As products make their way through the global supply chain, they are at risk. Nefarious actors can replace them with counterfeited items and they can suffer due to environmental factors (such as high temperatures in shipping containers).
But now new anti-counterfeiting software from vendors such as Authena promises to change all that. These product authentication solutions track products as they make their way through the supply chain, connecting the physical and digital worlds, ensuring product safety and brand protection at every step.
Anti-counterfeit software provides brand protection and protects the integrity of goods as they make their way through the supply chain. Vendors design authentication solutions to work in conjunction with other technologies, such as blockchain and NFC tags, to create a robust eco-system that is less prone to sabotage. The technology lets firms track products as they move around the world, ensuring proper storage, handling and product authentication at every checkpoint.
The way anti-counterfeit software works depends heavily on the platform supply chain companies use. Traditionally, brands tracked products as they moved around the globe using barcodes or QR codes. Operatives would scan codes and then send information to their internal systems or the cloud. Sometimes they would share the data with their partners, and sometimes not. They would then collate and present all captured data on a single monitoring dashboard using software. If issues arose, managers could alert teams on the ground, resolve problems and prevent damaged or counterfeited goods from entering their possession.
Unfortunately, these systems were not as robust as designers had initially hoped. While the software side of the equation was excellent, the operational aspect was not. Counterfeiters could easily remove genuine products from their boxes and pass them off counterfeit goods as the real thing. They could also simply copy barcodes and print out new ones. These practices jeopardize product safety and put consumers at risk.
Counterfeit goods in the supply chain are a big problem. It is not just a matter of brand protection and copyright infringement (which is an issue in itself), but also one of safety. For instance, counterfeit medicine has the potential to severely harm patient health, leading to sickness and even death.
Counterfeiting issues can arise at any stage in the supply chain, including the ingredient level. In many cases, genuine brands are buying inputs that they believe are the genuine article, but aren’t. Counterfeit ingredients in cough medicine in China led to over 78 reported deaths.
Fortunately, there are now technological solutions to fight this issue. New approaches avoid easily-counterfeited barcodes, allowing for a far more robust product tracking ecosystem.
There isn’t just one technology to guarantee product safety and brand protection: there are many. And they all need to work together to create a water-tight system of checks that isn’t prone to exploitation by criminals.
Authena strongly believes that there are three technological pillars of a robust and safe supply chain:
Active trackers and physical-digital seals solve the problems associated with traditional barcodes. These IoT devices, if read by any mobile device, report encrypted information to operatives . For instance, an NFC tag on a product might include product details, instructions, warnings, expiry dates, provenance and security characteristics.
The genius of NFC tags is the fact that they contain both encrypted information and anti-tampering technology. Nefarious actors in the supply chain cannot remove them from either product or packaging without revealing that they have done so. Thus, when they attempt to sell counterfeit products on, the next operative in the supply chain will be able to detect the tampering. Thus, products become unusable automatically.
Once firms seal products with physical NFC tags, they create a “digital twin” of the product in the cloud. The twin is a representation of the real product as it moves through the supply chain, containing all of the information stored and collected by the physical seal. When operatives read NFC tags, they update product information and send it to the cloud. Connected anti-counterfeit software then lets companies and their consumers verify product-level information on their PCs and smartphones in real time, wherever they are in the world.
However, even solutions as robust as this are still prone to piracy, tampering, counterfeiting and malicious practices. Data stored in the cloud is not always secure.
Blockchain technology provides a solution. Here’s how it works. Once operatives and final customers read NFC tag information, they then upload it to the blockchain network shared between multiple supply chain firms, creating an immutable record of a product’s digital twin.
Unlike traditional cloud platforms, data stored in a blockchain-based network is not prone to manipulation. No individual actor can alter the data it contains without the permission of more than half of the network. Therefore, such solutions can dramatically improve supply chain security. Even concerted efforts by entire firms to defraud will not be successful in a blockchain-based system.
Smart contracts replace trusted partners when collecting evidence of the interaction between the digital and physical world. Any firm with suitable anti-counterfeiting software can audit every step of the product journey with confidence thanks to product authentication.
To many supply chain firms, the system described above seems futuristic and hard to implement. However, Authena already has working examples of such systems in operation. It is now entirely possible to track the movement of goods equipped with IoT devices across the globe using blockchain-enabled anti-counterfeiting software.
At Authena, we believe that such software is not only helpful for brands, but necessary for brand protection and product safety. Using standard product verification processes, there is no way for any individual supply chain firms to independently verify the integrity of a shipment. But with Authena’s approach, there is. Customers get end-to-end traceability, product data management, and two-way communication with operatives on the ground. Authena connects the digital and physical worlds in a way that adds unprecedented security to the entire ecosystem.