Steganography in the wild

Posted by Keith McMillan

June 30, 2010 | Leave a Comment

This is cool, in a “people spying on my country” kind of way: Gizmodo reports that the recent break-up of a supposed Russian deep cover spy ring included the FBI discovering their use of Steganography.  As a security and crypto guy, this is very interesting.

Steganography is the hiding of information in plain sight, much like the lemon juice you used to use to write secret messages when you were a kid. Digital steganography alters computer files, usually pictures or audio files, to hide information within them. This is the first case that I’m aware of that uses real stego as part of real espionage. Assuming it’s really espionage that is.

For the technically minded, one way that digital steganography works is by altering the low-order bits of photos or music files. If we change the least significant bit of a pixel in a digital photo, the difference between it’s original value and the new value that encodes information is likely unnoticable by the human eye. The same can be said of digital photos.

Detecting steganography is difficult: you need to know the program used, or you need to perform complicated statistical analysis to stand a chance of detecting it. It’s remarkable to me that we’ve at last seen this technology in the wild.


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