Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Finding computer files hidden in plain sight

26.05.2006


Ames Laboratory researchers detect secret files lurking within digital images



Keeping computer files private requires only the use of a simple encryption program. For criminals or terrorists wanting to conceal their activities, however, attaching an encrypted file to an e-mail message is sure to raise suspicion with law enforcement or government agents monitoring e-mail traffic.

But what if files could be hidden within the complex digital code of a photographic image? A family snapshot, for example, could contain secret information and even a trained eye wouldn’t know the difference.


That ability to hide files within another file, called steganography, is here thanks to a number of software programs now on the market. The emerging science of detecting such files – steganalysis – is getting a boost from the Midwest Forensics Resource Center at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory and a pair of Iowa State University researchers.

Electronic images, such as jpeg files, provide the perfect “cover” because they’re very common – a single computer can contain thousands of jpeg images and they can be posted on Web sites or e-mailed anywhere. Steganographic, or stego, techniques allow users to embed a secret file, or payload, by shifting the color values just slightly to account for the “bits” of data being hidden. The payload files can be almost anything from illegal financial transactions and the proverbial off-shore account information to sleeper cell communications or child pornography.

“We’re taking very simple stego techniques and trying to find statistical measures that we can use to distinguish an innocent image from one that has hidden data,” said Clifford Bergman, ISU math professor and researcher on the project. “One of the reasons we’re focusing on images is there’s lots of ‘room’ within a digital image to hide data. You can fiddle with them quite a bit and visually a person can’t see the difference.”

“At the simplest level, consider a black and white photo – each pixel has a grayscale value between zero (black) and 255 (white),” said Jennifer Davidson, ISU math professor and the other investigator on the project. “So the data file for that photo is one long string of those grayscale numbers that represent each pixel.”

Encrypted payload files can be represented by a string of zeros and ones. To embed the payload file, the stego program compares the payload file’s string of zeros and ones to the string of pixel values in the image file. The stego program then changes the image’s pixel values so that an even pixel value represents a zero in the payload string and an odd pixel value represents a one. The person receiving the stego image then looks at the even-odd string of pixel values to reconstruct the payload’s data string of zeros and ones, which can then be decrypted to retrieve the secret file.

“Visually, you won’t see any difference between the before and after photo,” Davidson said, “because the shift in pixel value is so minor. However, it will change the statistical properties of the pixel values of the image and that’s what we’re studying.”

Given the vast number of potential images to review and the variety and complexity of the embedding algorithms used, developing a quick and easy technique to review and detect images that contain hidden files is vital. Bergman and Davidson are utilizing a pattern recognition system called an artificial neural net, or ANN, to distinguish between innocent images and stego images.

Training the ANN involved obtaining a database of 1,300 “clean” original images from a colleague, Ed Delp, at Purdue University. These images were then altered in eight different ways using different stego embedding techniques – involving sophisticated transfer techniques between the spatial and wavelet domains – to create a database of over 10,000 images.

Once trained, the ANN can then apply its rules to new candidate images and classify them as either innocent or stego images.

“The ANN establishes kind of a threshold value,” Bergman said. “If it falls above the threshold, it’s suspicious.
“If you can detect there’s something there, and better yet, what method was used to embed it, you could extract the encrypted data,” Bergman continued. “But then you’re faced with a whole new problem of decrypting the data … and there are ciphers out there that are essentially impossible to solve using current methods.”

In preliminary tests, the ANN was able to identify 92 percent of the stego images and flagged only 10 percent of the innocent images, and the researchers hope those results will get even better. An investigator with the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation is currently field-testing the program to help evaluate its usefulness and a graphical user interface is being developed to make the program more user friendly.

“Hopefully we can come up with algorithms that are strong enough and the statistics are convincing enough for forensic scientists to use in a court of law,” Bergman said, “so they can say, ‘There’s clearly something suspicious here,’ similar to the way they use DNA evidence to establish a link between the defendant and the crime.”

The project is funded by the Midwest Forensics Resource Center. The MFRC, operated by Ames Laboratory, provides research and support services to crime laboratories and forensic scientists throughout the Midwest.

Ames Laboratory is operated for the Department of Energy by Iowa State University. The Lab conducts research into various areas of national concern, including energy resources, high-speed computer design, environmental cleanup and restoration, and the synthesis and study of new materials.

Kerry Gibson | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.ameslab.gov

More articles from Information Technology:

nachricht Five developments for improved data exploitation
19.04.2017 | Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Künstliche Intelligenz GmbH, DFKI

nachricht Smart Manual Workstations Deliver More Flexible Production
04.04.2017 | Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Künstliche Intelligenz GmbH, DFKI

All articles from Information Technology >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

NASA examines newly formed Tropical Depression 3W in 3-D

26.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

New High-Performance Center Translational Medical Engineering

26.04.2017 | Health and Medicine

NASA's Fermi catches gamma-ray flashes from tropical storms

25.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>