recommended reading

This Emerging Malware Sends Secret Messages and Is Practically Impossible to Detect


As if computer malware that steals your data weren’t enough, now there’s a new kind to worry about: Malware that does it via covert messages that are practically impossible to detect. And it’s becoming more prevalent, according to a new paper by researchers at the Warsaw University of Technology, the National Research Council of Italy, and Fraunhofer FKIE, a private information security research institute.

The malware is a modern take on steganography, an old technique of hiding secret messages in apparently innocuous texts. This new so-called “network steganography” works by cramming extra information into the data packets that travel across networks when we use the internet.

Steganography is useful when it’s important to obscure not only the content of a message, but the fact that a message exists at all, making it hard for law-enforcement agencies to detect. In digital form, it can be useful for good causes—for example, allowing a journalist facing censorship to communicate without attracting attention. But more often it has been used to infect computers and secretly steal data, or as a communication tool for criminal organizations.

One such organization was the child pedophilia ring known as the “Shadowz Brotherhood,” which was uncovered in 2002. It used an older steganographic method of encrypting data and storing it in apparently innocent image files. Modern network steganography could be even more difficult to detect, because unlike image files, the network packets that contain the secret messages are often deleted automatically, leaving no footprints to examine.

Since most of what we know about steganographic methods comes from researchers, not criminals, it’s hard to know how widespread the malware is on the Internet. What little we do know comes from the attacks that are exposed, such as a2008 theft of financial data from the US Department of Justice and a piece of malware called Duqu discovered infecting computers in 2011 by researchers in Budapest. But these attacks were still more primitive than the techniques the new paper describes.

To make matters worse, there are potentially hundreds of steganographic methods that network technology makes possible—from sending data over a voice service like Skype during pauses in a conversation, to tacking extra words on to Google search suggestions, to communicating via precise patterns of smartphone vibrations. That makes security difficult to tackle, the researchers say. The paper concludes with a pessimistic whimper: “A problematic aspect in this regard is the lack of effective and universal countermeasures,” it says. “We therefore deduce a need for additional research … that will lead to improved countermeasures.”

Reprinted with permission from Quartz. The original story can be found here

(Image via Mopic/

Threatwatch Alert

Thousands of cyber attacks occur each day

See the latest threats


Close [ x ] More from Nextgov

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Modernizing IT for Mission Success

    Surveying Federal and Defense Leaders on Priorities and Challenges at the Tactical Edge

  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

  • Effective Ransomware Response

    This whitepaper provides an overview and understanding of ransomware and how to successfully combat it.

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.