Steganography is the process of hiding a message or other information within another message. Think of invisible ink — something that allows a message to be hidden in plain sight. But modern technology allows for lots of other cool ways for information to stay unseen (unless you know it’s there.)
In Crash Alive, Haylie Black leans on a few modern versions of the concept to help solve steps of the mysterious Internet puzzle known as Raven 2309.
With current technology, it’s possible to add messages to regular old image files (JPGs, GIFs, etc.) and keep them hidden away from the unknowing viewer. There are plenty of programs that allow you to write and find these messages. One that I played with while writing Crash Alive was OutGuess (you can download it here.)
In fact, let’s try it out.
Here’s an image that we’ll start with, a promo from an early cover concept for Crash Alive.
Now, we’ll open up Outguess and see if we can add something hidden inside.
The first thing you need to do is add a key, or password to protect the file. In the command line version of the tool you don’t need a password, but the application needs one for some reason. Let’s use the word “Raven” as ours.
Then we can tab over to the “Hide” section and add our files.
The first line (labeled “File”) is where you select the file you want to hide. (Outguess has a second file box as well, if you want to hide more than one.) Then, down on the next line that reads “In”, you can add the host file. Then you just hit the big green arrow and you’ve got a new file, with hidden stuff inside.
Let’s try it out: here’s a second version of the above image with a file hidden inside. Looks the same, right?
But if you download the image and extract using our password above, you’ll find a text file hidden inside.
Messages can also be hidden inside audio files. Specialized programs allow the user to visualize the sound spectrum in search for hidden messages, and even write messages to audio files themselves.
An great example of audio-based steganography comes from the electronic musician Aphex Twin, who snuck pictures of his own face into one of his audio tracks. The noise added to the tracks are typically subtle enough to not attract attention, and listeners had no idea that a secret message was hidden inside the track. When seen through a steganography tool that displays output from the sound waves in the track. It looked like this:
An artist named Plaid did the same thing, as you can see here.
Venetian Snares did it as well by throwing in a picture of a cat.
The tool I used to play around with steganography for the book is called Sonic Visualizer, and you can find it here.