On the Capacity and Security of Steganography Approaches: An Overview
Ali K. Hmood,
Hamid A. Jalab,
The aim of this study is to review the strength and weakness for the possible multimedia cover for the steganography approaches. In addition, the security level of each approach and how is probable to combine the steganography and cryptography. Steganography is an art on which the data can be hide in other data as cover, the multimedia files is the commonly used for hiding data. The main aspects of the steganography is the capacity and security, where the capacity refer to how much data can be hidden in the cover carrier, while the security concern with the ability of disclose or altering the data by unauthorized party. The multimedia files, such as, image, video, audio and text are the possible covers for hiding secure information or data. Each of these covers has advantages and disadvantages; as a result of this study we will discuss the possibility to use these files as a cover. In the last part of this study, we suggest a further direction to improve the capacity and security aspects.
Received: February 16, 2010;
Accepted: April 25, 2010;
Published: June 26, 2010
The steganography has been used for long time before. The main use for it was
for military and government messages, nowadays; the approaches of steganography
become widely used for many purposes. Anyway, the researchers provide and found
out many approaches while others enhanced the methods and the approaches of
the steganography in order to improve the steganographic applications (Othman
et al., 2009).
Basically, all steganography technique have to satisfy two basic requirements.
The first requirements perceptual transparency i.e., cover object and Stego
object (object content secret message) (Ahmed et al.,
2010). In this study a discussion about the existent methods or approaches
for the steganography and how the researchers improve it within more than 10
years will be presented.
The critical review will be depended on two manners capacity and security which
are the steganography aspects. The first manner concern with the security aspect;
Steganography and cryptography are in fact complementary techniques (Naji
et al., 2009). The process of sharing secure message within insecure
channel require authentication and integrity to the data in such a way that
even the message has been altered by unauthorised party it is still easy to
detect that some changes has been done to the message. The second manner concern
with the capacity, there are some techniques facing the capacity limitation
problem, in general, the image has limited capacity when use it as a cover medium
and its easier to being tested by the attacker it than the video where
the video consist of a set of images and can use more than one image within
the video as a carrier cover and more difficult to test it because the sequence
of the stego image within the video is unknown by the attacker.
TEXT BASED APPROACHES
The text files have been used for steganography techniques in Table 1, the idea of using the text to hide the secure message or information is to embedding the secure information within the text bits.
Aabed et al. (2007) and Gutub
and Fattani (2007) proposed an Arabic text steganography method. Gutub
and Fattani (2007) proposed steganography approach suitable for Arabic texts.
The approach hides secret information bits within the letters benefiting from
their inherited points.
To note the specific letters holding secret bits, the scheme considers the
two features, the existence of the points in the letters and the redundant Arabic
extension character. The author used the pointed letters with extension to hold
the secret bit one and the un-pointed letters with extension to hold zero. While
Aabed et al. (2007) embedded the secret information into text cover
media. This study utilised the advantages of diacritics in Arabic to implement
text steganography. Diacritics - or Harakat - in Arabic are used to represent
vowel sounds and can be found in many formal and religious documents. The proposed
approach uses eight different diacritical symbols in Arabic to hide binary bits
in the original cover media. The embedded data are then extracted by reading
the diacritics from the document and translating them back to binary. However,
both approaches used for text-based steganography which is so limited in capacity
and it is the easiest approach to be altered even accidently since it is use
the visible text to hide the secure message.
IMAGE BASED APPROACHES
The image is one of the possible cover for the secure message or information
in Table 2, also images are the most popular carrier file
for steganography because of the abundance of images available on the internet
(Al-Azawi and Fadhil, 2010). The using of the image
as a cover carrier is the most widely used for steganographic application.
Hossain et al. (2010) three different steganographic
methods for gray level images are presented in this study. Four neighbours,
diagonal neighbours and eight neighbours methods are employed in proposed
approach. These methods utilise a pixels dependency on its neighbourhood
and psycho visual redundancy to ascertain the smooth areas and complicated areas
in the image. However, the presented method used the image as a cover carrier;
even though the capacity improved by the new method but the limitation of image
size is still founded. (Zaidan et al., 2009;
Zaidan and Zaidan, 2009) used the property of human
vision system that helps to increase the size of data hidden in the bitmap (bmp)
and (JPG) image practically. The presented study discussed the impact of increasing
data hidden on the images texture for colour image and gray level image where,
quality of image and the quantity of data hidden work in reverse side once the
amount of data hidden in the image increased the quality of the image will be
affected. The presented study tried to enhance the capacity problem within the
image-based steganography using the Least Significant Bit (LSB) while the image
steganography is still limited capacity due to the limitation of the image size.
While Wang et al. (2008) presented a new image
steganographic technique using the Least Significant Bits (LSBs). In order to
avoid the falling-off-boundary problem the presented method used the pixel-value
differencing and the modulus function. The method provided a good quality degradation
for the stego-image to become more imperceptible to the human eye by considering
that the smoother area is, the less secret data can be hidden; while, the more
edges an area has, the more secret data can be embedded. The authors tried to
greatly reduce the image distortion caused by the hiding of the secret data.
The Peak Signal-to-Noise Ratio (PSNR) is the used metric to measure the quality
of the proposed approach; the author depend on this metric in order to show
the enhancement of their approach to hide secret message into image, while this
metric is not reliable to give a dependable results as we will discuss later.
Lee et al. (2008) presented an adaptive lossless
data hiding method which is capable of offering greater embedding capacity than
the existing methods, by utilizing a block-based lossless data embedding algorithm
where the quantity of the hidden information each block bears is variable. The
presented method used centralised difference expansion, which is an improved
version of generalised difference expansion where the distortion of the stego-image
is reduced. The payload of each block depends on its cover image complexity
in order to reduce
the image distortion and increase the hiding capacity (Lee
et al., 2008). However, the proposed method in this study calculated
the Peak Signal-to-Noise Ratio (PSNR) and compared it with other studies results
of the PSNR to show that their approach is better than others, while the PSNR
is not reliable metric for the image quality and is not dependable for the steganographic
object in order to show the security of the stego-image. While Kim
et al. (2007) proposed an efficient algorithm for information hiding
in the Least Significant Bits (LSBs) of JPEG coefficients, the proposed method
uses modified matrix encoding to choose the coefficients whose modifications
introduce minimal embedding distortion (Kim et al.,
2007). However, the author focusing on enhancing the image quality to reduce
the distortion being added to the image, while the steganography is not concern
with the distortion only, yes its an important factor in steganography
but the security aspects is the goal of steganography. Chang
and Tseng (2004) proposed side match scheme to hide the secret message into
image as a carrier cover. The method exploits the correlation between neighbouring
pixels to estimate the degree of smoothness or contrast of pixels. If the pixel
is located in edge area, then it may tolerate larger changes than those in smooth
areas. The two-sided, three-sided and four-sided side match methods are employed
in this approach. Niimi et al. (2002) and Spaulding
et al. (2002) use image as the cover medium for the secure message
while the Bit-Plan Complexity Segmentation (BPCS) used for embedding the secure
message. Spaulding et al. (2002) proposed a Bit-Plan
Complexity Segmentation (BPCS) for lossy compressed image. The proposed approach
does not achieved a high capacity as it achieved embedding rates of around 25%
of the compressed image size were achieved with noticeable degradation in image.
However, other studies achieved around 50% of the image size without compression
and with a small degradation. While Niimi et al.
(2002) used the Bit-Plan Complexity Structure (BPCS) to hide the secure
message within the cover carrier. The BPCS-Steganography to palette-based images
which consists of a palette storing colour vector information and an index image
whose pixel value is corresponding to an index in the palette is used to apply
the steganography techniques into image. However, the two studies are suffering
from the capacity limitation due to the image size limitation, as well as the
steganography approaches cannot ensure the security of the shared message which
led to the compulsory integration between the steganography technique with others
such as cryptography to achieve a better security level.
While Su and Kuo (2003) a steganographic scheme to
hide a large volume of data into JPEG2000 compressed images has been proposed.
The authors said that the encryption is not applicable in their approach since
the approach cannot guarantee that the hidden information can be transmitted
without errors due to the truncation of JPEG2000. Beside, the capacity problem
within the image based steganography. As well as the compression can affect
the quality of the image directly.
Fu and Au (2003) proposed data hiding using conjugate
error diffusion to hide an invisible binary visual pattern in two or more error
diffused halftone images, the proposed method added the distortions of limited
to the multi-tone image such that the pixel values of the various halftone images
tend to be conjugate to each other. With the conjugate relationship, the dark
regions of the hidden pattern would appear on the halftone images when they
are overlaid. The secret sharing requirement was not found in this study while
there is no authentication technique and no robustness. In additional, the image-based
steganography is facing the capacity and easy to detect problems.
While in Moskowitz et al. (2000) proposed a
new paradigm hidden in steganography, the authors worked on greyscale images
with dimensions 500x500 pixels, the authors mentioned that the new method is
strong for hidden the message inside images but not robust method. The new method
has replaced the two Least Significant Bits (LSB) of the pixel with the matching
two bit section, the new method has limited for the text length it was 249 (ASCII)
characters only. The text end with null character, this way can help the user
to send a message shorter than 249 characters (Shirali-Shahreza
et al., 2008). To extract the embedded text, the method is reversed.
When the reverse algorithm reads the null character, it stops the extraction
process. The authors has discussed why the steganography suffer from fail in
some methods and the authors found that the fail come from adding noise during
the steganographic embedding phase. The capacity of this approach is limited
as it is become not useful for sharing secure message using steganography technique.
While Wang et al. (2001) developed a method
to embed important data in the host image so that the interceptors will not
notice about the existence of the data using Least Significant Bits (LSBs) substitution,
develop a genetic algorithm to solve the problem of hiding important data in
the rightmost LSBs of the host image. The author used the Peak Signal-to-Noise
Ratio (PSNR) to demonstrate the result while the PSNR is insufficient metric
for such systems.
||Image-based steganography and cryptography
However, within all the earlier studies the authors have been used pure steganography
approaches, they tried to enhance the steganography aspects but without ensuring
the security of the steganographic object. The secure channel can be used to
securely transfer message or information between two parties. The integrity
and/or authentication can be achieved over an insecure channel by cryptosystems.
Since no technique of hiding information can ensure perfect secrecy (Venkatraman
et al., 2004). However, by combining steganography with other techniques,
such as cryptography, a higher chance of success can be achieved (Naji
et al., 2009). In Table 3, the cryptography and
steganography has been used together to enhance the security aspects.
For secure message sharing, Fridrich et al. (2005)
proposed a wet study codes and passive-warden approach for steganography called
perturbed quantization. In this method the non-quantized values of the processed
cover object are considered as side information to confine the embedding changes
to those non-quantized elements whose values are close to the middle of quantization
intervals, while the lossy compression for the image are employed in this method.
The choice of the selection channel calls for wet study codes as they enable
communication with non-shared selection channel (Fridrich
et al., 2005). However, the author used the image compression which
is directly affecting the perceptual quality of the image and makes it suspicious.
Other technique for the security aspects, Solanki et
al. (2006) presented the new design of steganographic method that can
provide provable security by achieving zero Kullback Leibler divergence between
the cover and the stego signal distributions, while hiding at high rates. The
approach was aim toreserve a number of host symbols for statistical restoration.
A dynamic embedding approach called Quantisation Index Modulation together with
dithering approach. The proposed method avoids hiding in low probability regions
of the host distribution. However, the cryptography combined with steganography
in this method. But the usage of image based steganography suffering from the
Wang (2005) proposed a modulo operator for embedding
secret image, the authors proposed a novel mechanism using modulus operations
to incorporate secret data (with image form) into a host-image. The authors
proposed two kinds of secret images where the capacities of these two types
are half the size and a quarter the size of the chosen host-image, while not
only can the secret images be totally embedded, but the extra information, such
as the auxiliary table, assisting the secret extraction is released as well.
However, the authors approve their method by measuring the quality of the stego-image
using PSNR metric, which is unreliable for such measurement.
Potdar et al. (2005) presented a fingerprinted
secret sharing steganography for robustness against image cropping attacks,
the presented method tried to break the main secret into multiple parts and
hide them individually in a cover medium. The proposed approach used to compress
the data to a considerable extent and for recover the shared secret, the authors
used Lagrange Interpolating Polynomial method. The embedding can be done using
any steganographic algorithm. The proposed method used the image cropping to
offer robust mechanism to protect data loss. The image based steganography is
still suffered from the capacity requirement; as the capacity is one of the
main aspects of steganography as well as the authentication is not satisfied
by this approach (Potdar et al., 2005).
The hiding information techniques lack of assuring the message security. However,
a combination between steganography with cryptography, a higher chance of success
can be achieved (Venkatraman et al., 2004). Due
to this reason, Venkatraman et al. (2004) proposed
a significance of steganography on data security, the new method attempted to
bring out the significance of the steganographic techniques that are employed
in information processing algorithms for data security. The study suggested
how a variation of the LSB insertion algorithm can be used for achieving better
security and also improved covertness. The authors found out the results of
steganalysis can be used to change or improve embedding techniques. However,
the author has focusing on image based steganography only, the author tried
to cover some aspects of steganography but the limitation of capacity has not
Franz and Schneidewind (2004) proposed an adaptive
dithering based steganography, the authors suggested the use of white noise
dithering to develop adaptive steganographic algorithms, as well as drawing
out possibilities to exploit the classification provided by dithering for embedding
and develop two basic algorithms: Adaptive Selection (AdSel) and Adaptive Modification
(AdMod). Since the original dither criterion is not sufficient for steganography,
the author modified the existent dither criterion and developed ConDith as an
algorithm that is based on AdSel. The authors investigated further improvements
of this algorithm ConDithSpread, ConDithInc and ConDithNoise. The authors claim
in the proposed study there are extensive tests confirmed the achieved improvements
(Franz and Schneidewind, 2004). However, the authors
used a steganographic key which is generated to specify the selected bits for
hiding the message instead of using the cryptography techniques. The stego-key
is not really reliable for security aspects since it has not the ability to
prevent message disclosing.
Chang et al. (2002) used the image based steganography
conjunction with cryptography. The proposed method modifies the quantization
table first. Next, the secret message is hidden in the cover-image with its
middle-frequency of the quantized DCT coefficients modified. Finally, a JPEG
stego-image is generated. The authors compare their method with other to show
their enhancements they rely on PSNR metric which is not reliable in measuring
All the above presented studies are used the image based steganography approaches
in conjunction with cryptography, but the size is still the problem with these
approaches. Since there is a limitation on how much information can be hidden
into an image (Chang et al., 2002), making difficult
to use the image methods, then in order to help to increase collaborative documents
security. The video based steganography has been found to overcome the capacity
problem, the video consist of a number of images placed in a frames to be presented
in sequence one after the others. We can use any image within the video to hide
the secure message with it, the use of video based steganography has another
advantage as the discloser will facing a problem to attack the image since the
sequence of the image within the video is unknown for the attacker, so the attacker
need to check all the images within the video which make it more difficult to
attack the secure message. As well as the video-based steganography has the
lowest chances of being suspicious because of the quickly displaying of the
frames so its become harder to be suspected by the human vision system.
VIDEO BASED APPROACHES
The video is consisting of a number of still image separated in frames where it is possible to hide in all the frames to increase the capacity. In Table 4, video based steganography has been proposed.
The capacity problems overcame by Noda et al. (2004)
the proposed method was based on wavelet compression for video data and Bit-Plane
Complexity Segmentation (BPCS) steganography. The author enhanced the capacity
problems by using the video-based steganography. However, the secret sharing
requirements has not appeared in this study. The hash code or digital signature
is the widely used techniques for integrity and authentication issues, when
the steganography combined with these techniques a highly secure secret sharing
system can be proposed. As well as the compression can affect the quality of
the video and is make it suspicious to the attacker. A video error correction
using steganography has been proposed by (Robie and Mersereau
2002) since the transmission of any data is always subject to corruption
due to errors, then the video transmission (because of its real time nature)
must deal with these errors without retransmission of the corrupted data. However,
the study proposed another application for the steganography rather than for
security purposes. On another hand, Jalab et al.
(2009) proposed collaborate approach for select frame using Bit Plane Complexity
Segmentation (BPCS) for hiding data within MPEG Video. The proposed approach
invented a high secure data hidden using select frame from MPEG Video. However,
the proposed approach achieved a high capacity using video as a cover carrier
but the steganography alone unable to achieve high secure system for message
sharing purposes. Eltahir et al. (2009) proposed
approach for video steganography using the Least Significant Bits (LSBs). The
method considered the digital video file as separated frames and changed the
output image displayed on each video frame by hidden data that does not visually
change the image.
With this technique, one can apply hidden information with more space better
than other steganography media. However, the authors used the video-based steganography
to enhance the capacity of the hidden message but the security requirements
such as data integrity has not appeared in the study (Eltahir
et al., 2009).
While Bhaumik et al. (2009) suggested another
video-based steganography. By using AVI videos which are large in size but still
can be transmitted from source to target over network after processing the source
video by using the data hiding and extraction procedure securely. There are
two different procedures, which are used in this study at the sender and receiver
sides respectively. The procedures are used as the key of data hiding and extraction
processes. However, the suggested key in this study does not meet the security
standards and it is unable to ensure the authentication and integrity of the
data or the message.
Wu et al. (2003) applied multilevel embedding
to allow the amount of embedded information that can be reliably extracted to
be adaptive with respect to the actual noise conditions. The authors proposed
strategies for handling different embedding capacity from region to region within
a frame as well as from frame to frame. The authors also embed control information
within the video to facilitate the accurate extraction of the user data payload
and to combat such distortions.
However, within all the earlier presented studies the authors has used the video-based steganography as a medium carrier, but the security requirements does not satisfied in those study. The security for the message sharing purpose required the integrity and authentication for the message to be achieved and tested in order to ensure that the data came from the authorised sender and it has not been altered by unauthorised parties during the transmission using insecure channel. In Table 5, the cryptography and video based steganography has been used together to enhance the security aspects.
The enhancements of the security in steganography approaches can be achieved
by integrate the steganography with other techniques.
||Video-based steganography and cryptography
In Chae and Manjunath (1999) proposed a video-based
steganography in which the embedded signature data is extracted without knowing
the original host video. The proposed method enables high rate of data embedding.
Embedding is based on texture masking and utilizes a multi-dimensional lattice
structure for encoding signature information. Signature data is embedded in
individual video frames using the block DCT. However, the author claim that
this approach is robust for motion compensated codes, such as MPEG-2, without
showing the proof for the robustness.
While Socek et al. (2007) proposed video encryption
algorithm designed for both lossless and lossy low-motion spatial-only video
codec. The proposed encryption method can thus be performed before compression
at the encoder side and after decompression at the decoder side. As well the
author introduced a new type of steganography as an extension to the encryption
approach. The proposed steganographic scheme enables disguising a video with
another video, which is a new concept in video-based steganography. However,
the encryptions usually increase the size of the cipher-text which is affecting
the capacity of the secret message.
On the other hand, Westfeld and Wolf (1998) presented
the steganography in a video conferencing, the video conference used for the
implementation of the steganographic system presented in this study works on
the H.261 standard. However, the H.261 is not adequate to be used on the Internet,
where just low bit-rate is available (De Oliveira, 1997).
While Zaidan and Zaidan (2009) proposed a collaborate
approach between steganography and cryptography. The approach provided a high
secure data hidden using Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) method. However, the
security aspect has been considered in this study, although the size of the
cipher-text is a genuine problem for steganography. Furthermore, PKI encryption
has been proposed for the purpose of integrity. A solution of using hash function
instead of PKI can give faster processing, less size for authentication of the
The use of video as a carrier cover for the secure message is overcame the
capacity problem and added small enhancement to the security aspects. The integration
of steganography and cryptography techniques provided powerful systems for sharing
secure messages. This integration especially within video cover carrier is a
good stage of such systems, but the capacity of the produced message from the
cryptography technique which is called cipher-text is larger than the original
message (plaintext). The cryptography techniques increase the size of message
after the encryption to be greater than the size of the original message (Shin
and Choi, 2009), on another hand (Biham, 1991) shown
that the cipher-text size is much larger than the plaintext size by using the
cryptography techniques. While Wong et al. (2005)
found out the cipher-text size is usually long, at least twice that of the original
plaintext. In additional, some specific implementations of cryptography required
special hardware at appreciable costs (Perritt, 1994)
as well as the cryptographic functions require considerable computation and
CPU processing time, which might introduces the binding latency (Kim
and Han, 2006; Kim et al., 2007). All these
led to make the use of the hash function as one type of cryptography more feasible,
the main goal of using the hash code is to ensure data integrity and authentication
which considered the main aspects of sharing secret message within insecure
The review has shown above presents the steganography approaches and how some
researchers tried to enhance the limitation of steganography. Before 10 years
the capacity of the secure image was limited (Moskowitz
et al., 2000) while now some researchers provide new approaches which
can embed secure message or image within more than 50% of the original image
size. As we shown in the earlier study on steganography there are many use for
the steganography even not for pure security where sometimes it is usable for
error correction like by Robie and Mersereau (2002).
For the capacity purpose there is a limitation on how much information can be
hidden into an image, making difficult to use the image methods (Chang
et al., 2002). In the video steganography we have a flexibility of
make a selective frame steganography to higher the security of the system or
using the whole video for hiding a huge amount of data (Zaidan
and Zaidan, 2009). That reason makes the use of video-based steganography
more eligible. As well as, the confidentiality need to be tested through testing
the quality of steganographic object. In addition, the current metrics which
is used for measuring quality of steganographic objects are not sufficient for
this kind of test.
In the other hand, for the highly secure applications there are some users
need special quality characteristics or security requirements such as integrity
and authentication. The authentication technique allows the receiver to be certain
that a message is genuine, or in another words, the message generated by the
original sender. According to Preneel and van Oorschot (1995),
Haber and Kamat (2006), Sun et
al. (2008) and Alghathbar (2010), information
that is transmitted or stored in insecure channels is needed to be checked to
assure its reliability. While integrity is for assuring the receiver of the
message that the received message is exactly what the sender transmitted and
there are no intentional or accidental changes has been done by unauthorised
part. The integrity usually comes in conjunction with authentication techniques
(IETF, 1999; Aura et al., 2000;
Haber and Kamat, 2006; Alghathbar,
2010). By using the authentication techniques, the attacker even one with
infinite computer resources cannot forge or modify a message without detection
(Wegman and Carter, 1981). The user needs for trusted
system in order to do a secure transformation for data or information.
This study has been funded by the University of Malaya, under the Grant No. (P0033/2010A). The author would like to take this opportunity to thank and acknowledge his supervisors: Dr. Hamid Jalab and Dr. Zarinah Mohd Kasirun, for having rendered their ceaseless and unconditional support throughout the entire duration of the study. The author would also like to extend his heartfelt gratitude to all his friends and associates who had offered him the much needed assistance and encouragement from the start to the end of the research period.
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