers are invisible to the naked eye, they can be detected using specialized handheld surface spectrophotometers. Field instruments use proprietary excitation and detection optics and detection algorithms for rapid, secure field authentication. Additional forensic layers of security are also embedded into the materials and can be confirmed through more extensive laboratory analysis. This additional layer of security proves very difficult for the counterfeiter, but easily verified by field inspectors.

Serialization: In the serialization process, a company marks individual units at the point of manufacture (giving each a unique serial number) and implements stations to read those markings, capture the tracking data, and drop that information into a managed database that allows authorized personnel to monitor where products go after they leave the manufacturing facility. You’re probably most familiar with this process as it applies to shipping a package overnight, when you can track it on the Internet until it reaches its destination.

An effective anti-counterfeiting solution contains multiple, layered components

As a brand owner, it’s good to have options. However, the counterfeiter also has options. Fortunately, technology continues to evolve to help you protect your end users. Today’s reality is that one level of security isn’t enough.

Recently a number of technologies have become available that offer the benefit of not having to add any additional features to the packaging, but the imaging requirements on the production lines can be quite demanding and difficult to implement at speed. Once captured, the identification of the package can take place with conventional cameras, allowing widespread authentication and tracking by inspectors, retailers, or even consumers.

Any combination of covert or overt features or serialization enhance your anti-counterfeiting, anti-diversion strategies. Click here to learn more about brand protection. You can also contact Authentix at info@authentix.com.

Inspector Led Authentication’s Contribution to Brand Protection Programs

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By: Andrzej Hornostaj, VP Brand Solutions, Authentix

Identification of an at-risk product and implementing an authentication solution is not the end of the story, it is just the beginning. Constant inspection of the product in the supply chain and marketplace is required to ensure useful actionable insights is generated to minimize counterfeit and diversion practices while protecting your brand and bottom line.

Let’s Begin with Inspection Design

Inspection design is determined by the objectives of the inspection. Let’s consider two relevant approaches. Will the inspection be reactive to a specific counterfeit event, or proactive determining the scale of counterfeiting and generating actionable insights?

Ideally, inspections, like any investigation, should follow a holistic approach involving several stakeholder teams including product, brand protection, investigative, and legal. Each team has its own requirements for the actionable insights generated from an inspection. Some critical stakeholder questions may be as follows:

Product: What’s the scale and location of the counterfeiting problem for a product?

Brand protection: What’s the level of sophistication of the counterfeit operation (production and logistics)? Are security features being copied? Are packaging design changes required?

Investigative: Can the right data be gathered to support investigations into the counterfeit’s supply chain and to identify the manufacturing source? Is the evidence strong enough that it can be passed on to legal and law enforcement to perform raids and prosecutions?

Who will conduct the inspections?

The boots on the ground can either be members of the brand owner’s staff or third-party inspection agencies working on their behalf. Ideally, to infer useful insights from an inspection, the more data collected the better. This need pushes the brand toward engaging a third-party that can provide the coverage and inspector numbers to achieve data volume.

As always, inspector safety is paramount and consideration should be taken as to whether the inspector needs to be accompanied by law enforcement representatives.

Where to direct initial inspection efforts?

I would suggest initial efforts begin at the retail level where products of interest are typically more accessible to covert inspection. This type of insight helps to determine the scale or extent of the problem and generates a suitable baseline against which further inspections and remediation efforts may be compared. As pharmaceuticals are usually not accessible at pharmacies, other locations in the supply chain should be the initial focus.

Once a baseline is established, then testing of supply chain integrity should be performed. Keep in mind, some obstacles may be encountered at this stage as it is not always possible to accurately track the route by which products reach the end user beyond the first tier distributors.

To assist access / auditing of stock at distributors, brands should ensure that cooperation agreements allow for inspections with short notification times. This will prevent suspect items from being removed from the audit location by a guilty party.

Which inspection tools should be used?

Having the right tools during an inspection to automatically capture the data required for each stakeholder is important and ensures that repeat testing is minimised. With the right type of reader paired with a smart device, inspectors are equipped to not only identify counterfeit products, but also capture location data and photographs of the packaging. This complete picture of the scale and sophistication of the counterfeit operation can form the basis of effective enforcement actions.

Click here to learn more about brand protection. You can also contact Authentix at info@authentix.com.

Responsible Fuel Supply Chain Management Just Makes $ense

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Illegal Fuel Trade, Supply Chain Integrity and Technology

By: Erwin Dorland, Advisory Program Delivery Manager, Authentix

When addressing the problem of fuel smuggling or fuel fraud, responsible fuel supply chain management isn’t just a simple question of doing the right thing – it makes financial sense.

Responsible management and minimising risks within the fuel supply chain will ensure quality and security of the supply chain.

Financial gain is often the key motive behind supply chain infiltration, as illegal practices can be extremely lucrative1. Often the legal and regulatory framework is weak, the risks are low and the financial gains can be high. As mentioned in a previous BLOG, in many cases, organised crime is involved, which contributes to the growth of this type of fraud.

Most countries have significant problems with lower taxed fuels being sold at higher taxed prices. For example, in Europe, diesel is sold at a lower tax rate for agricultural use, but is illegally used by road users, who are supposed to purchase higher taxed diesel. This type of fraud is preventing governments from collecting the right amount of taxes, which impacts government programs, the well-being of all citizens and the environment in which we live. In my experience, there are four key areas of focus to ignite action against the business of illicit fuel trade.

Visibility2, 3

Visibility refers to the ability to see what is going on within the supply chain. Fundamentally, having access to information will enable managers to make better decisions.

Information technology is at the root of supply chain management. With the advent of the Internet and the Cloud, information exchanges can involve many stakeholders and enables access to critical data 24/7.

Traceability

Traceability is closely related to visibility and refers to the ability to track the fuel’s provenance and maintaining a record of activities of the product flow.

Several tools are available to ensure traceability as fuel moves through the supply chain. The advancements in technology now allow stakeholders to tap into a variety of information sources for a balanced view of supply chain participants and risks. The fuel industry has a number of tools available, such as visible dyes, covert dyes, chemical markers, sealing of tankers, GPS tracking of trucks, dipping of trucks, and wet stock control to track products, to ensure quality and prevent fraud.

Integrity

National governments are increasingly being held accountable for policy actions and therefore the governments’ awareness of and commitment to high principles and business practices is increasing.

The exposure of irresponsible practice in the supply chain can result in severe damage to national governments’ reputation and citizens’ trust. For example, governments not collecting the available taxes and having the appropriate system in place to do so, might have a negative standing with citizens.

Transparency

Transparency refers to national governments’ engagement and communication with external stakeholders. Such engagement is designed to share the national governments’ practices with those that have an interest in the governments’ behaviour, including environmental and social performance. Supply chain issues are becoming more and more visible to citizens and stakeholders. Therefore, developing transparent information systems and processes to communicate sustainable supply chain practices is vital. For example, governments can use social media to inform and educate citizens about their approach to responsibility, by promoting supply chain transparency.

 

Ready for Action

To really support the initiative to stop fuel smuggling and fuel fraud, making the supply chain more resilient to supply chain risk involves attaining a good understanding of the supply chain and conducting analysis of the potential threats and the level of risk4. Technology can be used to verify fuel authenticity and tampering. The resulting information will need to be captured using the appropriate information technology and made visible to the appropriate stakeholders.

Among the considerations of the technologies to be used, must be the ability for the technology to pay for itself. Government and policy makers need to be educated regarding the risks of fuel adulterations and how the legal and regulatory framework need to work hand-in-hand with the introduction of technologies. Awareness needs to be created that no technology will provide absolute supply chain security, as there are always weaknesses to be exploited. The key is to understand the key risks and put tools in place to collect the appropriate information, so those risks can be managed.

Click here to learn more about how Authentix’s Vigilant® offering is helping governments prevent fuel fraud. You can also learn more about Assure™, our brand protection fuel marking program for oil marketing companies.

 

References

  1. Illicit Trade, Supply Chain Integrity, and Technology – www3 … – Illicit Trade, Supply Chain Integrity, and Technology, J Picard and C.A. Alvaranga
  2. https://dupress.deloitte.com/dup-us-en/topics/operations/supply-chain-transparency.html – The path to supply chain transparency, D Linich, University of Tennessee
  3. creating a transparent supply chain best practices – Global Supply ……  – Creating a Transparent Supply Chain – Best Practices, University of Tennessee
  4. Manage your supply chains responsibly – Business in the Community – How to: Manage your supply chains responsibly, Business in the community

Preparing for the Pendulum to Swing

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With the proliferation of internet trade and globalization of manufacturing the pendulum has swung in the favor of counterfeiters as far as ease of access to markets and manufacturing capabilities. And no one has been a bigger lightening rod for criticism around this swing than Alibaba founder Jack Ma. Some of this criticism is well deserved, like the time Mr. Ma suggested:

“The problem is the fake products today are of better quality and better price than the real names,” he said at Alibaba’s investor day in Hangzhou. “They are exactly the same factories, exactly the same raw materials but they do not use the names.”(1)

And I suppose if one puts no value on the skills required to do market research, design and test products, develop quality plans and raw material specifications, then yes, contract manufacturers produce the exact same goods whether they carry the added logo and identification of the innovative companies that create the intellectual property and trademarks that people come to know and trust.
But recently Jack Ma wrote an open letter to China’s “parliament” suggesting that harsher enforcement against counterfeiting was key to fighting the problem.(2) It is no coincidence this change in focus from the quality of counterfeits to fighting the scourge of illicit goods comes at a time when The Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) reinstated the Alibaba TaoBao platform on its blacklist of “notorious markets” for selling fakes.(3)

But Mr. Ma does in fact have a point here. As reported in the article:

Alibaba says it handed over 4,495 leads on counterfeiting in 2016 that crossed the threshold of goods worth at least 50,000 yuan ($7,250). Of those, the authorities took on 1,184. That resulted in a scant 33 convictions. Alibaba has launched high-profile efforts, such as a push with the police in the city of Shenzhen and the luxury-goods brand Swarovski to shut down merchants selling fake watches. But some lawyers say those efforts amount to showboating.

But the sheer size of the problem of counterfeit distribution through an essentially frictionless market like Alibaba or Amazon Marketplace and Ebay make the follow-up on potential cases overwhelming for enforcement agencies. An activity that used to require some level of distribution and brick and mortar storefront to move counterfeit goods that could be investigated and raided is now replaced by digital entities that can literally appear and disappear with a few keystrokes. Traditional approaches to fighting illicit goods are overmatched.

So, what can a brand owner do to battle this enormous problem? The reality is that in the 21st century if you are a brand owner creating value from those intangible product qualities of design, style, quality, and ultimately reputation, you need to be investing some degree into the further differentiation of your finished good from that of your contract manufacturer. In our twenty years protecting brands we most often see hybrid and multi-layered solutions as effective means to enable different levels of inspection, from the internal security expert, all the way down to the consumer. And with the proliferation of smart devices and internet access, new tools are becoming available set to swing the pendulum back into the favor of brand owners to track the location of their products and possible illicit goods are a rate commensurate with the new internet economy. What is important is that brands consider equipping their goods with an overall brand protection program that includes monitoring and sampling contract manufacturers, distributors, and retailers to gain visibility into the flow of their products to consumers.

For more information visit https://authentix.com/offerings/sherlox/.


1. http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2016/06/15/jack-ma-says-fakes-better-quality-and-better-price-than-the-real-names/

2. http://realmoney.thestreet.com/articles/03/08/2017/alibaba-urges-china-get-real-fakes

3. https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/2016-Out-of-Cycle-Review-Notorious-Markets.pdf

4. http://realmoney.thestreet.com/articles/03/08/2017/alibaba-urges-china-get-real-fakes