Note to self: always print ransom notes, threats, and treasure maps on a black-and-white printer

I did not know this at all until now, but color printer manufacturers have collaborated with the government to include imbedded secret codes on all of your pages. It’s how they caught the recent NSA leaker.

Remember, you’re not paranoid if they’re really out to get you.


  1. Snarki, child of Loki says

    “Note to self: always print … treasure maps on a black-and-white printer”

    And make sure to add something like:

  2. FossilFishy (NOBODY, and proud of it!) says

    Back in the eighties there was a domestic left-wing terrorist group in Canada called the Squamish Five. They were apparently caught by the imperfections and scratched on the glass of the photocopier they were using to make press releases.

    The Mounties had general idea of where they were hiding and got samples from all the publicly available copiers in the area. They then staked out that copier. It apparently was a monumental amount of time and effort, and a real long shot, but it worked.

    I was told this by a roommate of mine who also ended up being charged with domestic terrorism. He told this story prior to his arrest as a scary fairytale to warn of the persistence, patience, and diligence of Canadian law inforcement.

    I have been unable to confirm the truth of it, but the fact that the charges against him were stayed due to lack of evidence and were never pursued further says something about his studious nature in these matters. Especially consider that his partner in all kinds of other petty mischief eventually pled guilty and now freely admits he did it.

    The moral is I suppose that the powers that be have always been watching, they’ve just got another tool to make it easier is all.

  3. KG says

    So: if you need to print in colour, buy your printer with cash, somewhere far from home, and never use it on the same network as the one from which you connect to the internet.

  4. Hj Hornbeck says

    This speaks poorly of The Intercept, we’ve known about colour laser stenography for decades. In 2007, the EFF set up a page to track manufacturers known to embed these dots; in 2015, they added the following note to the top:

    Some of the documents that we previously received through FOIA suggested that all major manufacturers of color laser printers entered a secret agreement with governments to ensure that the output of those printers is forensically traceable. Although we still don’t know if this is correct, or how subsequent generations of forensic tracking technologies might work, it is probably safest to assume that all modern color laser printers do include some form of tracking information that associates documents with the printer’s serial number.

    The Intercept was founded on leaking sensitive documents. This is a major blunder on their part.

  5. Petal to the Medal says

    Some commenters say B&W printers can be identified in a similar way. Not quite sure how that would be done technically (very light grey dots?), but it’s worth checking into.

  6. Artor says

    “And make sure to add something like: FOLLOW THE RED LINE TO THE TREASURE!”
    You’re a tricksy one, Snarki! It’s a B/W printer, so the line would be grey! Nobody will ever figure it out!!!

  7. blf says

    HJ Hornbeck (@5) beat me to it, but this has been known about for years, with the EFF warning / campaigning about it since c.2005.

    As far as I am aware, the printed codes have only ever been used to track (broadly speaking) “anti-government leaks” — whilst I could be wrong, and welcome corrections, I am unawares of any use for the original(?) purpose, tracking counterfeiters, or of an obvious alternative purpose, locating stolen printers. The “anti-government leaks” usage is by no means benign, since, e.g, when used by an authoritarian regime, it could lead to the “dissident”.

    (Posting blind (sans “Preview”) since, with the ongoing FtB site(?) problem(s?), it’s not previewing in a timely manner…)

  8. blf says

    me@8 on commenting “Preview” problems: I may have jumped the gun, Sorry! According to a near-concurrent poopyhead post, You are not being censored!, the FtB site has moved to a new hosting provider, in an attempt to fix the undeniable problems of past week-plus. I simply may have been too impatient, and my addendum to @8 should be disregarded (albeit I note this comment is taking an amazing amount of time to “Preview” as well — and so is also being posted blind). Apologies.

  9. says

    But we can vote for someone who will stand against the NSA, right? It’s not like both major political parties are strongly in favor of increased NSA surveillance, right?

    Oh, wait, that’s right — both Obama and Hillary Clinton were strongly pro-NSA, and both of them even proposed (albeit not in the form of actual legislation, merely in the form of talking about it) that encryption without a back door for law enforcement should be made illegal. (If you thought Wannacry was bad, think of how it would be if Microsoft had been legally restricted from having patched the hole which made it possible, so that all copies of Windows anywhere were vulnerable, instead of merely the ones which hadn’t been updated in months and months. The security hole which made Wannacry possible was discovered by the NSA, kept secret so they could use it for surveillance, and then stolen from them by hackers. The NSA, in other words, is already demonstrably and measurably bad for everyone, and any politician who is pro-NSA should be regarded by any sane person as an enemy, no matter what party they are in.)

  10. zoniedude says

    If I read this whole issue correctly the report printed by The Intercept showed an indepth connection between Trump and the Russians. The Intercept published this but most people would suspect it was “fake news” from an anti-Trump group, thus discounting its importance. However, by arresting the person who “sent” the report to The Intercept the NSA is essentially vouching for the accuracy of the contents of the report.

  11. methuseus says

    I’ve known about this since about 2000-2001. I had already decided not to print anything incriminating, and only hand-write then burn it, or use a black and white printer, then burn it. There was a warning that black and white printers may also do this, or inkjet printers, but I haven’t seen any proof of concept of it, either. It’s still best to either not do anything incriminating, or else be extremely careful and obfuscate as much as possible.

  12. kome says

    Would it be possible to add layers of these dots on top of each other to make it difficult to decipher the time stamp, model number, etc.? For instance, print something out on one printer, scan it in on a copier, print out the scanned version on a second printer, etc.?

    Alternatively, just “redact” the margins of the paper by placing random strips of, say, construction paper in the large white spaces at the tops/bottoms of pages?