“Steganography is a method of hiding secret data, by embedding it into an audio, video, image or text file. It is one of the methods employed to protect secret or sensitive data from malicious attacks.”
The word Steganography is derived from two Greek words- ‘stegos’ meaning ‘to cover’ and ‘grayfia’, meaning ‘writing’, thus translating to ‘covered writing’, or ‘hidden writing’. Steganography is a method of hiding secret data, by embedding it into an audio, video, image or text file. It is one of the methods employed to protect secret or sensitive data from malicious attacks.
How is it different from cryptography?
Cryptography and steganography are both methods used to hide or protect secret data. However, they differ in the respect that cryptography makes the data unreadable, or hides the meaning of the data, while steganography hides the existence of the data.
In layman’s terms, cryptography is similar to writing a letter in a secret language: people can read it, but don’t understand what it means. However, the existence of a (probably secret) message would be obvious to anyone who sees the letter, and if someone either knows or figures out your secret language, then your message can easily be read.
If you were to use steganography in the same situation, you would hide the letter inside a pair of socks that you would be gifting the intended recipient of the letter. To those who don’t know about the message, it would look like there was nothing more to your gift than the socks. But the intended recipient knows what to look for, and finds the message hidden in them.
Similarly, if two users exchanged media files over the internet, it would be more difficult to determine whether these files contain hidden messages than if they were communicating using cryptography.
Cryptography is often used to supplement the security offered by steganography. Cryptography algorithms are used to encrypt secret data before embedding it into cover files.
In modern digital steganography, data is first encrypted or obfuscated in some other way and then inserted, using a special algorithm, into data that is part of a particular file format such as a JPEG image, audio or video file. The secret message can be embedded in ordinary data files in many different ways. One technique is to hide data in bits that represent the same color pixels repeated in a row in an image file. By applying the encrypted data to this redundant data in some inconspicuous way, the result will be an image file that appears identical to the original image but that has “noise” patterns of regular, unencrypted data.
The practice of adding a watermark — a trademark or other identifying data hidden in multimedia or other content files — is one common use of steganography. Watermarking is a technique often used by online publishers to identify the source of media files that have been found being shared without permission.
While there are many different uses of steganography, including embedding sensitive information into file types, one of the most common techniques is to embed a text file into an image file. When this is done, anyone viewing the image file should not be able to see a difference between the original image file and the encrypted file; this is accomplished by storing the message with less significant bites in the data file. This process can be completed manually or with the use of a steganography tool.
Advantages over cryptography
Steganography is distinct from cryptography, but using both together can help improve the security of the protected information and prevent detection of secret communication. If steganographically-hidden data is also encrypted, the data may still be safe from detection — through the channel will no longer be safe from detection. There are advantages to using steganography combined with encryption over encryption-only communication.
The primary advantage of using steganography to hide data over encryption is that it helps obscure the fact that there is sensitive data hidden in the file or other content carrying the hidden text. Whereas an encrypted file, message or network packet payload is clearly marked and identifiable as such, using steganographic techniques helps to obscure the presence of the secure channel.
Steganography software is used to perform a variety of functions in order to hide data, including encoding the data in order to prepare it to be hidden inside another file, keeping track of which bits of the cover text file contains hidden data, encrypting the data to be hidden and extracting hidden data by its intended recipient.