Digital steganography and Sage

This post shall explain how the F5 stegosystem (in a simple case) can be implemented in Sage. I thank Carlos Munuera for teaching me these ideas and for many helpful conversations on this matter. I also thank Kyle Tucker-Davis [1] for many interesting conversations on this topic.

Steganography, meaning “covered writing,” is the science of secret communication [4]. The medium used to carry the information is called the “cover” or “stego-cover” (depending on the context – these are not synonymous terms). The term “digital steganography” refers to secret communication where the cover is a digital media file.

One of the most common systems of digital steganography is the Least Significant Bit (LSB) system. In this system, we assume the “cover” image is represented as a finite sequence of binary vectors of a given length. In other words, a greyscale image is regarded as an array of pixels, where each pixel is represented by a binary vector of a certain fixed length. Each such vector represents a pixel’s brightness in the cover image. The encoder embeds (at most) one bit of information in the least significant bit of eaach vector. Care must be taken with this system to ensure that the changes made do not betray the stego-cover, while still maximizing the information hidden.

From a short note of Crandell [3] in 1998, it was realized that error-correcting codes can give rise to “stego-schemes”, ie, methods by which a message can be hidden in a digital file efficiently.

Idea in a nutshell: If C is the r-th binary Hamming code (so, n = 2^r-1 is its length, k = 2^r - r - 1 is its dimension, and d = 3 is its minimum distance), G is a generating matrix, H is a check matrix, and C^\perp is the dual code of C, then we take an element v \in GF(2)^n to be a cover, and the message m we embed is an element of GF(2)^r. Once we find a vector z of lowest weight such that H(v+z)=m, we call v+z the stegocover. The stegocover looks a lot like the original cover and “contains” the message m. This will be explained in more detai below.
(This particular scheme is called the F5 stegosystem, and is due to Westfeld.)

Quick background on error-correcting, linear, block codes [5]

A linear error-correcting block code is a finite dimensional vector space over a finite field with a fixed basis. We assume the finite field is the binary field GF(2).

We shall typically think of a such a code as a subspace C of GF(2)^n with a fixed basis, where n>0 is an integer called the length of the code. Moreover, the basis for the ambient space GF(2)^n will be the standard basis,

e_1=(1,0,\dots, 0),  e_2=(0,1,0,\dots, 0),  \dots,  e_n=(0,\dots, 0,1).

There are two common ways to specify a linear code C.

  1. You can give C as a vector subspace of GF(2)^n by specifying a set of basis vectors for C. This set of basis vectors is, by convention, placed as
    the rows of a matrix called a generator matrix G of C. Obviously, the order in which the rows are presented does not
    affect the code itself.

    If g_1, \dots, g_k are the rows of G then

    C= \{c=m_1g_1+\dots +m_kg_k\ |\ {\rm some}\ m_i\in GF(2)\},

    is the set of linear combinations of the row vectors g_i. The vector of coefficients, m=(m_1,\dots, m_k) represents the information you want to encode and transmit.

    In other words, encoding of a message can be defined via the generator matrix:

    \begin{array}{ccc}  m = (m_1,\dots, m_k) & \to & c=m_1g_1+\dots +m_kg_k = m^t\cdot G,\\  GF(2)^k & \to & C.  \end{array}

  2. You can give C as a vector subspace of GF(2)^n by specifying a matrix H for which C is the kernel of H, C={\rm ker}(C). This matrix is called a check matrix of C. Again, the order in which the rows are presented does not affect the code itself.

Note that if G is a full rank k\times n matrix then a full rank check matrix H must be a (n-k) \times n matrix.

These two ways of defining a code are not unrelated.

If G=(I_k\ \vert\ A) is the generating matrix for C then H=(-A^t\ \vert\ I_{n-k}) is a parity check matrix.

Let r>0 be an integer and let H be a r\times (2^r-1) matrix whose columns are all the distinct non-zero vectors of GF(2)^r. Then, the code having H as its check matrix is called a binary Hamming code, denoted Ham(r,2).

Let r=3, and let

H=  \begin{pmatrix}  0 & 1 & 1 & 1 & 1 & 0 & 0 \\  1 & 0 & 1 & 1 & 0 & 1 & 0 \\     1 & 1 & 0 & 1 & 0 & 0 & 1   \end{pmatrix}.

In this form, namely when the columns of H are arranged in standard form such that the rightmost k\times k entries is the identity matrix I_k, the generator matrix G can be quickly found to be

G=  \begin{pmatrix}  1 & 0 & 0 & 0 & 0 & 1 & 1 \\  0 & 1 & 0 & 0 & 1 & 0 & 1 \\     0 & 0 & 1 & 0 & 1 & 1 & 0 \\  0 & 0 & 0 & 1 & 1 & 1 & 1   \end{pmatrix}.

A coset of GF(2)^n/C is a subset of GF(2)^n of the form C+v for some v\in GF(2)^n. Let S be a coset of C. Then,
a coset leader of S is an element of S having smallest Hamming weight.

The coset leaders of a Hamming code are those vectors of wt \leq 1.

Steganographic systems from error-correcting codes

This section basically describes Crandell’s idea [3] in a more formalized language.

Following Munuera’s notation in [6], a steganographic system S can be formally defined as

S= \{\mathcal{C}, \mathcal{M}, \mathcal{K}, emb, rec \},

  1. \mathcal{C} is a set of all possible covers

  2. \mathcal{M} is a set of all possible messages

  3. \mathcal{K} is a set of all possible keys

  4. emb:\mathcal{C}\times\mathcal{M}\times\mathcal{K}\to\mathcal{C} is an embedding function

  5. rec:\mathcal{C}\times\mathcal{K}\to\mathcal{M} is a recovery function

and these all satisfy


for all m\in\mathcal{M}, c\in\mathcal{C}, k\in\mathcal{K}. We will assume that a fixed key k\in\mathcal{K} is used, and therefore,
the dependence on an element in the keyspace \mathcal{K} can be ignored. The original cover c is called the plain cover, m is called the message, and emb(c,m,k)=emb(c,m) is called the stegocover. Let \mathcal{C} be GF(2)^n, representing both plain covers and stegocovers. Also, let \mathcal{M} be GF(2)^k, where k is a fixed integer such that 0 \leq k \leq n.

Sage examples

How do we compute the emb map?

We need the following Sage function.

def hamming_code_coset_leader(C, y):
      Finds the coset leader of a binary Hamming code C.
      F = C.base_ring()
      n = C.length()
      k = C.dimension()
      r = n-k
      V0 = F^r
      if not(y in V0):
          RaiseError, "Input vector is not a syndrome."
      H = C.check_mat()
      colsH = H.columns()
      i = colsH.index(y)
      V = F^n
      v = V(0)
      v[i] = F(1)
      return v

Let V = GF(2)^{63} and consider the cover v = ([1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1, 1,1,1,1,0,0,1,1,1, 1,0,0,0,0,0,0,1,1,1,0,0,0,0,0,0,0,1,1,0,0,0,0,0,0,1,1,1,0,0,1,1,0,0,1,1). Regarded as a 7\times 9 matrix,

V = GF(2)^(63)
rhino = V([1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,1,
A = matrix(GF(2),7,rhino.list())

this looks like an elephant or a rhino:

Now we embed the message m = (1,0,1,0,1,0). First we compute the stegocover:

C = HammingCode(6,GF(2))
H = C.check_mat()
V0 = GF(2)^6
m = V0([1,0,1,0,1,0])
z = hamming_code_coset_leader(C, m)
stegocover = rhino+z
A = matrix(GF(2),7,stegocover.list())

It looks like another rhino/elephant:

Note only one bit is changed since the Hamming weight of z is at most 1. To recover the message m, just multiply the vector “stegocover” by H.

That’s how you can use Sage to understand the F5 stegosystem, at least in a very simple case.

[1] Kyle Tucker-Davis, “An analysis of the F5 steganographic system”, Honors Project 2010-2011

[2] J. Bierbrauer and J. Fridrich. “Constructing good covering codes for applications in Steganography}. 2006.

[3] Crandall, Ron. “Some Notes on Steganography”. Posted on a Steganography Mailing List, 1998.

[4] Wayner, Peter. Disappearing Cryptography. Morgan Kauffman Publishers. 2009.

[5] Hill, Raymond. A First Course in Coding Theory. Oxford University Press. 1997.

[6] Munuera, Carlos. “Steganography from a Coding Theory Point of View”. 2010.

[7] Zhang, Weiming and S. Li. “Steganographic Codes- a New Problem of Coding Theory”. preprint, 2005.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s