Busted Alleged Russian Spies Used Steganography To Conceal Communications

    Date30 Jun 2010
    CategoryCryptography
    3615
    Posted ByAlex
    In a case that smacks of a Cold War spy novel, the FBI has arrested 11 suspected Russian spies who for years had blended into day-to-day American life in the suburbs and cities. Aside from hiding their true identities and posing as legitimate American citizens, the suspects also masked their communications with their intelligence agency back home in Moscow, using an oft-forgotten form of stealth communication -- steganography. According to U.S. Department of Justice legal filings, the defendants used a steganography tool, one that is not available commercially, to conceal their electronic communiques with Russian officials in the so-called SVR, a Russian Federation foreign intelligence body.

    Steganography hides text or images within image files or other innocuous-looking files. The alleged spies used steganography to hide messages within digital images on websites: "The software package permits the SVR clandestinely to insert encrypted data into images that are located on publicly-available websites without the data being visible," according to one of the DoJ's legal filings. "The encrypted data can be removed from the image, and then decrypted, using SVR-provided software. Similarly, SVR-provided software can be used to encrypt data, and then clandestinely to embed the data in images on publicly-available websites."

    FBI agents discovered the steganography software during their forensics investigations of computer disks they recovered in the Boston, Seattle, and New Jersey residences where some of the suspects lived, according to the legal filings (PDF), which detail how the suspects assimilated themselves in the U.S. in order to glean U.S. secrets, including nuclear weapons research, for Moscow.

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