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Covered Writing?

Historian HerodotusSteganography technology has added a sense of paranoia to people in recent years.  For those unfamiliar with this term, steganography is derived from two Greek words, Steganos meaning “covered”, and Graptos meaning “writing.”

Around 500 BC the first Greek historian, Herodotus, produced a writing entitled, The Histories. Herodotus tells a story of a young rebel trying to revolt against the Persian king.  The rebel shaved the head of one of his messengers, wrote a message on the messenger’s scalp, and then waited for his hair to grow back in order to conceal the message.  Since the messenger did not show he was concealing anything when approaching their rivals he was able to move about freely.  When the messenger arrived at his destination and located the intended recipient of the message he shaved his head and showed the secret writing.

Steganography has been around for quite some time; however it has increased in popularity due to the expansion of the Internet and multimedia devices.  Currently, individuals most interested in using this technique are child pornographers, terrorists and those who are involved in fraudulent activities, espionage, and other illegal acts.  Individuals, businesses, and governments around the world are faced with the threat of this current form of corruption and unlawfulness.

What is Steganography?

InvaderSteganography involves hiding information so it actually appears there is no information being hidden.  For instance, the most common use is to hide a file inside another file; an image, audio, video, or document file.  The recipient of the concealed information will have to use a password to decipher the hidden message.

Currently, on the Internet there are over 100 free steganography programs with over 1 million downloads of the software.  Unfortunately, there are far more methods to use this technology to hide unlawful, useless, or unauthorized information than there is for detecting whether you have received some.  The only sure way of detection is to look for it in specific files.  Law enforcement personnel are somewhat challenged in auto-detecting these hidden infringements because there is no single tool to detect it, especially on video files.  However, the United States National Institute of Justice is working with universities and private sectors to come up with better detection tools and devices.

Steganography is Easy to Use – Hard to Detect

Mona LisaThroughout history, steganography has been used as an effective way to hide data.  Nonetheless, according to forensic professionals the hidden data found in files is very small.  It is much easier to copy data on a disk and take it.  Experts are aware of its usage but are focusing more of their attention on bigger, more threatening ways of detecting and fighting cybercrime and espionage.

Nevertheless, it is easy to use and hard to detect.  Our awareness and knowledge of this possible threat is most beneficial in many aspects of our ways of communicating on the World Wide Web.  We should maintain caution when receiving emails from people we do not know, downloads from sites that are not established, and software programs that do not have a proven record of success.

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