Researchers Combat Terrorists by Rooting Out Hidden Messages

Tyler Durden camera_lumina at
Tue Feb 1 14:07:25 PST 2005

Counter-stego detection.

Seems to me a main tool will be a 2-D Fourier analysis...Stego will 
certainly have a certain "thumbprint", depending on the algorithm. Are there 
certain images that can hide stego more effectively? IN other words, these 
images should have a lot of spectral energy in the same frequency bands 
where Stego would normally show.


>From: "R.A. Hettinga" <rah at>
>To: cryptography at, cypherpunks at, 
>osint at
>Subject: Researchers Combat Terrorists by Rooting Out Hidden Messages
>Date: Tue, 1 Feb 2005 15:38:02 -0500
>Source: University of Delaware
>Released: Tue 01-Feb-2005, 13:10 ET
>Researchers Combat Terrorists by Rooting Out Hidden Messages
>Science News
>  Contact Information
>Available for logged-in reporters only
>Researchers at the University of Delaware are working to combat terrorism
>by developing techniques to detect the use of steganography, which
>encompasses various methods of hiding messages in apparently ordinary
>digital images and videos.
>  Newswise - A University of Delaware research team has received National
>Science Foundation funding to combat terrorism by developing techniques to
>detect the use of steganography, which encompasses various methods of
>hiding messages in apparently ordinary digital images and videos.
>It is feared electronic steganography can be used by terrorist
>organizations to pass along orders or other vital information
>surreptitiously through images posted on the Internet or sent via e-mail.
>The grant for more than $167,000 was awarded to Charles Boncelet, UD
>professor of electrical and computer engineering, to conduct research in
>the relatively new field of steganalysis. Boncelet will work on the project
>with Lisa Marvel, a UD graduate now employed by the U.S. Army Research
>Laboratory, and with several graduate students.
>  Boncelet said steganography is Greek for covered writing, and is a means
>by which a person can hide the very fact that they are communicating. In
>that, it differs from the better-known practice of cryptography, Greek for
>secret writing, in which a message is purposely garbled and can be
>understood only by those who have the key to decipher it.
>  The two forms of communication are not mutually exclusive, Boncelet said,
>and can be combined. A person can encrypt a message and then hide the fact
>that they are sending it.
>Boncelet previously worked in steganography for the U.S. Army and through
>this project will begin working in steganalysis, or the development of
>methods by which to seek out steganography.
>"The work we are doing is in multimedia, with a focus on digital images,"
>Boncelet said. "You can take an image on your web site and use
>steganographic techniques to hide a message in the image. The image looks
>completely ordinary but if you know the key, you can extract the secret
>"The object of the research," Boncelet said, "is to try to figure out how
>to find steganography in the images."
>The problem is that steganalysis is very difficult because the messages are
>hidden by design. However, Boncelet said, "when you hide a message in a
>digital image, you change the image a little bit. If you change the image
>too much, it gives it away."
>The way to determine any changes to an image, given that the steganalyst
>does not have the benefit of the original for purposes of comparison, is to
>use algorithms and very fast computers to look for unusual features in the
>Boncelet said he believes the research will lead to a novel class of
>electronic steganography searchers based on image representations that
>depend on a quality factor, with the long-term goal being automated
>scanners that can rapidly find likely candidates amongst large numbers of
>images and videos.
>  "Assuming the technique we develop is successful, we hope to branch out 
>video and audio," Boncelet said, "but right now the focus is on digital
>In addition to the research, the project will provide training in
>steganalysis and intelligence techniques to the students involved.
>Boncelet said steganography "is a very big fear for governments," adding
>that the security agencies that deal with the technique "worry about
>terrorists passing messages, or traitors leaking out information from
>secure sites."
>After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, there was widespread
>speculation in the public press that terrorists had used steganography on
>the Internet to communicate plans. Although those reports were never
>confirmed, the possibility remains a grave concern.
>One of the earliest examples of steganography comes from ancient history,
>Boncelet said, explaining that a Greek city was surrounded by enemy
>soldiers and the leader wanted to get a message to his allies to send
>troops. He selected a slave and shaved his head, tattooing the plea for
>help on his scalp, then allowed the slave's hair to grow back over the
>message. The slave was sent out of the city walls, was captured and
>released by the enemy troops, and arrived safely with the message.
>In World War II, Boncelet said, American soldiers used steganography to
>provide information on their whereabouts to relatives back home by putting
>a pinprick on a map. Army censors were forced to pepper letters with
>hundreds of pinpricks to offset the practice. German spies used
>steganography in microdots, tiny images of typed pages that could be pasted
>over periods in seemingly harmless letters.
>The NSF grant is for one year and was awarded through the Approaches to
>Combat Terrorism Program in the Directorate for Mathematical and Physical
>Sciences, which supports new concepts in basic research and work force
>development with the potential to contribute to national security.
>R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah at>
>The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <>
>44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
>"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
>[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
>experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'

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