Signals in the noise: Peter Wayner's new book on steganography

    Date22 Jul 2002
    3455
    Posted ByAnthony Pell
    When Peter Wayner wrote a book on the practice of steganography in 1996, the term seemed so arcane, so daunting, that his publisher insisted he not use that word in the title. That changed in the days after Sept. 11, however. . . . When Peter Wayner wrote a book on the practice of steganography in 1996, the term seemed so arcane, so daunting, that his publisher insisted he not use that word in the title. That changed in the days after Sept. 11, however. Among the many rumors floating around after the attacks, one held that Osama Bin Laden's minions communicated with one another via messages embedded in digital photographs that they sent around the Internet. Or something along those lines. The story was never verified, Wayner says, although the idea brought to light the little-known and ancient art of steganography. As luck would have it, Wayner was updating Disappearing Cryptography (the 1996 version was subtitled Being and Nothingness on the Net) at the time.

    Steganography has long been a sort of lonely stepchild to encryption. At its simplest, encryption is the art of scrambling a written message so that the resulting seemingly random collection of characters cannot be easily deciphered by another party. Steganography is the art of hiding of a message within another message, such that a passer-by is unaware of the concealed meaning.

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