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Detecting Steganographic Content

in Images Found on the Internet


Jeremy Callinan Donald Kemick

Faculty Sponsor: Don Lewicki


Department of Business Management

University of Pittsburgh at Bradford



Steganographic techniques are being applied across a broad set of different digital technologies. It has been rumored that terrorists have been utilizing steganographic techniques within digital images to communicate on the Internet. There have been no confirmed reports of successful detection of steganographic content within images found on the Internet. In this paper, the authors describe their efforts in performing their own analysis. Approximately 250,000 images were collected and over 20,000 files were analyzed in-depth in an attempt to detect steganographic content.  Although no steganographic content was revealed, the research framework that was established will provide a springboard for future experiments.


Steganography is the art and science of hiding information by embedding messages within other, seemingly harmless messages. However, steganography is not cryptography. Cryptography involves transforming an original message so that any individual that happens to find the transformed message will not be able to understand it without knowing the correct decrypting method, usually through some contact/agreement with the original encryptor. [9] Steganography is used to hide the very existence of the message. [2] Unlike encryption, steganography cannot be detected. Therefore, it is used when encryption is not permitted. Or, more commonly, steganography is used to supplement encryption. An encrypted file may still hide information using steganography, so even if the encrypted file is deciphered, the hidden message is not exposed.

Steganography (literally meaning covered writing) dates back to ancient Greece. Common ancient Steganographic practices consisted of etching messages in wooden tablets and covering them with wax. Another method involved tattooing a shaved messenger's head, letting his hair grow back, then shaving it again when he arrived at his contact point. [2]

 Computer steganography works by replacing bits of unused data areas in regular computer files, such as graphics, sound, text, HTML, or even floppy disks, with bits of useful, invisible information. Examples of this  hidden information can be plain text, cipher text, or images. [9] Many Steganographic methods  hide  content in the “least significantâ€