[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

[ISN] Spy vs. Spy


By Sally Adee
First Published August 2008
IEEE Spectrum

Earlier this year, someone at the United States Department of Justice 
smuggled sensitive financial data out of the agency by embedding the 
data in several image files. Defeating this exfiltration method, called 
steganography, has proved particularly tricky, but one engineering 
student has come up with a way to make espionage work against itself..

Keith Bertolino, founder of digital forensics start-up E.R. Forensics, 
based in West Nyack, N.Y., developed a new way of disrupting 
steganography last year while finishing his electrical engineering 
degree at Northeastern University, in Boston..

Steganography uses innocuous documents, usually an image file, as 
carriers for secret messages. Unlike encryption, steganography encodes 
the message while at the same time concealing the fact that a message is 
being sent at all. The Greek-derived name means "covered writing." The 
earliest steganographers were said to be Greek generals who tattooed 
sensitive information onto the shaved heads of messengers. Once the hair 
grew back, the messenger could travel without suspicion to the intended 
recipient, who "decrypted" the secret message by shaving the messenger.s 
head again. In its current incarnation, steganography often makes use of 
e-mail, an ideal carrier for any corporate spy, disgruntled employee, or 
terrorist. ?

Steganography algorithms vary widely.digital forensics firm WetStone 
Technologies Inc., of Ithaca, N.Y., lists 612 applications - but they 
work on basically the same principle. To embed a message in an innocuous 
image of a cat, for example, a commonly used steganography algorithm 
called LSB takes advantage of the way computers digitally encode color. 
The algorithm hides the fugitive file inside the so-called noncritical 
bits of color pixels. Noncritical bits are just what they sound like.the 
least important information in a pixel. A gray pixel in the cat.s 
uniformly gray fur, for example, is coded as a number that looks 
something like 00 10 01 00. By changing the least significant bits.the 
last two.you introduce one-millionth of a color change, an absurdly 
subtle alteration that no human eye could detect. ?


Register now for HITBSecConf2008 - Malaysia! With 
a new triple-track conference featuring 4 keynote 
speakers and over 35 international experts, this 
is the largest network security event in Asia and 
the Middle East!