Real-World Steganography

From an article about Zheng Xiaoqing, an American convicted of spying for China:

According to a Department of Justice (DOJ) indictment, the US citizen hid confidential files stolen from his employers in the binary code of a digital photograph of a sunset, which Mr Zheng then mailed to himself.

Posted on January 20, 2023 at 7:25 AM37 Comments

Comments

PaulBart January 20, 2023 8:12 AM

So what makes this stolen technology, American? Does GE only allow US citizens to be on board of directors and executive officers? Aren’t we all one big diverse, inclusive, and equitable bunch of peoples? Or do nation states, beholden to their elites, think differently?

Q January 20, 2023 10:07 AM

Using images for steganography is not good. The statistics of the image get all messed up and it becomes obvious which images have hidden data. If that “hidden” data is not encrypted then you just lost your freedom. And sometimes even if it is encrypted you still lose your freedom, check with the laws of the country you are in.

Andy January 20, 2023 10:23 AM

Still amazed by the crude methods used by these so called “spies” to supposedly steal corp or gov secrets. Or perhaps those are the ones caught or publicized. Pretty much anybody knows that most activities on an enterprise network are recorded, fairly cheaply. So why would someone e-mail themselves anything? Or do the other silly things we hear super spies from Russia/Iran/China are doing – using thumb drives, uploading files or printing? Don’t these people receiving even a basic briefing from their handlers? Maybe it’s a dragnet designed to catch low hanging fruit.

Peter A. January 20, 2023 10:30 AM

Theorizing about image steganography: how easy or hard it would be to hide a message in “sensor noise”, i.e. lowest significant bits of pixels’ luminosity values. I realize that sensor noise is uneven throughout the 2D matrix of pixels, so a special encoding scheme would have to be used to mimic spatial and statistical distribution of noise.
I would imagine a message would need to be “whitened” first (e.g. by encryption with a suitable cipher) and then some clever mapping applied so the resulting groups of low-significance bits to replace the bits of the original image would have a distribution characteristic for a digital photo. How hard it would be to design such mapping function?

Chelloveck January 20, 2023 10:38 AM

@TimH: I don’t know what happened, but I like to think they got suspicious when an 800×600 JPEG of a kitten weighed in at over 900 MB.

Clive Robinson January 20, 2023 11:55 AM

@ TimH, ALL,

Re : There has to be more to it.

“I doubt that the stenography was just “found”. There’s much more to the story.”

Stenography is neither coding or ciphering it’s just hiding.

As @Q has noted anyone with any knowledge which “should” include a spy, would these days pre-encrypt the data such that “finding it” reveled nothing but high strength cryptography at best.

Importabtly most PC’s come with such tools built in if you know how to access it (again not particularly hard). Heck a lot of *nix come with “Command Line Tools” by default.

But as @Andy has noticed, there is a considerable gap between what is alledged and the very basics, hence his surprise.

For those reading along it’s “not new” for the FBI to “invent/manufacture” “Chinese Spys” they have done it before when the US executive has been banging the drum about how unfair it is that China are now doing what the US used to do…

But encryption is insufficient as @Peter A. Has noted because whilst the bottom bits of an image superficially appear random, they are not. You can find utilities written to demonstrate this from back last century.

Thus you have to analyse the sensor not just in 2D but actually more dimentions to pull out the offset biases that apply at that level of sensor illumination. And apply the bias.

How this can be done with “Spread Spectrum”(SS) techniques was discussed adnausium in the mid 1990’s with “Digital watermarking”(DW). All of which came to a fairly dramatic end, when the UK Cambridge Lab released a utility that provided minor distortion to inages that whilst not noticeably chwnging the picture to “hunan perception” totally Ban-Jaxed the DW system.

However the fact is that the SS DW did quite successfully hide small amounts of data in images that could not be “pulled out” thus has a degree of viability.

But note the “small amounts” we are talking maybe 1% or so of the image size.

Which brings us to the next point that @Chelloveck raised, we are not talking about a small amount of data.

A simple look at the file meta-data would tell even a non proffessional that there was something wrong with the file…

I’m sure “all these alledged suspect mistakes” will convince a non technical jury, but in my head just as it would appear every person who has posted sofar there is lets be polite, a distinct suspicion that there is,

“A lot we’ve not been told”

And unlike the alledged suspect the FBI sure has previous experience on creating “fall guys” when it’s politically expedient to have a few…

I’m not going to say what I think other than so far it smells like the cats breakfast has been left in the sun… So I for one would like to see a lot lot more.

Diplomacy is still good January 20, 2023 12:34 PM

in my opinion:

Use of either “S” word is unfair and controversial and advertises to the wrong recipients. The other troublesome word is the “T” word.

“it is not not yet a secure time for me to substantiate my claims”

diplomacy is still good.

lurker January 20, 2023 1:06 PM

The “news” story looks like somebody thought it was time to beat the drum. A few moments with the search engine will turn up pages of official documents. Zheng was arrested August 2018, indicted April 2019, the case delayed by Covid, convicted April 2022, sentenced January 2023. Zheng got 2 years for “conspiring to commit economic espionage”. He had been employed as an engineer at GE for ten years.

November 2022 Xu Yanjun was sentenced to 20 years for “attempting to steal trade secrets” in a similar case over GE turbine technology. The difference: Xu was described as a Chinese government intelligence officer, used aliases and front companies, and infiltrated the US military.

lurker January 20, 2023 1:26 PM

United States District Court Northern District Of New York
1:19-CR-156 1:20-MC-57

In his twenty-fifth request, Defendant seeks the “[i]dentification of any monitoring software installed on Dr. Zheng’s iPhone X (produced as 1B8).” In its motion, GE contends that it did not have any monitoring software installed on Defendant’s iPhone X. See Dkt. No. 1-1 at 22. Defendant accepts this response and requests no additional relief as to this request. Accordingly, GE’s motion to quash is denied as moot as to Request No. 25.

Well oof course GE wouldn’t do that, that’s the Feds’ job, and they won’t be saying anything about it, and at that stage Zheng must have been still wondering how they got onto him …

MSM story with more background on the perp.

https://www.timesunion.com/news/article/Former-GE-engineer-headed-to-federal-trial-in-16936479.php

SpaceLifeForm January 20, 2023 3:03 PM

Metadata

I suspect the email to himself may have been the flag that tipped off someone.

lurker January 20, 2023 4:21 PM

@SLF

GE’s file tracking system detected him moving stuff onto a personal device four years before the alleged email, but they had nothing to make a charge stick.

Why did he use Axcrypt? From their FAQ re EFS error msg:

If you’re a computer security wizard, and have a full understanding of X.509 encryption certificates, and how the Windows Certificate Stores work and interact with user credentials, then you won’t have a problem as long as you’re careful to ensure backups of the appropriate certificates and keys. If, however, the previous sentence confuses you then you should probably not be using EFS because of the mentioned risk of data loss when moving files to a new system, or (re)installing Windows, or resetting passwords, or…

Ted January 20, 2023 11:22 PM

@lurker, SpaceLifeForm, Clive, All

Really great info and research.

To add to your comments, the 2018 criminal complaint has a “Steganography Egress Summary” that spends about 2 pages describing Zheng’s steps (p 6-7). That document has some really good detail.

https://www.courtlistener.com/docket/14983061/1/united-states-v-zheng/

Apparently GE had installed monitoring software on Zheng’s computer after discovering 400 encrypted files there in late 2017.

Then in July 2018, Zheng saved 40 proprietary files in a zip file on his computer. And as @lurker mentioned, he used Axcrypt to encrypt it. (GE captured the passphrase.)

To get the encrypted file into the dawn.JPG, Zheng used a command line interface to retrieve the image file and list its binary code. Then he appended a read-only copy of the encrypted file at the bottom of the image file.

Zheng then emailed the image attachment from his work email to his personal email using the subject line “Nice view to keep.”

lurker January 21, 2023 1:41 AM

@Ted, @Bruce

“Then he appended a read-only copy of the encrypted file at the bottom of the image file.”

Hardly seems like Agent McDonald’s “sophisticated steganography”? At least I’ll give Zheng credit for using vim. Note that the delimiter string “88” is also used in Chinese as a good luck token.

Clive Robinson January 21, 2023 5:35 AM

@ lurker, Bruce, SpaceLifeForm,Ted, ALL,

“Hardly seems like Agent McDonald’s “sophisticated steganography”?”

Nor is it in anyway rare contrary to his assertion or those he claims to have spoken to.

The technique of putting things at the end of executable files goes back long before “Local Area Networks” in engineering departments.

Back in the 1980’s it was a technique developed by “malware writers” and similar.

As “tar” and similar were not available natively in Microsoft Products and were hundreds of USD to buy a common technique was to take an ordinary MS-DOS text file that used ‘Ctrl Z’ as a “text terminator” you could then using an appropriate editor or as I used to do use Microsofts Debug just chain the files in memory spaced initially with Ctrl-Z then any other seperator of choice.

That gave you a single “ascii.txt” file as seen by the standard MS-Dos tools that would only display the initial text before the first Ctrl-Z. So you’ld put the manifest in there.

I used to use it as a way to have a hidden history file on the end of a source code file.

This way I could “strip the source” of meaningful comments and variable names to maintain a level of privacy, which is essential in many software environments. Further it importantly alowed me to be weeks ahead of where I was informing my boss[1].

It’s the same with many other MS-Dos CLI tools even .com and .exe files which is what early malware writers did.

When various people started developing “graphical interfaces” every thing went from being a “file” to an “object”. That is a text file would have other files associated with it such as an icon etc.

One of the things MS implemented were linked files that were linked to a master file but otherwise effectively invisable. To do the similar thing as Apple were doing. They eventually went a different way but the technique remained as a legacy.

I can give heaps of other refrences to these tricks used to abuse Microsofts file system to “obscure” information.

So either the FBI Agent and those he spoke to are historically ignorant, or the FBI Agent is lying to the court to gain an advantage to which he is not lawfully entitled.

In common parlance,

“He lied”…

But the other thing is does anyone know about the “encryption” program?

As many know “file compression” programs often contain encryption. Less well known is that the opposite is true, a number of encryption programs do file compression independently or as part of the process of producing a file for communications.

People do use such programs for what at first you might not expect. Also there are some interesting multifunction programs such at the fairly well known *nix “busybox”[2] that is all things to all people and can by simply renaming via soft linking give you nearly all the standard unix command line tools.

Oh and remember a compressed file whilst not encrypted, can frequently appear as impossible to read as an encrypted file.

At the end of the day,

1, All files are bags of bits that have no inherant meaning.

2, All meaning to the bag of bits is given through various layers of meta data.

So technically looking at a bag of bits only, you can not actually say what it means, even if you think it makes sense to you from your view point, your view point may well be wrong.

[1] Many years ago in my first full time job, an “old boy” took me asside and explained a few realities of work to me. One of which is you have to manage your time and not let others do so. His point,

“Bosses do not reward you for being ahead of project deadlines only punish with extra work or reducing time scales. Likewise they punish if you are behind deadlines.”

That way they look good and you never do. Further,

“Bosses assume you lie to them anyway, so you might as well do as they expext. So to stay safe look average and occasionally better”

The conclusion is the safest place to be is “with time in hand” but known only to you, so appear to the boss and everyone else to be some measure of behind schedual but making steady progress. That way you can deliver on time, even if unexpected problems come up as they almost always do that eat into your hidden time in hand, it also alows you to deflect others trying to pass work onto you, but be able to “do favours” when required.

Sadly with all the bosses adding spyware to your work computers and hidden CCTV and similar these days, doing such “self protection” is getting harder and harder.

[2] What’s in an individual compile of BusyBox is configurable, but it can include an entire command shell (Ash) and quite a number of system tools. Which is why it’s very common in embedded systems including many versions of Android. Here is a list for one embedded systems OS,

https://boxmatrix.info/wiki/BusyBox-Commands

lurker January 21, 2023 12:19 PM

@anon
The same software I once used to maintain a website, and described in a header meta tag as

creator=”/bin/vim”

Clive Robinson January 21, 2023 1:11 PM

@ anon, ALL,

Re : Embedded or attached.

“And what software should we be looking for that was used to embed the data into the image?”

Just to be clear in this case the alledged suspect according to the information,

“Attached to the end”

So it was not a case of “embed the data into the image”

You can do such a simple operation with many tools that will work with “Binary Bags of Bits”(BBoBs) as all you are doing is a basic example of data serialisation. So you get,

Fresult = Fpict, Sep, Finclude, Fterm

With the Sep being 88. The picture file being an executable is effectively closed so when executed would not read past the end of it’s required data. So would just display normally. The Seperator of 88 should actuall be not needed and is there for “ease of use by a human” conveniance. The data end terminator Fterm may or maynot be required depending on a number of factors.

What is normally regarded as stenography actually modifies the data in the Fpict file, this would require it to know about the picture internal structure, and would be easy to get wrong.

Thus this method of attaching by serialisation into a larger binary bag of bits does not need to know anything about the actual picture file data and would work with very many types of file without issue and is easy to do manually with most Commercial or Consumer OS’s with just the built in commandline tools.

Ted January 21, 2023 2:29 PM

@anon, lurker, Clive, All

“And what software should we be looking for that was used to embed the data into the image?”

In this case Zheng used Cygwin Bash Shell.

And as @lurker and @Clive clarified, he added the encrypted file’s binary code to the end of the image file, typing “88” before and after the stolen data.

If you are curious, you can see the specific commands Zheng used in the court document.

GE provided investigators with real-time video of the event. The agent speculated that the quickness by which Zheng completed this task – 10 minutes – indicates that this a technique he may have used before. GE restricted USB thumb drives in 2016 or 2017.

Clive Robinson January 21, 2023 3:44 PM

@ Ted, ALL,

Re : GE surveillance software.

“In this case Zheng used Cygwin Bash Shell.”

Which tells us at what level the surveillance must have been done.

Oh and for future users of such tricks rembember since around the mid 1970’s the standard console in CP/M and later was “CON”[1] which could be “redirected to another device such as a “serial port” like COM1. Which these days could be a mobile phone or smart device using a USB serial port style connection (have a look at the Android specs for development and upgrading over the USB port)…

[1] CON is a device name short for “control consule” and was in early systems was sent to “the standard serial port” and later as displays became “built in” to those. The point was just as with *nix /dev/tty’s it was assumed to be a basic physical RS232 connection thus was a simple bidirectional serial stream or “character interface”. The list of such devices changed with time and grew to atleast,

AUX, COM0 .. COM9, CON, LPT0 .. LPT9, LST, NUL, PRN,

Thus you used to be able to write a programme or shell script that would run a graphics program that would take up the “graphics screen” usually used as CON and flick the actual command console over to AUX or one of the COMx ports of a serial terminal like a VT52 etc. This sort of thing was done with early cad programs. You could also dump the CON output to an LPTx or other printer port to get a printed transcript of what went to from CON.

Jesse Thompson January 21, 2023 4:38 PM

Step 1: dump all your secret data into a RAR archive.
Step 2: get a JPG to hide it in. Any size, any quality, dun matter.
Step 3: Concatenate the files.

  • Linux/BSD/Apple: cat picture.jpg data.rar > sneakyPicture.jpg
  • Windows: type picture.jpg data.rar > sneakyPicture.jpg

sneakyPicture.jpg will now open perfectly normally in any image editor and look perfectly identical to your original cover image.

It will also open in any rar application (optionally rename it to .rar) and do nothing but show you the contents of the data.

Strengths:

  • No analysis of the pixel value data will show a ding donged thing. No increase in entropy there, no odd frequencies, nothing.
  • The jpg being highly compressed before you hide things will not prevent this from working.
  • Zero special tools or really even knowledge required to prep this on any desktop computer or server. (laptop/tablet/mobile.. YMMV)
  • hidden data compression and multiple file bundling for free
  • RAR is usually easy to AES encrypt with a pre-shared key, which plays nicely into this method
  • No size limit. “hide” 1TB of files in an application icon for all I care. 🙂
  • Perfect “door-lock” solution that is especially difficult to detect by another lay person

Weaknesses:

  • It is the author’s responsibility to not hide so much in an image so small that it begins to stand out, such as recipient wondering why their disk is now full, or wondering why this site’s favicon.ico is estimated to take 3 weeks to finish downloading, etc.
  • Any image re-compression steps (including posting to almost any online service, who virtually always recompress to save on their own storage space) will leave the image no more nor less changed than it would have to begin with, save that your hidden data is now completely absent.
  • Anyone with at least half an hour of counter espionage training can find the hidden rar archive within the binary data (instead of the pixel values) without too much trouble, even if they’ve never seen this particular technique used before. RAR encryption should still be enough to prevent it being directly understood, at least.
  • pup vas January 21, 2023 5:13 PM

    =Mr Wang cited an anecdote by a former head of research and development for a Fortune 100 company, who told him that “the person he entrusted the most” – someone so close that their children grew up together – was eventually found to be on the payroll of the Chinese Communist Party.

    “He kindly explained to me that the spies are everywhere,” he said.=

    Real source could be other than declared. That could be parallel construction. NSA/CIA leak information to FBI which did their part.

    Why? Because see above: “spies are everywhere” applies to China as well.

    SpaceLifeForm January 21, 2023 6:10 PM

    @ Clive

    Re: BusyBox

    A couple hacks I did to BB.

    The first was to make it do relative symlinks instead of full path symlinks.

    A later version broke my patch badly, but I did not have to use the newer version.

    This allowed me to create a relocatable userland environment on rooted Android.

    The other hack was to make a self extracting bag of bits using BusyBox.

    The selfexec consists of the BB binary, with a tarball appended, followed by an ash script appended.

    Padded as needed between the 3 parts. Some offset values also appended to the end of the script, so that it knows where to find the tarball and the script.

    Plus some checksums to verify the entire payload was not corrupted.

    When it runs, it untars the payload, fixes symlinks, etc.

    Runs from ram. All cross-compiled. With an additional tarball, and a microSD card, I can install a cross-compiled gcc onto tbe rooted Android.

    It is cool to be able to compile natively on Android. Not large programs though.

    Never try to build gcc on a phone.

    I can telnet into the phone over my local WIFI and get a large readable xterm on desktop running bash on the phone.

    I can also ssh in with DropBear, but telnet is good enough since it is all local.

    vas pup January 21, 2023 6:23 PM

    How China planted an FBI mole who was discovered only after gutting the CIA’s vast spy network

    https://news.yahoo.com/china-planted-fbi-mole-discovered-000000208.html

    “By then the FBI was reeling from another extremely damaging, and extremely embarrassing, counterintelligence disaster involving China. In 2003 it was discovered that the bureau’s key U.S.-based China asset, Katrina Leung, was, like Alex, a double agent working for China. Worse, she was simultaneously sleeping with two of the FBI’s top China agents. Among them was her longtime handler, through whom she had been passing false information for more than a decade, information that often was quickly passed on to the White House.”

    Enjoy reading of the whole article!

    lurker January 21, 2023 8:06 PM

    @vas pup

    For Security, who do you trust, and how do you trust them? Do the Chinese and the US have different answers to those questions? The Trisolarans[1] were a race that rarely spoke or wrote their language. They telepathically broadcast their thoughts, and everybody knew what everybody else was up to. It took them a few centuries after contact with inhabitants of Earth to learn deceit and treachery.

    [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Remembrance_of_Earth%27s_Past

    Clive Robinson January 22, 2023 3:46 AM

    @ SpaceLifeForm, ALL,

    Re : Newer not better.

    “A later version broke my patch badly, but I did not have to use the newer version.”

    Is part of a growing problem, that I was reminded of a few days back.

    When he was still with us, I used to go camping with an ex army buddy and he had a shaver that used a clockwork motor. You wound it up and used it just like an electric shaver, he’d had it maybe fourty years. It was a birthday present from his grandfather when he was a teenager and first started having to shave.

    He used to joke it would be going long after the batteries in our “modern shavers” had died. Well eventually as all things mechanical do it broke down, and after a little bit of effort and use of some of my watchmakers tools we managed to get it up and running again, not quite the same as before but certainly well enough to be servicable and he was still using it up untill he died.

    Well he was right in a way, I wanted to get a new beard trimmer. I’d long since replaced my first shaver an old changable AA dry-cell battery shaver that had seen me through about 20years. The replacment being for a recharbale one but was sealed. This too had died after maybe six years due to the batteries. The problem being although I could and did get it appart the type of rechargable battery was nolonger available so I stuck the bits in a box thinking I’ll sort it out when I’ve a little more time and went and bought another beard trimmer, that’s lasted only three years, which is not at all good.

    Standing there in the shop the other day, looking at what was available, I realised that they all must have “custom battery” designs in them, and they are going to be not replacable, plus they all have microprocessors in them… So the built in obsolescence is going to be a couple maybe three years if you are lucky, maybe just outside of the guarantee period?..

    It set me thinking, in part because I’d walked through another part of the store and they had a 24hour News channel with the “ticker-tape” at the bottom of the screen mentioning firstly rolling blackouts to be expected in Feb-March and potential petrol rationing, and currently bad weather likely to be severe enough to cause flooding etc… So “Happy happy joy joy” all around not.

    Now planned or rolling blackouts are something in the South East of England that were rapidly passing into memory they happened half a century ago back in the early 1970’s for various reasons, including “War Debt” from WWII. Though not unexpectedly the politicians blaimed the unions and their fickle members who basically said enough was enough with the politicians policies (that were wrong then and still are, hence more strikes are on the way).

    My thoughts became reflective, and I realised that my old buddy was right a simple mechanical clockwork shaver would be a vast improvment over what essentially was “pretty” junk in front of me of

    “All faux style over s@d-all substance”.

    Yo can not maintain them, or repair them, or make new parts for them should they be required… Their only destination is “land fill” as none of the bits are effectively recyclable without environmental harm.

    As “our society” has moved on we’ve moved over a tipping point. We’ve gone well past increasing utility, to increasing vanity in our products. But… in the process we now are loosing much that is important the “Right to Repair” is of no use if you can not repair for various reasons.

    Back when I was designing consumer electronics[1] I used to as personal policy only use “standard parts” not because it ment things were reparable, but as many are finding currently custom parts are way to sensitive to supply chain issues. Which back last century were actually more of an issue than they currently are, but with care and second/third sourcing were effectively managable.

    Perhaps people should realise in the race for “newer” we are not just getting obsolescence by “no repair” we are also loosing out on something a whole lot more important “survivability”.

    People should ask,

    What do you do when you can not get new, and old is not repairable?

    Do you realy want to have a “cut-throat” up against your throat for real?

    But you can’t, in the UK because those silly politicians have made them effectively “illegal”… Whilst you can buy them, you can only transport them in “the manufacturers sealed packaging”. So legaly once you get it home and open it you can no longer take it away, on business, holiday, even throw it away, or send for recycling… Once you leave your home with it even to get it sharpened, you are technically committing a criminal offence, because the knife carrying exemptions are only for “to carry out a trade” (which has a grim humor element to it if you consider “hired-killer” to be a trade).

    [1] Amoungst other things I designed “cordless phones” and they used to win consumer awards much to the surprise of senior managment as did the two way radios I also designed. Which gave me a certain degree of freedom in my design decisions. Another was I got to keep the prototype, pre-production and alternate “test units”. Whilst being more than a quater of a century old, I still use a couple of them as “intercom” units for “working in the garage / garden / shed. The only thing I’ve had to “repair” so far is replacing the old rechargable ni-cad batteries with something more modern a standard lithium design that fits convenirntly in the battery compartment, which ment a tiny change to the charging circuit. I know I can replace all the parts inside including the mask programed microcontroller, because for “fun” a few years back I dug out the old software wrote a script to change the assembler instructions for a new surface mount device on a DIP prototype header and swapped it over in the design prototypes and also added a few features…

    lurker January 22, 2023 12:41 PM

    @Clive Robinson
    “plus they all have microprocessors in them…” [beard trimmers?]

    Why the $expletive? Next thing they’ll be connected to the ‘net … There’s no microprocessor in my nice little pair of beard trimming scissors (unless they put it in by steganography)

    Clive Robinson January 22, 2023 3:10 PM

    @ lurker,

    Re : Beard trimers

    “There’s no microprocessor in my nice little pair of beard trimming scissors”

    When you are talking about scissors with the way the legislation is written in the UK scissors are “bladed weapons” and the way the length is calculated can be read as the combined length of the blades… Also as the blades are “not fixed” in the prescribed way…

    So yes, beard trimmers are like glorified electric shavers these days in the UK. The cutting head like a miniture hedge-trimmer and not to disimilar to those seen in the hands of US Army barbers hands in the 1960’s and 1970’s, era where the hair cutting style appears to have been imported from Australian sheep shearers.

    With “intelligent charging”, motor control, LCD displays with timers and all sorts of other features, I’m saying microcontroler is almost certainly the way they have gone. With the boxes having that same sort of “Marketing madness” you got on the first microprocessor based toasters[1]…

    As for the scissor and comb method of trimming, lets just say my hands are not as flexible as they once were. It’s also dying out as the old style barbers get replaced with what I can best describe as Hip-Hop blaring meetups for certain trendy types to have oil massaged into their hair, for more money than a silver service restaurant meal.

    [1] The original of this goes way back, even before Pentiums,

    https://koblents.com/Ches/Misc.-and-Humor/176-Object-oriented-Toaster/

    The first I remember ended in a kinder sounding “thrown in the moat”.

    Clive Robinson January 22, 2023 6:23 PM

    @ lurker,

    If I have a correct guestimate on your general area 😉

    Hopefully New Year celebrations are not to noisy around you (the fire crackers and similar a little up the road from me are making the wildlife skitish).

    vas pup January 22, 2023 7:23 PM

    AI21 Labs, co-founded by Amnon Shashua, rolls out AI feature to spice up writing

    https://www.timesofisrael.com/ai21-labs-co-founded-by-amnon-shashua-rolls-out-ai-feature-to-spice-up-writing/

    “Israeli startup AI21 Labs, a natural language processing (NLP) company, is seeking to “spice” up your writing with the launch of a new generative artificial intelligence-based feature.

    =>Rather than attempting to replace the writer with tech that gives computers the ability to learn, AI21 Labs new Wordtune Spices feature is tailored to play the role of a co-writer to improve and enhance any textual copy with a choice of 12 helping cues such as statistics to bolster an argument, or jokes when writing a wedding speech.

    “Our mission at AI21 Labs is to change the way people read and write using AI, while focusing on empowering – not removing or replacing – the writer,” said Ori Goshen, co-founder and co-CEO of AI21 Labs. “Spices is a toolbox that melds the best that both man and machine can offer, working alongside writers as a source of inspiration for better, more efficient and more compelling writing, while ensuring that writers themselves have the space and freedom to best express their thoughts, insights and information.”

    For students writing essays, marketers working on blog posts, or business associates drafting reports, Spices assists with suggestions after typing up some text in Wordtune. To use the feature the writer needs to click on the feature button which prompts a box in the text with a dropdown list of 12 cues, such as explain, give an example, counterargument, statistical fact, give an analogy, and make a joke. The cues provide suggestions in the copy and the author can decide to adopt them or click for other suggestions.

    !!!What is different from ChatGPT, according to the startup, is that Spices is integrated into the writing process and the users have control over what they write.

    “Almost all other AI-based models out there (including the use of ChatGPT) leave users with little control over the final outcome. The user needs to learn how to write ‘good prompts’ (i.e., learn how to talk to the system) and then receive a full article, one that doesn’t always capture what he or she wanted to say in the first place,” said Dr. Yoav Levine, co-chief scientist at AI21 Labs.

    Another differentiator to competing AI models, according to AI21 Labs, is that content such as statistical or historical facts suggested by Spices also !!!!!has attribution in the form of a link to the source on which the fact is based on. This can be a news article, a Wikipedia article or any other online source.

    “We don’t want to be the validators of truth,” Levine said. “We think the writer should decide if he or she trusts the source.”

    Going forward, AI21 Labs plans to add specific Spices cues for certain verticals, for example for lawyers or medical professionals, as well as expand the availability of the feature to anywhere users write in a web browser, including email and WhatsApp.”

    lurker January 22, 2023 11:17 PM

    @Clive

    Nobody within a couple of dozen gunshot distance from here actually celebrates that New Year. As for Year of the Rabbit: for a significant agricultural pest it will be year of the rabbit stew, rabbit pie, smoked rabbit pate, &c.

    Gert-Jan January 23, 2023 7:41 AM

    Many have already commented on this “appending to a picture” as not being what we consider stenography.

    The suspect was being monitored. Regardless of the method he chose, he would have been caught. In this case, the exfiltration was not particularly sophisticated.

    He alledgely did suspicious activity before (thus the monitoring). He might have used the same exfiltration method before he was monitored. In other words, it added no value to use real stenography.

    I didn’t see how big the original picture was (storage size), nor how big the secret files were (after compression and encryption), but if they exceeded 1% of the picture storage size, then stenography wasn’t a serious option anyway.

    Peter A. January 23, 2023 8:11 AM

    @Clive Robinson re: beard trimmers

    It’s all too true. My previous shaver-trimmer had a non-replaceable non-standard battery and I managed to break the case while trying to replace it anyway. My current one served me for about six years, but got dull already and spare parts cost more than a new one. New ones are ugly, overpriced, and emit irritating amounts of blue radiation (luckily, not Cherenkov’s, just ~460nm LED). I’ve bought the cheapest one as a temporary replacement before I make up my mind – the plastic “bearings” of the driveshaft got all loose after maybe ten uses.

    For now, I walk all shaggy, only using mini scissors from my pocket Victorinox to cut some excess around the pie hole.

    Clive Robinson January 23, 2023 10:28 AM

    @ Peter A.,

    “For now, I walk all shaggy”

    I know that feeling…

    Only not the walking bit. Just after Xmas and before New Year, I got an attack of arthritis in the ball joint of my foot. It spread up into the ankle joint and as the medics chearfuly say “it’s non load bearing”. Getting upstairs is done “dog style” but getting down is not safe and I’ve already had one tumble.

    So yeh like you it’s just the essential bits for now (not that eating figures much in my activities due to both pain and pain-killers).

    think about it. January 24, 2023 4:34 PM

    Ya, all might thing I’m a bit tipsy or crazy, yet if you’d like to experiment with some images for educational purposes, here’s some freebies that I’d rather not explain.

    First up, however, consider that any viable steg freeware maybe shouldn’t include the letters {“S”,”T”,”E”,”G”,”A”,”N,”O”}; in other words, advertising for steg is kind of ridiculous and maybe not quite right. but I’m sure there are exceptions so many years after the facts of the debuts of those freewares i prefer to avoid mentioning.

    https://postimg.cc/gallery/QM8hmgX

    PLEASE STRIP OUT THE METADATA BEFORE USE, (sanitize). otherwise, what’s the point???

    think about it.
    these are serious times.
    peace be with everybody

    ResearcherZero January 24, 2023 11:17 PM

    @lurker

    The Year of the Rabbit supposedly represents ‘peace’. A year in which nobody should shoot anyone. (And not a year in which [a] nobody should anyone)

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