Transfer Data via YouTube

The original steganography technique dates back to 440 BC (according to Wikipedia) when a Greek wrote secret messages on a piece of wood, covered it in wax, and then wrote innocent text on the wax. The term, in general, means hiding a message in something that looks harmless. The LVDO project (and a recent Windows fork) says it is steganography, but we aren’t quite sure it meets the definition. What it does is converts data into a video that you can transfer like any other video. A receiver that knows what LVDO parameters you used to create the video can extract the data (although, apparently, the reproduction is not always completely error-free).

The reason we aren’t sure if this really counts as steganography is that–judging from the example YouTube video (which is not encoded)–the output video looks like snow. It uses a discrete cosine transform to produce patterns. If you are the secret police, you might not know what the message says, but you certainly know it must be something. We’d be more interested in something that encodes data in funny cat videos, for example.

The idea is not completely new. Backing up computers on VCR tape was very popular in Russia, although it never caught on in the US (despite a few products that did it, including one for the Amiga). In case you were wondering, yes, we’ve talked about hiding data using kittens before, too.

If you want to see what an encoded video looks like, here’s one. We didn’t decode it (we don’t have the keys) but if you do and you wind up being rickrolled, don’t blame us.

31 thoughts on “Transfer Data via YouTube

    1. Well they did say Bin Laden had a Shiite load of porn in his hideout so it’s not a bad idea, anybody sees jacking material on your laptop they ignore it and the attack plans are encoded in it.

    1. Anyone else run a long coaxial cable from their home office to their living room VCR to do backups? I think my big noisy Corvus drive held 5MB and the VCR was a handy way to back up such a massive amount of data. The restore came in handy when the drive crashed, too.

      Those were the days….

  1. I remember the 1st gen digital audio adapters that encoded 16-44 into a format that would pass as video (NTSC) and could be recorded on VHS or Beta. It was “viewable”. Our humble Von’s Bookstore cable FM used them as well as WBAA AM on cable FM. WBAA was the last NPR to be only AM. This was back in the mid-late ’80,s. WBAA in ’93.

  2. This has been around for a while. I see these now and again. Although these days it’s put into the edge pixels of a long video or the static on predictable colours.
    Or even two videos on with different static then the other and you have to subtract the two frame by frame.

  3. Even the first frame or two being an ident and mask or at least clues to one, then the rest of the video is either a big barcode with errors or pixel numbers. I’ve ever seen plain text with a simple mask used before.

  4. Theres fairly strong techiques for small amounts of data in digital images. Modern watermarks can be surprisingly durable and invisible. DigiMark was a old brand name one I think – came with older copys of paint shop pro. Images could be stretched, cropped, printed, scanned, and the scanned image would still maintain the data.
    I couldn’t quite tell how it worked – but it did produce contrast changes in the image. Too subtle to notice unless you compared values. (yet, again, changing the contrast didnt erase the mark either, so it must be relative changes that were important)

    1. The too subtle to notice thing is relative. On a monitor that’s properly calibrated and gets a decent range of color you can spot the contrast based watermarks from normal viewing angles. On crappier monitors you can usually spot them by looking at the monitor from an off center angle. To actually hide something inside contrast you would need to rotate the pattern often and in ways that could easily be mistaken for encoding artifacts.

    1. W Even the first frame or two being an ident and mask or at least clues to one, then the rest of the video is either a big barcode with errors or pixel numbers. I’ve ever seen plain text with a simple mask used before.

  5. The Alpha Micro (68K-based mini) from the ’80s use VHS tape as a backup option, however it was mostly used as a cheap way to distribute OS and app updates. There was at the time a satellite download as well. IIRC the output was B/W blocks grouped into 10 vertical strips. The strips distributed 5 across by 2 down. Radio Shack made a special VCR for this that had a serial port so that you could fully automate it. I wish I had kept that VCR.

  6. A good way to hide data is to put it in captchas, since when the spooks try to decipher them they either fail or soon have a burnout and thus only get the first few words.

    Incidentally, I can’t see the first video, it’s log-in walled. (and I don’t play that game.)

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