Introduction to Steganography
Codes have been around for centuries ranging from wax, invisible ink, Morse code, the Enigma used by the Germans during World War II and now steganographic. Steganography is the latest form to insidiously hide information over the Internet without a trace of a file being altered. You are able to hide messages within images, voice or music. Steganography is an ancient method of hiding messages. Today messages are hidden in images and music. Steganography can be traced back to the ancient Greek
who would write messages on tablets and cover them in wax. This made the tablets look blank and unsuspicious (Kolata, F4). Citizens of ancient civilizations
would tattoo messages on their shaved heads. They would then let their hair grown in and travel across enemy lines to deliver the message (Seper, G1). During World War II the Allies placed a ban on flower deliveries with dates, crossword puzzles and even report cards (Kolata, F4) for fear of a message being hidden with in. Steganographers first alter their data by using encryption and then place the image into a pre-select image. Steganographers look for a piece of code that would be the least significant and look the least altered to the human eye
(Kolata, F4), being as inconspicuousness and random as possible. This makes the messages undetectable unless you knew that there is a message hidden and you were able to crack the code.
Hacking and Unhacking
Hackers and terrorists have been using this form of technology for years. The United States governmental officials had suspected an attack on the United States for a period of time and thought the information to be hidden using steganography. Anyone can use and get access to steganographic materials. It's easy to download on numerous sights and no software is required. It's an easy and cheap way to keep information secure and undetectable. The number of steganography sites has doubled in the past two years (Kolata, F4). The United States government is also trying to place restrictions on encryption methods to prevent another catastrophic attack in the world such as the World Trade Center attacks. By having access to a private key the government would have unlimited access to secure information and crack codes all for safety reasons (USA Today). A " private key" is needed to decode any steganographic messages. Images are made up from a combination of an abundant of pixels (tiny dots). Steganographers use these pixels within the same color scheme as the hidden image to send messages. Steganography messages can be next to impossible to spot without the concept of Steganalysis. Steganalysis combs through images looking for alterations in data patterns. Where to look is the key problem though. A plan to launch bombs could be hidden in the petals of a flower (Kolata, F4) and be completely unnoticeable to the naked eye. One of the problems with Steganalysis is that it looks for alterations in data patterns. One of the most popular formats for images is JPEG (Kolata, F4), which is naturally distorted. This makes it even harder to detect hidden messages. How do you detect altered data patterns in an image format that is naturally distorted?
Skipping over Security
Steganography is an effective way to avoid security regulations that are slowly beginning to plague the Internet. Al-Quaeda terrorist network groups are known to have hidden plans and images in pornographic sites. "Being the last place where most Muslims would look (Cohen)." The FBI will not disclose information on this matter however or how often terrorists use steganographic materials (Kolata, F1). Steganography is extremely dangerous during any point of time and location. It is difficult to do well and if done correctly it can be next to impossible to detect. Once the code has been broken or discovered who is sending the messages, it is easier to detect patterns that are being used and possibly who is sending the messages. Programs are also implanted into images with steganographic and are programmed to delete after a certain number of hits have taken place (Seper, G1). One way to monitor online activity if susceptive of unlawful doings is to acquire a warrant for an electric phone tap. This is a timely manner and difficult to do as you need evidence. In order to carry out a steganographic operation you need to select a key code and a series of web sites for the messages to be placed. If this process is at all altered the plan is ruined and a new one will need to be planned.
One of the reasons steganography is so effective is the manner of hiding communication among any number of people. This enables people to communicate directly with an individual without ever meeting or talking to them. Code writing is here to stay. Who would have though that an ancient civilizations method used to hide messages from their enemies would become a worldwide explosion over a millennium later.
Cohen, Adam. "When Terror Hides Online" Time. 12 November 2001. pg 53.
Kolata, Gina. "Veiled Messages of Terror May Lurk in Cyberspace" New York Times. 30 October 2001, section F1+.
Seper, Chris. "Medium hides the message" The Plain Dealer, (21 October 2001): G1.
Zhao, Jian. "Look, It's Not There" Byte. (January 1997): 22.
Zim, Herbert S. Codes and Secret Writing, William Morrow and Company: New York, 1948.