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Porn, Steganography & Al Qaeda = Bad News May 2, 2012

Posted by Chris Mark in InfoSec & Privacy, Risk & Risk Management, terrorism.
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“Believe half of what you see and nothing that you hear”…Benjamin Franklin

Recently it was disclosed that German cryptographers had managed to decipher plans taken from an Al Qaeda operator who had a memory card confiscated.  According to the story: “On May 16 last year, a 22-year-old Austrian named Maqsood Lodin was being questioned by police in Berlin. He had recently returned from Pakistan via Budapest, Hungary, and then traveled overland to Germany. His interrogators were surprised to find that hidden in his underpants were a digital storage device and memory cards.  Buried inside them was a pornographic video called “Kick Ass” — and a file marked “Sexy Tanja.” “  As stated on Gary Kessler’s website:

“Steganography is the science of hiding information” 

Why would someone use steganography?  Simple.  If you come across a file that looks like an innocuous picture or movie, maybe you will not look any further.  By combining steganography with cryptography (science of writing in secret codes) a person can not only gain a second layer of protection.  First the person must find the information being hidden and then decrypt it.

At a more fundamental level the choice of using porn is not random.  A single 22 year old male walking around with a storage card of porn is probably not too unexpected nor very surprising.  If the 22 year old was found with videos of wedding ceremonies it would probably merit a closer look.  Conversely, a 22 year old single woman walking around with porn as opposed to wedding videos would likely merit a closer look.  This shows that Al Qaeda is capitalizing on the “human element” in an attempt to circumvent security.

What was found?  According to the article, a “Treasure trove” of information was found regarding Al Qaeda plans.   These plans included the hijacking of a cruise liner, and carrying out attacks in Europe.  Additionally, terrorist training manuals in .pdf format were found in numerous languages.  Kudos to the Germans for finding and deciphering the information!

BTW: The pic above is a link to a steganography application…

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