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What is Steganography? A Complete Tutorial

Apart from covering the Steganography definition, this tutorial will also run through its types, working, applications, and also how it can be detected in the first place.

Most of us are familiar with a large number of steganographic methods such as microdots, invisible ink, and many more. Let us dive into more details on this subject matter.

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What is Steganography?

Steganography refers to the practice of hiding a secret message inside or camouflaging it on top of something that is in plain sight. More recently, Steganography has started to involve embedding hidden texts in images or plating secret messages or scripts in a Word document or an Excel sheet. 

Steganography can make use of any medium to hide messages. If you are thinking of cryptography, let me stop you right here. Steganography, unlike cryptography, does not involve scrambling of data, which involves a key. This form of hiding information can be cleverly executed in several ways.

Cryptography enables privacy, while Steganography involves secrecy as well as deceit.

Now that we know what Steganography is, let us understand what its purpose is. As is quite apparent, the purpose is primarily to conceal or deceive. It is, after all, a form of covert communication.


Steganography Examples

Steganography uses careful techniques to hide the fact that a certain content exists. There are several creative ways to execute it, and it can be used with a variety of latest technologies. Here are a few examples:

A simpler example is a message in plain text. For example, in the following sentence, the first letter of each word reveals the word hidden:

Harriette is definitely done entertaining nonsense.

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Who uses Steganography?

Steganography is typically used by hackers who want to embed malicious code. They do so by altering an ordinary bit of a file and inserting malicious code in it. Once a user unintentionally downloads the code by opening a file or image, the malware is activated and the hacker gains control of the user’s network or the malware corrupts the content. The steganographic file is so subtly different from the original that it cannot be immediately detected.

Steganography is used by malicious attackers to execute a wide range of tasks such as hiding malicious payloads and script files. Malware developers use Least Significant Bit (LSB) Steganography for hiding code for their malware in images of famous people or famous songs. These codes are, then, executed with another program after the file is downloaded to the target computer system.

Cybercriminals are not the only ones who use Steganography. Spies use it to covertly communicate with their command center without arousing suspicion among their hosts. Some human rights activists and nonconformists also tend to utilize this method to share sensitive information.


 How does Steganography work?

The way that Steganography works is that it hides information so that it does not arouse suspicion. One of the most popular techniques is the LSB Steganography that we talked about earlier. In this type of Steganography, secret information is embedded in the least significant parts of a media file.

For instance, each pixel of an image file is made up of three bytes of data that correspond to the colors red, green, and blue; some image formats allocate an additional fourth byte to transparency or alpha. What LSB Steganography does is change the last bit of each of those bytes to hide one bit of data. So, in order to conceal 1 MB of data, an 8 MB image file is required.

Modifying the last bit of pixel value does not visually change the picture as the viewer will not be able to tell the difference. In the same way, data can be hidden in different parts of audio files and videos without changing the audible or visual output.

A less popular form of Steganography is through letter or word substitution. The sender hides the text by distributing it inside a longer text and placing the text at specific intervals, thus forming a pattern that needs to be decoded. It is a fairly simple technique.

One can also hide an entire partition on a hard drive or insert data in a file’s or network packet’s header section.

The effectiveness of these techniques is based on how much data can be hidden and the difficulty level of detection.


Steganography Techniques

Steganography techniques conceal messages to the best possible extent and reveal them only at the desired destination. Below are a few concealing techniques used in Steganography:

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Types of Steganography

Some bytes in files or images are not required. These can be replaced with a message without damaging the original file. Secret messages are hidden in this way. Let us explore some of the most common types of Steganography.


Image Steganography 

Nowadays, digital images are widely used and in various formats. Different formats use different algorithms altogether. Listed below are some common ones are:


Audio Steganography 

Embedding a secret message within an audio file is the most difficult task as the human brain has a wide range of auditory capacity. A few audio Steganography methods that are used are:


Video Steganography

In video Steganography, supplementary data is embedded into the carrier video file that will hide the secret message. This is executed through LSB insertion or real-time video Steganography.

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Steganography in Documents

Steganography in documents focuses on modifying the characteristics of a document. A few ways to achieve this are:


Detecting Steganography

Security analysts are professionals who attempt to identify the tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) of attackers and pen testers. Security analysts are well-learned in the typical signatures of steganographic applications used over the years. Antivirus applications are a good example of how security analysts can detect typical activities of steganographic applications.

Attackers and pen testers alter and modify their strategies to avoid detection, turning the entire process into a game of cat and mouse. Attackers constantly change their techniques and tools, while security analysts keep looking for new methods and signatures.


Difference between Steganography and Cryptography

Steganography is often confused and compared with cryptography. Steganography is used for concealing information, while cryptography is more focused on rendering content unreadable for everyone unless it is the intended recipient. Encrypted data is only accessible with the help of a decryption key.

Now, you must be wondering why use Steganography if cryptography provides better data protection. Well, the presence of cryptography itself reveals that something hidden exists. As a matter of fact, in most cases, the sender raises suspicion and gets into trouble. Cryptographic files are detectable.

Even the most secure crypto is worthless if the key is in hand. When it comes to matters of national security especially, robbing the key for sensitive information is not unheard of.

So, you can guess which technique is more feasible. 

Difference between Steganography and Cryptography

Steganography in Cryptography

Sometimes, both Steganography and cryptography are used together. While the concept of both is quite different, they are mutually inclusive. In Steganography, data within a carrier file does not necessarily have to be in clear text. It is possible to conceal encrypted data with steganography as well. Even if the hidden data is discovered,  it will still need to be decrypted to uncover its content.


Steganography Tools

Steganography software tools allow a user to hide information in a carrier file. Many tools are available that offer Steganography. While some offer normal Steganography, others provide encryption before hiding the data. A few tools can only hide the data behind an image, but others are able to use any type of file. 

Steganography Tools

Listed below are a few Steganography software that are available for free:

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Steganography Applications Today

A few of the applications of Steganography are:

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Steganography is more of a concept than a method of data delivery by secretive methods. This makes the application of Steganography easier in more than one clever way. Steganography is significantly more sophisticated than before. It is often paired with cryptography for double protection.

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The post What is Steganography? A Complete Tutorial appeared first on Intellipaat Blog.

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