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Steganography and terrorism: Why ISIS relies on it so much

By Vicky
  • ISIS, Al-Qaeda use steganography to pass on secret messages
  • Encrypting coded messages in porn pictures the safest way for terrorists to communicate
  • Messages have been encrypted on ebay and Reddit also
  • A nightmare for investigators to track the use of steganography
Why ISIS relies on steganography

A book titled Gideon's Spies- The Secret History of the Mossad has revealed that terror groups such as the ISIS are using encrypted messages on eBay, Reddit, and pornographic websites. This technology where secret information is concealed within a digital file and this can be accessed by the other person who is supposed to read the message.

This technology which the ISIS has been using is known as steganography. It is through this technology that secret messages are concealed and investigations have found that several messages which were encrypted had information about future attacks.

The Mossad had learnt that there was an increase in the flow of internet traffic following the Charlie Hebdo attack. This was made use of by terrorist groups who used steganography to post encrypted messages on the internet. The Mossad decoded hexadecimal characters and prime numbers which the terrorists were using to conceal the information.

What is steganography

Steganography is considered to be an art through which files, messages, image or a video is concealed within another file. To the naked eye the messages are not visible. Loosely translated it would mean it is invisible ink in a letter.

While cryptography is the practice of protecting contents of a message, steganography is concerned with concealing the fact that a secret message is being sent, as well as concealing the contents of the message.

The sender of a message would chose an image file and adjust the colour of every 100th pixel to correspondent to a letter in the alphabet.

Al-Qaeda relied on steganography

When investigators from the United States of America dug deep into the Al-Qaeda's network it was found that they had extensively used steganography to pass on messages.

Groups such as the Hizbollah, Hamas and Al-Qaeda had used steganography to pass on messages beween each other. Once the messages were encrypted, the Al-Qaeda members downloaded the files using various software to execute several terrorist plots. Traces of the technique being used during the 9/11 attack were also seen during investigation.

Using their imagination

Steganography has most of the time been used by terrorist groups on pornographic files. The messages are embedded into a pornographic file. To anyone watching the file it is a normal pornographic picture. However the person on the other end would know exactly what to look for.

Steganography messages are difficult to detect by investigators

This means that the receiver would need to use his imagination to detect which picture has the message encoded into it. The receiver of the file would look close into the picture. He would look for a time stamp on the picture or a unique word on the subject line of the picture.

Detection is difficult

For an investigating officer detecting steganography is a nightmare. There is absolutely no record to show that the sender and the receiver had ever communicated. They do not exchange calls or emails.

What investigating agencies have been doing is keeping a track of all downloaded pictures on the web. Pictures that are downloaded in places where the terrorist networks are strong are part of the data base. They would then keep a watch on these pictures closely to see if there are messages coded into them.


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