Steganography Tools

In July, prominent hacker groups went on the equivalent of a media tour, promoting newly developed steganography tools: Camera/Shy (from Hacktivismo) and Peekabooty (from the Cult of the Dead Cow). Coverage showed up in mainstream news sources such as USA Today.

Steganography hides additional information within an image file. So, for example, a website .jpeg file could also include an encrypted text message, invisible to the naked eye, and extractable only by viewers with the correct software and key.

Hacktivismo says Camera/Shy is intended to allow democracy activists in totalitarian countries to post or view banned Internet content without detection by government authorities. Of course, the name Peekabooty implies other, perhaps less noble uses. The most common fear, though, is that these tools will provide terrorist groups with electronic communications that can't be brokenbecause the governments attempting to stop them won't even know the messages are being transmitted.

Terrorist fears aside, steganography has plenty of useful applications. "It's important to remember how valuable this kind of watermarking could be for Hollywood and other content providers," says Peter Wayner, author of the steganography primer Disappearing Cryptography. Steganography could encapsulate copyright and ownership information within video or sound files, Wayner notes. "It could help enable a good compromise that builds a reasonably priced Napsterlike system for supporting the artists. At least that's my hope. Lord knows [the media companies] could mess it up too."

Although steganography tools have been around for a while, Wayner expects Camera/Shy and Peekabooty will help popularize steganography, in part because they are relatively easy to use.

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