I Can't See the Forest, the Trees Are in My Way

key review info
application features
  • Easy passing over censorship.
  • (3 more, see all...)

Not so long ago, I found on the Internet a set of pictures that amazed me with their size. They were simple JPEGs, only they were terribly large. Now I have found out a method to make my own large JPEGs.

The software that I am about to present has the purpose of hiding messages. The method is very old and dates back from Before Christ. The process is called steganography and it is the science of writing hidden messages. It is exactly the opposite of cryptography. Unlike cryptography, steganography is much more efficient and reliable as the message itself is disguised into something trivial or of a lower interest. In cryptography, the message is not hidden and it is in plain view and ambition may lead to decoding it.

Steganography is also called "the science of hiding in plain sight". And there are entire treaties written about it. It has evolved to modern times and the tools of hiding the messages have changed, but the principle remains the same. One example of the evolution of steganography is writing with invisible ink between the lines of a letter.

An essential condition for steganography to work is that only the sender and the recipient know the secret code or solution for revealing the hidden message. Today's software is called Secret's Assistant and it is a most vivid example of the turn this science has taken.

The developer is ZebraLabs and the price for this application is $19.95. The trial period offered by the author is of 30 days or 30 runs. The blue interface has three windows, two of which are for the hidden message. The window in the left is designed to load the carrier of the messages. Unfortunately, the carrier can only be an image, but the file formats supported are quite a few and you can choose between .jpg, .bmp, .dib or .rle.

In the message window (top right hand) the user can choose to attach a text message. And when I say text I really mean a .txt file or type in the message yourself. If you decide to load a TXT file, then it will be opened directly into this window. So you can modify it the way you want it.

The lower part of the application window is dedicated to loading up an image and the file format options in here are double than the ones for the carrier. Besides the four formats mentioned above, you can also use .gif, .ico, .emf or .wmf image formats. The picture, just like the text, will be displayed in plain view. The "Load Image File" window is equipped with a preview window so that you can see exactly the images and choose the one you need.

Loading both a text message and hiding a picture is not a must when using Secret's Assistant. The user can opt for either of them and the software will do its job just fine. The final step is securing the message with a password that only the sender and the recipient know. Do not worry if the carrier falls into the wrong hands as the carrier picture will open just fine and they will have to know that the image is not all the file is made of.

Reading the message is easy if you have the necessary countersign to load the picture. Just load the carrier, click on the icon describing a little man reading the newspaper, enter the password and all the ensconced secrets will be revealed.

After reading the message, as a measure of caution, you should remove all the messages from the carrier, or put them into a safe place out of the sight of the "enemy" eyes. Dumping all the messages is done very easy with just one click on the trash can icon from each of the windows.

The Good

The software does an excellent job and the ease of use comes in handy when you have to create a carrier for your secret files.

The Bad

The trial limitation would be one point on this agenda. Some drawbacks of the application would be the lack of flexibility, and the lack of a help file. Although the interface is intuitive enough, some users that have not been properly introduced to such an application may find their way with a little difficulty. Of course, the lack of the Help file is not a tragedy, but I think that explaining a little what it is that this software does would contribute to its value.

As for the flexibility, the software allows loading as a carrier only image files and the messages can be either text (.txt) messages or pictures with a certain file extension. It would have been nice if one could create a carrier out of any file and also add any type of files as messages.

The Truth

A very nice application that is easy to play with and very necessary when you are "on the run" or you want to send messages to certain persons without everybody knowing it.

Here are some snapshots of the application in action:

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user interface 4
features 3
ease of use 5
pricing / value 3

final rating 3
Editor's review
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