Russian Spies Transmitted Messages Through Images

By Carlton Purvis

In 2003, scientists were still scratching their heads over whether steganography was actually being used by anyone on the Internet. Some dismissed it as urban legend while others said the possibilities had yet to been seen.

The writer of the USA Today story, Jack Kelley, resigned in 2004 after admitting to plagiarizing and fabricating significant portions of his past stories, but that specific story may have contained some truths.

In April of 2006, the National Science and Technology Council published a federal plan for cybersecurity. Included in the plan was a section called “Detection of Hidden Information and Covert Information Flows” that addressed steganography. Its focus, however, was on the use of steganography to distribute malicious software rather than distribution of messages by terrorists noting that “the threat posed by steganography has been documented in numerous intelligence reports.”

“International interest in R&D for steganographic technologies and their commercialization and application has exploded in recent years. These technologies pose a potential threat to U.S. national security. Because steganography secretly embeds additional, and nearly undetectable, information content in digital products, the potential for covert dissemination of malicious software, mobile code, or information is great,” the plan says.

A jihadist technical manual from 2007 talks about the best steganography software to use to avoid detection by programs designed to find algorithms in images. When the U.S. raided Osama Bin Laden’s Abbottabad, Pakistan compound in May, they reported finding a large cache of porn, however, no evidence of imminent threats came from the material taken from the compound, but it did show that bin Laden was still involved with al Qaeda in strategic and tactical levels. Reports didn’t say if steganography was used, but that would be a good explanation for all the porn.

The FBI documents on Operation Ghost Stories also include surveillance photos and videos of the Russian operatives.

To reveal the message in the photo, download the photo and use this online tool to decrypt the image.

photo from flashcurd/flickr


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