A Trip Through The Intentionally Unseeable World of Hiding Data in Imagery
By Thobey Campion
In April, journalist and founder of Motherboard Thobey Campion debuted a missing page from a formerly classified 1983 government investigation into the feasibility of astral projection. During his reporting, he received thousands of emails from astral travelers around the world. He digitally micro-inscribed hundreds of these messages onto a high-resolution digital image of The Gateway Report’s missing page.
Today, it is being released as an NFT on SuperRare alongside a powerful new digital magnification tool. Developed in partnership with SuperRare and Gigapixel, the new functionality reveals hundreds of hidden details inside ‘The Gateway,’ making it the industry’s first lossless zoom experience.
While NFTs provide a picture-perfect moment to push the bounds of metadata, hiding information in plain sight goes way back, and it’s got a name: Steganography. In honor of that tradition, here’s a tour through the intentionally unseeable world of hiding information inside imagery.
It was Zheng, in the Library, with the Sunset
At 8:42am on an overcast August morning in 2018, Principal Engineer at GE Xiaoqing Zheng was marched out of his home in Eastern New York by the FBI. The event was a hot topic for the sleepy town of Niskayuna, just north of Albany. His LinkedIn includes a degree from the Sloan School of Management, a PHD in Aeronautical Engineering from Northwestern, 13 years as a senior technical leader at one of America’s most venerable technology companies, and 29 patents under his belt.
Zheng had just been charged on 14 counts of conspiring to steal General Electric’s trade secrets. According to the complaint, he’d allegedly been exfiltrating GE intellectual property to Tianyi Aviation Technology Co. in Nanjing, a company the feds accused him of starting with funding from the Chinese government.
Over the course of his employment at GE Power & Water in Schenectady, Zheng allegedly stole 20,000 electronic files detailing design models, engineering drawings, configuration files, and material specifications for gas and steam turbines. According to the complaint, Zheng transported the privileged data off of GE’s highly-fortified corporate servers in a manner considered unusual even for the most seasoned Information Security specialists. He concealed it all inside a low-res picture of a sunset. He emailed the image to his personal email account with a note: “Nice view to keep.”
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