In everyday terms, we expect language to be understandable, reliable, and shared. However, dialects, foreign languages, or communication systems out of our reach or ability can sometimes make understanding difficult. In particular, technology, an agreed-upon code or device/system, is set in place to deliberately hide the true intention of that communication. So what we see is not necessarily what we get. There may be a secret message hidden inside the innocuous message you have before you. In other words, someone has skewed the perspective of what you are reading, hearing, or experiencing to deceive your perception of what is actually being transmitted. Hence, an e-mailed photo of two friends at the park may actually hide a covert message sent from one spy to another.
Whether for fun, profit, or military means, we have been skewing the language rules for centuries. As Kipper's book will demonstrate, mathematicians, military warriors, and scientists have been altering the common language or the means by which we transfer our message to deliberately hide secret communications.
Hiding information in plain sight by altering the image we see, the arrangement of the message, or the language in which it is delivered has become a multi-million dollar industry known as steganography. Threats from abroad, as well as domestic uses for steganography, have kept decoders on their toes.
Two young ladies, Michele and Linda, are in a bar, both looking for "Mr. Right." Michele is patiently waiting in line for the ladies' room when she overhears two men talking to each other. They are looking at Linda, who is still sitting at the bar. "Hey … I think I'll put the moves on her, she looks pretty fun, and I'll bet easy enough to dump afterwards." Then the man begins to approach Linda; meanwhile, Michele gets her friend's attention. Linda notices that Michele is pushing her hair back with her fingers forming the letter "L" and indicating the man approaching Linda with her eyes. He does not have a chance now. Linda knows from Michele's openly signed but undisclosed message that this guy is a LOSER. To anyone else, Michele was just moving the hair out of her eyes.
Another fun example is Darmok and Jelad at Tenagra.
In a season-five episode of Star Trek, The Next Generation, called "Darmok," the Enterprise encounters an alien Tamarian ship at the planet El-Adrel IV, and communication between the alien Captain, Dathon, and our hero, Picard, is attempted by video/radio. The Tamarians cannot be understood, although they use English phrases, including names and events from their culture and mythology. Captain Picard and his first officer discuss the meaning of the Tamarian's phrase, Darmok and Jelad at Tenagra. Picard and Dathon transport to El-Adrel IV's surface, where they attempt to communicate.
Things turn ugly and a battle ensues between the two captains; at the same time Picard is trying to understand the language of the Tamarians. Finally, as the two captains struggle to communicate in order to fight effectively, Picard hypothesizes that the Tamarians communicate by example, and the proper names and places they cite are references to situations in their history. Picard is then able to begin to communicate with Dathon, and the alien responds enthusiastically to his efforts.
Picard concludes that the Tamarian language is based on metaphors from Tamarian history and mythology. Darmok and Jelad at Tenagra refers to two Tamarian heroes who met on an island, joined together to defeat a terrible monster, and left together. El-Adrel IV is the home of a powerful and monstrous creature, and the hope is that the Federation and the Tamarian people can become friends by jointly killing the monster on El-Adrel IV.
What began and ended as a diplomatic meeting could have cost fictitious lives if Picard did not decipher the message that was given in plain sight.
Multiply these examples by a few thousand times and you get modern steganography with all of its ciphers and software tools; yet, techno terms aside, steganography is passing the message between two parties, hidden in plain sight.
In the real-world, military, law enforcement, and business forms of steganography are used every day. Real lives rely on transmitting coordinates, drop locations, and important facts needed.
Bad guys use it, too. War chalking, hidden Internet transmissions, spy messages going in and out of the country, and even gang markings spray painted on a wall all are means of communicating information covertly.
What started over 4000 years ago with hieroglyphics has moved into a very technical and complicated science. As with many technical sciences, understanding the basics, getting through the rudimentary fundamentals, and finally comprehending the big picture is often not easy. Fortunately, Kipper entertains as he teaches, and offers many practical examples to explain this detail-oriented science. This work is a readable text that you will keep close. Perhaps Kipper has even hidden some messages within his work. You will have to read, learn, and understand to find that answer.
Cynthia Hetherington, M.L.S., M.S.M.