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The Most Secure Types of Security Features: Three Layered Security Levels Explained

French Passport

Angstrom Technologies, Inc., believes in a layered security approach to document security. These layers combine to raise the security, protection, and anti-counterfeiting levels of your documents in cost-effective and skillful ways when applied properly. 

The “most secure” and “most expensive” methods are not always the best or most effective solution. Your anti-counterfeiting and authentication measures must be appropriate for that particular document and the level of security it requires.

As such, the industry defines three levels of document security. These levels are explained below.

Level 1 Security (L1S) Features: Overt

Overt security features, at level 1, are ones that the public can easily check with simple aids or with the naked eye.  Hold up a $20 American banknote with a light source behind it, and you can see the watermark of Andrew Jackson embedded in the proprietary cotton paper.

Level 1 security features also include, but are not limited to:

  • DOVID, or diffractive optically variable image device, uses holography technology. For example, someone’s image on an ID or banknote could shift from one image to another or change colors when you tilt it. The technology typically uses foil or metallic printing.
  • Guilloche, (a printed security feature) is a very elaborate geometric pattern, usually subtle thin lines interwoven with each other, that is very hard to replicate. You’ll see this on the border or even as watermarks in some currency.
  • Optically variable inks, just like the numeral “20” in the lower-right corner of a $20 bill.
  • Security thread, also like the ones embedded in American currency. 
  • Tactile laser engraving incorporates raised information, such as an alphanumeric code (generally found on polymer substrates).
  • CLI/MLI, or changeable laser image/multiple laser image, using lenticular lenses. When shifting the document, one image disappears while another appears, such as an official passport issued by Saudi Arabia.

Level 2 Security (L2S) Features: Covert

Covert security features are not readily apparent and offer a secondary authentication method that the public generally can’t see. People can verify Level 2 identity security features using simple aids not normally found in the general public. 

Examples of Level 2 security features include, but are not limited to:

  • Markers (counterfeit detector pens) used to test American currency found at cash registers in retail establishments.
  • Barcodes on driver’s licenses or passport cards. Although there are cameras on smartphones that can read barcodes, the phone must be connected to the correct database for the barcode to produce verifiable information. 
  • Fluorescent dyes, taggants, or inks that can be seen through a portable UV light tuned to the proper frequency. The fluorescence should be obvious, strong, and apparent when this security feature is authentic.
  • Magnetic strips or microchips that require special machines to read them, like the digital payment systems at registers.
  • RFID tags require a short-range reader tuned to a specific range of frequencies.
  • Microprinting, which requires magnification to see, is typically found on banknotes, checks, and postage stamps. Microprinting should be clear (not smudgy or blurry) when viewed through a magnifier. Microprinting with fluorescence has been around for 15 years, and this technology continues to improve. Microprinted fluorescent dyes would need multiple tools (magnification and a UV light) to see.
  • Micro-controllers are small computers that serve one specific purpose. In this case, they would be required to verify the authenticity of certain documents.

Level 3 Security (L3S) Features: Forensic

Level 3 security features need specific, sophisticated equipment to detect. Although forensic devices are expensive, some handheld models are decreasing in price as these technologies progress.

Examples of Level 3 security features include, but are not limited to:

  • Digital watermarking that hides digital information in a carrier signal. These are only detectable using algorithms that weed out surrounding noises to hone in on the digital information encrypted within the signals.
  • Nanoparticles, which may include fluorescence and other taggants, are only detectable using sophisticated machinery.
  • Unclonable quantum dots at the nanoscale level are making progress in the research and development stage but still require advanced techniques to produce effective results.

Level 3 security features are endorsed by the United Nations and labeled as the “most secure” because they are the hardest for forge. However, a layered security approach is more cost-effective while providing robust authentication methods.

How a Layered Approach Strengthens Document Security

There are three main advantages of a layered security approach. First, it doesn’t put the onus of authentication on a single method that could be circumvented. Second, security layering is often more cost-effective than the least expensive forensic (L3S) features. Third, a layered approach uses multiple features where one may draw attention away from the other.

A layered security approach can utilize additional security measures outside of the documents. For example, when verifying someone’s identity, personnel can ask for identifying information such as birthdate, a secret word, or email address. Biometrics, such as fingerprints, facial recognition, or even retina scans, can also be used for in-person identification alongside the documentation presented.

The U.S. government states a layered approach is best for document security. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued this guidance for creating secure credentials for the Real ID system following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.:

  • Secure manufacturing processes.
  • Robust, layered card architectures manufactured from controlled materials with a secure supply chain.
  • Security features on various layers of the card that cross-authenticate to other features elsewhere on the card. Linking features indicate that one section or security feature of the card is able to be used to authenticate another.
  • A combination of overt, covert, and forensic features and devices on the card (e.g., optical variable devices, optical color shift technology, digital watermark, ultraviolet and infrared inks, banknote printing, laser perforation, and engraving, etc).
  • Tamper evident characteristics allow for fraudulent document recognition by DMV operators, law enforcement, and other stakeholders.

Advanced fluorescence and taggants offer a vital solution for a layered security approach:

  • Cost-effective compared to forensics (L3S)
  • Combines well with other features and technologies, including digital
  • Works in many types of media, paper, cotton paper, polymers, and more
  • Proven effective with a long track record
  • Wide application across many industries

Advanced Fluorescence Systems From Angstrom Technologies, Inc. 

Our team of top Ph.D. chemists can help your company or organization develop a layered document security approach using advanced fluorescence dyes, inks, or taggants that work for your requirements. 
Contact us or call 859-282-0020 to connect with our team.

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