Fighting crime with transparency

With its product upress-systems, Erich Utsch AG is providing the fight against vehicle-related crime with a useful and future-proof tool.

Filling up at the petrol station and then driving away without paying? Receiving speeding tickets and not paying the fines? Or driving on toll roads without paying the charge? All of this is more than feasible with a stolen or counterfeit license plate: if it is not possible to identify the vehicle owner, the authorities are powerless.

These simple types of everyday crime are also joined by more serious offences – such as robbery, drug trafficking or even acts of terror – for which counterfeit license plates are useful for avoiding detection.  

A hard-to-control, unregulated market of private embossing sites makes is considerably easier for criminals to acquire all the license plates they need with the help of easy-to-use embossing presses. And the ever-increasing number of vehicles on the roads makes it even harder to plug this gap in security: increased pressure on the security authorities means that “homemade” license plates like this are slipping through the net more and more often.

The consequences of this represent a huge challenge for governments and authorities; not just because of the lost revenues: confidence in the national integrity and the power of the law enforcement bodies is being gradually chipped away at. At the same time, the personal risk to all citizens of becoming victims of criminal activity increases. Thus the general feeling of public safety is affected.

In order to combat this, a state can pay significant amounts of money to arm itself, in terms of both personnel and equipment, to fight against illegal license plates on the roads. 

There is a more efficient and sensible approach available, however: make it impossible to manipulate the system by establishing a closed, centralised, fully documented and totally traceable system of license plate production.

With its product upress-systems, Erich Utsch AG offers a secure solution to fulfil all of these demands in every stage of the lifecycle of a license plate. Product manager at UTSCH, Jörg Kölsch, outlines the benefits as follows: “This system protects the entire lifecycle of a license plate – from production to personalisation and registration to the final output – from unauthorised access and criminal manipulation.”

Because: a license plate goes through several stages of production before it is affixed to the vehicle. And each of these steps represents a potential gateway for illegal machinations.

Making license plates unique

Even the early stages of producing license plates often provides an opportunity to put some aside and use them for criminal purposes. It is almost impossible to trace the illegal removal of “anonymous” blank license plates without individualisation after production.

A so-called plate DMC can help here. It is a lasered, machine-readable data matrix code, which is affixed to the front or back of the license plate and thus makes each license plate individual and unique. “The plate DMC contains a serial number and other information, such as a country code, the date of manufacture and a customer code. Encryption protects the data from unauthorised access. The most important aspect, however, is that the blank license plate is registered within the system from the moment of lasering and is thus unique”, says Jörg Kölsch, explaining the benefits of this simple but highly effective measure.

A defined number of blanks represents one packaging unit at the end of production, and these are then dispatched in a box. The individual plate DMCs for the blanks contained are summarised (with a unique box number) and displayed on the outside of the box in the form of a box DMC.  

The data matrix code demonstrates its true worth in the next stage – personalisation at an embossing station.  

Centralised personalisation with a defined user group 

Personalisation means that the license plate is given an alphanumeric code at an embossing station, and this code is then later used to identify the vehicle and can be assigned to the owner of the vehicle.  

But, as Jörg Kölsch explains, the structure of the embossing stations poses a considerable security risk in many countries: “The previous technology makes it very hard to control decentralised embossing stations, and this in turn opens up the possibility of embossing ‘black’ license plates with any code”.

This is precisely where upress systems comes into play. It combines an innovative software concept with “single piece tracking” for license plates, the latest embossing technology and sophisticated user management to enable secure personalisation, even within a decentralised structure.    

The most modern and most innovative embossing press on the market is the centrepiece of this reliable system of personalisation: the upress from UTSCH. Jörg Kölsch: “The upress is a security tool that continuously monitors and documents all aspects of personalisation with the help of a cross-process software structure.”

First, the operator of an upress needs to identify themselves and log in using biometric data synchronisation (fingerprint) or by logging in to the embossing press. This ensures that only authorised users have access to the machine. However: “With upress, even an authorised user can only work on jobs that have been imported from another location via the network, and can only work on registered blanks.” This is because the plate DMCs for the blanks packed in the box must be scanned into the upress by using a scanner on the box DMC.  

When a blank is placed in the upress for embossing, it must be scanned first. And the respective blank will only be authorised for embossing if the individual plate DMC has already been scanned into the upress via the box DMC. “As such, it is impossible to emboss non-registered ‘black’ blanks with a license plate in this system.”

At the same time, the upress checks to make sure that the embossing tools used actually correspond with the embossing order. The embossing process can only be completed if all of this is correct. As such, it is impossible to deliberately carry out a false embossing.

The operator and the tools and materials used are thus fully recorded and documented. As such, each stage of the process can be tracked at any time on the upress and allocated to a specific person. This ensures total transparency in the personalisation process.

Scalability, networking and transparency

The modular design of the upress system means that it can be adapted to suit the individual requirements and needs of the user. “Thus it is quite feasible to operate an upress in the stand-alone version without a network connection.”

On the other hand, it is also possible to connect several upress at one location to achieve a central production with a high output, processing embossing orders that are administered and assigned by a centralised, external office. The userver serves as the connection interface. It is a local server that ensures communication with the upress via a user and administrator module.

Furthermore, the userver stands as an interface for external communication so it can be seamlessly integrated into pre-existing systems, such as government agency networks. An integrated web interface, which is supported by all major browsers, provides an alternative to an internet connection: “It can even be operated using an iPad or smartphone”.

The ucentralserver sits one level higher within the system architecture. It connects several embossing sites together (either conventionally or virtually) via a secure internet connection, and can thus be used to establish a personalisation structure network that spans an entire country.

“This top level of configuration connects all of the bodies and actors together to provide a permanent data exchange so that there are no longer any grey zones and thus points of attack for criminals”, explains Jörg Kölsch.

The data for creating an embossing key (“orders”) is then immediately transferred digitally from the state registration system to upress via a network connection. Thus, there is no need for error-prone, manual work steps and troublesome paperwork, and it is almost impossible to manipulate the orders.   

Once set up, upress-systems is largely automated; thus removing the medium- to long-term burden from the security authorities and increasing national integrity and credibility over the long term.