by June 2, 2005 0 comments

Existing number plates are not secure and can be faked easily. As a result, the government has already decided to add new security features to these plates to make it easy to identify vehicles, avoid theft and provide uniformity across the country. All the vehicles (including the old ones) are required to have the new high-security registration plates. This will be achieved in a phased manner, within a time period of about two years. 

Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has laid out a set of recommendations for taking care of the security features. These specifications need to
be incorporated in the manufacturing process. 


Applies to: Govt, automobile industry

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But most of these processes are either external operations or outsourced. Hence, these cannot be considered really secure (see the box for Ministry’s recommendations). To understand why they are not secure, let’s analyze the manufacturing process first and then move on to review some enhancements that would make the new number plates more secure. 

Existing manufacturing process
The manufacturing process requires two setups-the mother setup and the RTO setup.

Mother setup
The manufacturer has to set up a hot stamping mother facility from where the front and rear number plates (Aluminum) are supplied to the RTO. To protect against counterfeiting, a Chromium-based hologram is hot stamped on the plate. The hologram contains the ‘chakra’ emblem. A permanent identification number is also laser branded into the reflective sheeting of the number plate. The legend ‘IND’ is impressed by hot stamping or embedded into the film for country uniform identity.

RTO setup
Letters and numerals of registration number marked in English are embossed on the registration plate and ‘INDIA’
inscription is hot stamped on the letters

Security threats
Now let’s figure out why the high security number plates are not so secure as they were thought to be.

– The manufacturing process and hot stamping of the Chromium hologram of the high security number plate is outsourced, which makes it susceptible to frauds.
-Hologram is not a state-of-the-art security feature. It can be faked easily too.
– Loose manufacture control Alternative manufacturing process 

Mother setup
Just as we have a unique image and security thread on our currency notes, there can be images such as the chakra emblem and security thread as part of reflective sheeting. This reflective film can be laminated on to the Aluminum plate. Also, the permanent identification number can be laser branded into the reflective sheeting.
Then we have infrastructure and large spare capacity available at various Indian government mints. The defense production establishments such as the 
ordnance factories and the government should look at these as establishments for secure and controlled manufacture of the mother plates.

Digital printing 
Embossing is not a high-security feature. Also, it will require a huge investment to provide embossing stations across the RTO offices in the country.

High security specifications
  • Base registration plate to consist of Aluminum and Retro Reflective Sheeting 

  • Letter and numerals of registration mark in English to be embossed on the registration plate

  • Chromium-based hologram to bear the ‘Chakra emblem’

  • Seven digits digital code to be engraved by laser marker 

  • Third registration plate to be in the form of a self-destructive Chromium- based hologram sticker

  • Legend ‘IND’ to be impressed for country identity

  • ‘INDIA’ inscription to be hot stamped on letters/numerals/border

  • To be fastened with non-removable/non-reusable snap lock system for tamper proofing

A better solution is digital printing; letters and numerals can be digitally printed on a film giving the same effect as embossing. Also ‘INDIA’ inscription can be digitally reverse printed, while printing the letters/numerals/border. Legend ‘IND’ can also be impressed by digitally printing along with the numerals and letters.

This film can then be laminated on to the secure mother (Aluminum) plate. The digital printing on the film with the required 
information can be can be managed at the RTO office by the RTO staff in a seamless manner. 

Third number plate
As per the current specifications, the sticker for the third number plate has a Chromium hologram and contains the basic information about the vehicle such as the code of registering authority, registration number of the vehicle, laser branded permanent identification number, engine number and chassis number of the vehicle.

This sticker could serve only for manual identification.

It is recommended that the transport department be allotted a frequency band by the Ministry of Communications and vehicles be provided with RFID windshield stickers. Each RFID windshield sticker comes with a unique identification number. 

Before a vehicle rolls out of the plant, the manufacturer can embed basic information such as the engine and chassis number on the RFID tag and conceal it in any location that is not easily accessible for tampering. The RTO, during the registering of the vehicle, can encode on to the RFID tag details such as vehicle registration number, date of registration and
owner’s name. 

This RFID sticker will, therefore, ensure automatic and contact-less verification/ compliance of vehicles.

Thus, the complete strategy needs to be looked at again in order to beat the
apparent threats. But this is for sure that the implementation of the new set of
recommendations is going to drive down, to a large extent, the frauds and thefts related to the vehicles that occur today. 

At the same time, the strategy makers must keep themselves ready for the new loopholes that will be visible once the implementation unfolds completely over the next two years.

P S V Ananthanarayan, MD,

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