What Is Steganography and How Does It Work?

What if you could hide your secret messages in plain sight? And send seemingly ordinary messages to friends and family without anyone suspecting that it carries a secret message?

The good news is, it exists. Steganography allows you to hide your messages in plain sight. So what is steganography? How does it differ from cryptography? And how does steganography actually work?


What Is Steganography?

Steganography is the practice or technique of hiding and concealing information in plain sight. It makes use of ordinary files like text, audio, image, videos, and even Word or Excel sheets to conceal information.

Steganography is taken from the two Greek words “steganos” and “graphia”. “Steganos” means “to hide, conceal, or cover”, while “graphia” means “to write or study”.

The History of Steganography

The technique of steganography isn’t recent; it is an age-long practice that has existed for centuries. In 500BC, a Miletus king once tattooed a message on a slave’s scalp, allowed the slave’s hair to regrow, and then sent the slave to his son-in-law. The son-in-law then shaved the slave’s head to read this secret message. No one traveling with the slave would have guessed that he held an important message on his scalp.

Steganography has changed a lot over the years! There have been instances of wax covering tablets with secret messages, and even seemingly regular drawings with deeper meanings. And then there’s the one you might be most familiar with: invisible ink. People have been using steganography for a very long while.

Steganography and Cryptography

Steganography and cryptography are two similar concepts, but they are different. Cryptography is the practice of hiding or securing information from unwanted parties. Cryptography is used to protect data and transmit it securely between two or more parties. There are many techniques in cryptography, two of which are encryption and steganography.

Encryption is a cryptography technique that works by converting the information you want to transmit into a cipher that can only be accessed and understood by the person who has a special key.

The difference between steganography and other forms of cryptography is that steganography hides the information in plain sight or uses ordinary day-to-day files; while using other cryptography techniques you know that there is secret information being transmitted. Steganography is the more secure method because it doesn’t give away the fact that information is being transmitted.

However, steganography can be combined with other cryptography techniques to create an even more secure mode of information transmission. Information can be encrypted using cryptographic algorithms, then concealed using steganography.

How Does Steganography Work?

So if steganography entails embedding private information into files, how does that actually work?

One popular technique in steganography is the Least Significant Bit (LSB) insertion. Here, the least significant bit of a file is inserted with information. Changing this bit will cause no noticeable alteration in the file used when modified. In image files, the data is inserted into one of the pixels in the image. LSB also works in audio and video files.

Other techniques in steganography include data ordering and letter substitution.

How Is Steganography Used Today?

Steganography has many uses today and although this technique has been adopted by malicious actors and actors to perpetrate crime, it also has positive uses.

Digital Watermarking

Digital watermarks are pieces of code or data embedded in media files to protect them from copyright infringement and to show ownership. Digital watermarks use steganography to create invisible watermarks that do not distort the image, while being able to track if it has been used without authorization.

Secure Information

This goes without saying. Steganography is used by government officials and law enforcement agencies to send highly confidential information to other parties without arousing suspicion.

Securing Your Data With Steganography

Steganography when coupled with encryption processes is an effective way of securing and transmitting data. With the increasing rate of data theft and interception, you have to be more intentional about securing your personal information, which makes steganography an important technique to know about.

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