Steganography

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Steganography is the art and science of writing hidden messages in such a way that no one apart from the intended recipient knows of the existence of the message; this is in contrast to cryptography, where the existence of the message itself is not disguised, but the content is obscured.

The word "Steganography" is of Greek origin and means "covered, or hidden writing". Its ancient origins can be traced back to 440 BC. Herodotus mentions two examples of Steganography in The Histories of Herodotus [1]. Demeratus sent a warning about a forthcoming attack to Greece by writing it on a wooden panel and covering it in wax. Wax tablets were in common use then as re-usable writing surface, sometimes used for shorthand. Another ancient example is that of Histiaeus, who shaved the head of his most trusted slave and tattooed a message on it. After his hair had grown the message was hidden. The purpose was to instigate a revolt against the Persians. Later, Johannes Trithemius's book Steganographia is a treatise on cryptography and steganography disguised as a book on black magic.

Generally, a steganographic message will appear to be something else: a picture, an article, a shopping list, or some other message. This apparent message is the covertext. For instance, a message may be hidden by using invisible ink between the visible lines of innocuous documents.

The advantage of steganography over cryptography alone is that messages do not attract attention to themselves, to messengers, or to recipients. An unhidden coded message, no matter how unbreakable it is, will arouse suspicion and may in itself be incriminating, as in some countries encryption is illegal [2].

Steganography uses in electronic communication include steganographic coding inside of a transport layer, such as an MP3 file, or a protocol, such as UDP.

A steganographic message (the plaintext) is often first encrypted by some traditional means, and then a covertext is modified in some way to contain the encrypted message (ciphertext), resulting in stegotext. For example, the letter size, spacing, typeface, or other characteristics of a covertext can be manipulated to carry the hidden message; only the recipient (who must know the technique used) can recover the message and then decrypt it. Francis Bacon is known to have suggested such a technique to hide messages (see Bacon's cipher).

Contents

[edit] Steganographic Techniques

[edit] Modern Steganographic Techniques

  • Concealing messages within the lowest bits of noisy images or sound files.
  • Concealing data within encrypted data. The data to be concealed is first encrypted before being used to overwrite part of a much larger block of encrypted data. This technique works most effectively where the decrypted version of data being overwritten has no special meaning or use: some cryptosystems, especially those designed for filesystems, add random looking padding bytes at the end of a ciphertext so that its size can't be used to know what was the plaintext size. Examples of software that use this technique include FreeOTFE and TrueCrypt.
  • Chaffing and winnowing
  • Invisible ink
  • Null ciphers
  • Concealed messages in tampered executable files, exploiting redundancy in the i386 instruction set [3].
  • Embedded pictures in video material (optionally played at slower or faster speed).
  • A new steganographic technique involves injecting imperceptible delays to packets sent over the network from the keyboard. Delays in keypresses in some applications (telnet or remote desktop) can mean a delay in packets, and the delays in the packets can be used to encode data. There is no extra processor or network activity, so the steganographic technique is "invisible" to the user. This kind of steganography could be included in the firmware of keyboards, thus making it invisible to the system. The firmware could then be included in all keyboards, allowing someone to distribute a keylogger program to thousands without their knowledge.[4]
  • Content-Aware Steganography hides information in the semantics a human user assigns a datagram; these systems offer security against a non-human adversary/warden.[5]

[edit] Historical Steganographic Techniques

Steganography has been widely used in historical times, especially before cryptographic systems were developed. Examples of historical usage include:

  • Hidden messages in wax tablets: in ancient Greece, people wrote messages on the wood, then covered it with wax so that it looked like an ordinary, unused tablet[citation needed].
  • Hidden messages on messenger's body: also in ancient Greece. Herodotus tells the story of a message tattooed on a slave's shaved head, hidden by the growth of his hair, and exposed by shaving his head again. The message, if the story is true, carried a warning to Greece about Persian invasion plans [citation needed].
  • Hidden messages on paper written in secret inks under other messages or on the blank parts of other messages [citation needed].
  • During and after World War II, espionage agents used photographically produced microdots to send information back and forth. Since the dots were typically extremely small -- the size of a period produced by a typewriter or even smaller -- the stegotext was whatever the dot was hidden within. If a letter or an address, it was some alphabetic characters. If under a postage stamp, it was the presence of the stamp. The problem with the WWII microdots was that they needed to be embedded in the paper, and covered with an adhesive (such as collodion), which could detected by holding a suspected paper up to a light and viewing it almost edge on. The embedded microdot would reflect light differently than the paper.
  • More obscurely, during World War II, a spy for the Japanese in New York City, Velvalee Dickinson, sent information to accommodation addresses in neutral South America. She was a dealer in dolls, and her letters discussed how many of this or that doll to ship. The stegotext in this case was the doll orders; the 'plaintext' being concealed was itself a codetext giving information about ship movements, etc. Her case became somewhat famous and she became known as the Doll Woman.
  • Counter-propaganda: During the Pueblo Incident, US crew members of the USS Pueblo (AGER-2) research ship held as prisoners by North Korea communicated in sign language during staged photo ops to inform the United States that they had not defected, but were instead captured by North Korea. In other photos presented to the US, the crew members gave "the finger" to the unsuspecting North Koreans, in an attempt to discredit the pictures that showed them smiling and comfortable. [6]
  • The one-time pad is a theoretically unbreakable cipher that produces ciphertexts indistinguishable from random texts: only those who have the private key can distinguish these ciphertexts from any other perfectly random texts. Thus, any perfectly random data can be used as a covertext for a theoretically unbreakable steganography. A modern example of OTP: in most cryptosystems, private symmetric session keys are supposed to be perfectly random (that is, generated by a good Random Number Generator), even very weak ones (for example, shorter than 128 bits). This means that users of weak crypto (in countries where strong crypto is forbidden) can safely hide OTP messages in their session keys.

[edit] An Example from Modern Practice

Image:StenographyOriginal.png
Image of a tree.
By removing all but the last 2 bits of each color component, an almost completely black image results. Making the resulting image 85 times brighter results in the image below.
Image:StenographyRecovered.png
Image extracted from above image.

The larger the cover message is (in data content terms — number of bits) relative to the hidden message, the easier it is to hide the latter. For this reason, digital pictures (which contain large amounts of data) are used to hide messages on the Internet and on other communication media. It is not clear how commonly this is actually done. For example: a 24-bit bitmap will have 8 bits representing each of the three color values (red, green, and blue) at each pixel. If we consider just the blue there will be 28 different values of blue. The difference between say 11111111 and 11111110 in the value for blue intensity is likely to be undetectable by the human eye. Therefore, the least significant bit can be used (more or less undetectably) for something else other than color information. If we do it with the green and the red as well we can get one letter of ASCII text for every three pixels.

Stated somewhat more formally, the objective for making steganographic encoding difficult to detect is to ensure that the changes to the carrier (the original signal) due to the injection of the payload (the signal to covertly embed) are visually (and ideally, statistically) negligible; that is to say, the changes are indistinguishable from the noise floor of the carrier.

(From an information theoretical point of view, this means that the channel must have more capacity than the 'surface' signal requires, that is, there must be redundancy. For a digital image, this may be noise from the imaging element; for digital audio, it may be noise from recording techniques or amplification equipment. In general, electronics that digitize an analog signal suffer from several noise sources such as thermal noise, flicker noise, and shot noise. This noise provides enough variation in the captured digital information that it can be exploited as a noise cover for hidden data. In addition, lossy compression schemes (such as JPEG) always introduce some error into the decompressed data; it is possible to exploit this for steganographic use as well.)

Steganography can be used for digital watermarking, where a message (being simply an identifier) is hidden in an image so that its source can be tracked or verified.

In the era of Digital video recorder and devices like TiVo, TV commercials authors have figured out how to make use of such devices as well - by putting a hidden message which becomes visible when played at frame-by-frame speed (see KFC Unveils 'TiVo-proof' Ad).

[edit] Additional Terminology

In general, terminology analogous to (and consistent with) more conventional radio and communications technology is used; however, a brief description of some terms which show up in software specifically, and are easily confused, is appropriate. These are most relevant to digital steganographic systems.

The payload is the data it is desirable to transport (and, therefore, to hide). The carrier is the signal, stream, or data file into which the payload is hidden; contrast "channel" (typically used to refer to the type of input, such as "a JPEG image"). The resulting signal, stream, or data file which has the payload encoded into it is sometimes referred to as the package. The percentage of bytes, samples, or other signal elements which are modified to encode the payload is referred to as the encoding density and is typically expressed as a floating-point number between 0 and 1.

In a set of files, those files considered likely to contain a payload are called suspects. If the suspect was identified through some type of statistical analysis, it may be referred to as a candidate.

[edit] Rumored Usage in Terrorism

The rumors about terrorists using steganography started first in the daily newspaper USA Today on February 5, 2001.

The articles are still available online, and were titled "Terrorist instructions hidden online", and the same day, "Terror groups hide behind Web encryption". In July of the same year, the information looked even more precise: "Militants wire Web with links to jihad".

A citation from the USA Today article: "Lately, al-Qaeda operatives have been sending hundreds of encrypted messages that have been hidden in files on digital photographs on the auction site eBay.com". These rumors were cited many times - without ever showing any actual proof - by other media worldwide, especially after the terrorist attack of 9/11.

For example, the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera reported that an Al Qaeda cell which had been captured at the Via Quaranta mosque in Milan had had pornographic images on their computers, and that these images had been used to hide secret messages (although no other Italian paper ever covered the story).

The USA Today articles were written by veteran foreign correspondent Jack Kelley, who in 2004 was fired after allegations emerged that he had fabricated stories and invented sources.

In October 2001, the New York Times published an article claiming that al-Qaeda had used steganographic techniques to encode messages into images, and then transported these via email and possibly via USENET to prepare and execute the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack.

Despite being dismissed by security experts [7][8], the story has been widely repeated and resurfaces frequently. It was noted that the story apparently originated with a press release from "iomart" [9], a vendor of steganalysis software. No corroborating evidence has been produced by any other source.

Moreover, a captured al-Qaeda training manual makes no mention of this method of steganography. The chapter on communications in the al-Qaeda manual acknowledges the technical superiority of US security services, and generally advocates low-technology forms of covert communication.

The chapter on "codes and ciphers" places considerable emphasis on using invisible inks in traditional paper letters, plus simple ciphers such as simple substitution with nulls; computerized image steganography is not mentioned.

Nevertheless public efforts were mounted to detect the presence of steganographic information in images on the web (especially on eBay, which had been mentioned in the New York Times article).

To date these scans have examined millions of images without detecting any steganographic content (see "Detecting Steganographic Content on the Internet" under external links), other than test images used to test the system, and instructional images on web sites about steganography.

[edit] Countermeasures

The detection of steganographically encoded packages is called steganalysis. The simplest method to detect modified files, however, is to compare them to the originals. To detect information being moved through the graphics on a website, for example, an analyst can maintain known-clean copies of these materials and compare them against the current contents of the site. The differences (assuming the carrier is the same) will compose the payload.

In general, using an extremely high compression rate makes steganography difficult, but not impossible; while compression errors provide a good place to hide data, high compression reduces the amount of data available to hide the payload in, raising the encoding density and facilitating easier detection (in the extreme case, even by casual observation).

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

[edit] Steganography articles

[edit] Steganalysis

[edit] Implementations

  • MP3 Steganographic File System, a description of an approach to create a file system which is implemeted over MP3 files.
  • BitCrypt BitCrypt is one of the easiest to use encryption tools which at the same time provide ultra-strong encryption. It uses up to 8192 long bit key ciphers to encrypt the text, and then stores the encrypted text within bitmap images.
  • ImageMagick ImageMagick® is an open source (compatible with GPL) software suite to create, edit, and compose bitmap images. It supports steganography through its composite command.
  • PHP Steganography An open source (GPL) steganography script for PNG images, written in PHP.
  • Stegger, PHP Steganography An open source, feature rich, secure implementation of image steganography written in PHP.
  • Stego-0.5, a GNOME/GTK+ based GUI for LSB algorithm. License (GPL)
  • RevelationA platform independent tool created in Java that can hide any data file within a 24-bit bitmap image. Features a unique wizard style interface in the encoding and decoding process.
  • TrueCrypt Free, open-source Windows/Linux disk encryption software that supports hiding one encrypted volume inside another, without leaving any evidence that the second encrypted volume exists. This probably resists any statistical analysis (as opposed to tools that conceal data within images or sound files, which is relatively easy to detect).
  • OutGuess A steganography application to hide data in Jpeg images.
  • Phonebook FS protects your disks with Deniable Encryption, also known as data hidden in another encrypted data.
  • spammimic.com will take a sentence that you provide and turn it into text that looks to all the world like spam.
  • StegoMagic 1.0 A Cutting Edge Free Steganographic Software
  • StegaNote Hiding text and files in images
  • stego and winstego Steganography by justified plain text.
  • Digital Invisible Ink Toolkit An open-source cross-platform image steganography suite that includes both steganography and steganalysis implementations.
  • Steghide Free .jpeg and .wav encryption for Linux and other operating systems.
  • Hermetic Stego Windows steganography software for hiding a file of any size in one or more BMP image files.
  • Peter Wayner's website - sample implementations of steganographic techniques, by the author of Disappearing Cryptography.
  • Bapuli Online - implementing steganography using Visual Basic.
  • AminHide - Matlab steganography software for implementations of image steganographic techniques, by Farshad Amin.
  • Reasonably Adequate Privacy - RAP uses a simple chemical process to protect data (parody of PGP documentation).bg:Стеганография

cs:Steganografie da:Steganografi de:Steganografie es:Esteganografía fr:Stéganographie it:Steganografia he:סטגנוגרפיה nl:Steganografie pl:Steganografia pt:Esteganografia ru:Стеганография fi:Steganografia sv:Steganografi tr:Steganografi zh:隐写术

Steganography

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