Secret Radio Stations by the Numbers

One thing has stayed with the James Bond movie franchise through the decades: Mr. Bond always has the most wonderful of gadgets. Be it handheld, car-based, or otherwise, there’s always something to thrill that is mostly believable.

The biggest problem with all of those gadgets is that they mark Commander Bond as an obvious spy. “So Mr. Bond, I see you have a book with many random five character groups. Nothing suspicious about that at all!” And we all know that import/export specialists often carry exploding cufflinks or briefcases full of unknown electronics in hidden compartments.

Just as steganography hides data in plain sight, the best spy gadgets are the ones that don’t seem to be a spy gadget. It is no wonder some old weapons are little more than sticks or farm implements. You can tell a peasant he can’t have a sword, but it is hard to ban sticks.

Imagine you were a cold war era spy living in a hostile country with a cover job with Universal Exports. Would you rather get caught with a sophisticated encryption machine or an ordinary consumer radio? I’m guessing you went with the radio. You aren’t the only one. That was one of the presumed purposes to the mysterious shortwave broadcasts known as number stations. These were very common during the cold war, but there are still a few of them operating.
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Images carrying an encrypted data payload


This is a tidy looking banner image. But according to [Ian] it contains 52KB of source code. You can’t just read out all of that data. Well, you can but it will be gibberish. Before hiding the bits in plain sight he encrypted them with two different keys.

He’s using AES-256 encryption to keep his data away from prying eyes. But if that wasn’t enough, he also wrote a PHP program to hide the bits in a PNG image. Not just any picture will do (otherwise your eye will be able to see something’s awry). The post linked above focuses mainly on how to choose an image that will hide your data most easily. We asked him if he would share his techniques for actually merging the encrypted file with the picture and he delivered. Head on over to his repository if you want to take a look at the generator code.