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Use Data Streams for Hidden Messages

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010 by | Filed Under: Security Help
 
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Everybody has secrets. In the computer world, secrets range from a simple password to an entire hard drive full of confidential information.

Of course, there are many ways to protect your secrets in cyberspace. You can use password managers, secure connections, hidden partitions and many other methods to protect them from prying eyes.

The problem with most of these methods is that they use encryption to safeguard your data. Encryption like AES is very difficult to crack, but not impossible.

A better approach to protect your secrets is to hide them. If you make your secrets invisible to anyone but yourself, you don’t even need encryption.

Unbelievably, you don’t need expensive software or complex technical knowledge to make passwords or any kind of text invisible.

In fact, if you use Windows, you already have the means inside your computer. All you need to hide any text inside regular files is to download a free application and use the NTFS file system.

Windows uses alternative data streams to store thumbnails and other meta-data. Data streams exist only in the NTFS file system and were originally conceived to allow compatibility with Apple computers.

By using a free application called Streams Viewer, you can detect and even create your own hidden streams in any file.

Streams Viewer allows you to attach a secret text message to the end of the stream. This works with any type of file, regardless of extension, and it does not change the file in any way.

The information in the stream cannot be detected by any other Windows applications such as Windows Explorer or even through the command line interface. This allows you to open an inconspicuous file, create your own streams and send it through email or post it on the internet without fear that someone will see your secret message.

Alternative data streams also pose a dangerous security risk. Hackers frequently use hidden streams, as it allows them to get an anonymous foothold in a network. Streams Viewer allows you to detect and delete hidden streams already present on your computer.

Here are the steps necessary to view and create your own hidden data streams.


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First, open your browser and visit http://www.pdfforge.org/other-projects
Then, scroll to the bottom of the page, locate the Streams Viewer section and click on the StreamsViewer-4_0_2.exe (2 MB) link.

Save the .exe file to your desktop or any other folder on your hard drive and double-click to open it.

If you get an Open File – Security Warning, click on Run to give Windows permission to start the installation.

This opens up the installer program. Click on Next to continue.

In the License Agreement window, select the I accept the agreement option and click on Next to continue.

In the next window, click Browse to install Stream Viewer in a different location on your hard drive or click on Next to continue.

Again, in the next two steps, click on Next to continue.

Then, click on Install to start the installation process.

Later, when the install process is complete, click on Finish to open the program automatically. If it does not open, double-click the Streams Viewer desktop shortcut to open it.

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To start a search for hidden streams, click on the Search button located on the top left corner of the program.

Then, in the Search alternative streams window, click the … (browse) button.

Next, select the partition to search (ex: C :) and click on OK.

Check the Recursive box and click on Start to begin searching.

After the search is over you will see all the data streams on that hard drive partition in the results table. Repeat the steps above for each hard drive partition you have.

You can double-click each item in the results table to open it or click the Save button to save the list as a .csv file (you can open it with Microsoft Excel).

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If you want to remove the hidden data stream without deleting the file, double-click the file in the results table, go to the Alternative streams section of the program and click on the Remove button.

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Now, to create your own hidden data stream, go to the Folder and files section (on the left) and select a file to use. It can be any kind of file, although for best results you should use common files like wav, mp3, jpg, doc or txt.

Warning! Do not use an important file for this operation as modifying the data stream may corrupt the file or cause it to behave unexpectedly.

With the file selected, click on the Add button, located in the Alternative streams section. Browse your computer for the same file, select it and click on Open.

You should now see garbled text in the Text/Hex section of the program.

Use the scroll bar on the right of the text box and scroll down to the end of the box. Click at the end of the last line of garbled text and press Enter from the keyboard.

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Now you can type in your secret message or password. It can be as long as you want, but you cannot use copy/paste from another file, you have to type it in by hand.

Be careful not to delete or modify any of the garbled text. If you do, the file might be corrupted.

Then, click the Update stream button, located below the text box. This will update the data stream to include your latest modification.

Lastly, click on the Save in file button, located in the Alternative streams section.

Again, browse through your computer for the same file, select it and click on Save. It will ask you to replace your original file with the file containing your secret message. Click on Yes to save your modified file.


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You can then exit the application and look at the file you modified in Windows Explorer. As you can see, the file still has the same size and is fully functional. If you notice the file has no thumbnail, open it and it will revert to normal.

To view the secret message inside the file, use the search process detailed a few steps back, double-click the file from the list and scroll down to the end of the text box.

~Cosmin Ursachi

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