Spies use websites to hide secret messages: FBI

By SiliconIndia   |   Wednesday, 30 June 2010, 09:59 Hrs   |    2 Comments
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Spies use websites to hide secret messages: FBI
Bangalore: Spies are using Steganography, a method for secret communications using ordinary websites as a shield. Now the messages can be hidden in the 1s and 0s of electronic files - pictures, audio, video and executables. As information went digital, the process of data hiding also changed. Steganography is one of the high tech and time tested methods that the deep cover agents and their Russian handlers use to pass information in secret, reports Noah Shachtman from Wired.com.

Steganography is simultaneously one of the oldest methods for secret communications, and one of the more advanced. The hidden communications could even be slowly dribbled into the torrent of IP traffic. Compression schemes - like JPEG for images or MP3 for audio - introduce errors into the files, making a message even easier to hide. New colors or tones can be subtly added or removed, to cover up for the changes.

The accused Russian spy network has started using the technology as early as 2005, according to the Justice Department's criminal complaint against the conspirators.

In 2005, law enforcement agents raided the home of one of the alleged spies. There, they found a set of password-protected disks and a piece of paper, marked with "alt," "control," "e," and a string of 27 characters. When they used that as a password, the G-Men found a program that allowed the spies "to encrypt data, and then clandestinely to embed the data in images on publicly available websites."

The G-Men also found a hard drive. On it was an address book with website URLs, as well as the user's web traffic history. "These addresses, in turn, had links to other websites," the complaint notes. "Law-enforcement agents visited some of the referenced websites, and many others as well, and have downloaded images from them. These images appear wholly unremarkable to the naked eye. But these images (and others) have been analyzed using the Steganography Program. As a result of this analysis, some of the images have been revealed as containing readable text files."

These messages were used to arrange meetings, cash drops, deliveries of laptops and further information exchanges. One of the steganographically hidden messages also directed the conspirators to use radiograms - a decades-old method to pass information, long discredited in spooky circles.

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