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Can steganography techniques help attackers hide?

Attackers may be looking to use steganography techniques to hide their malware. Expert Nick Lewis explains how they work and how to spot them.

I read steganography is expected to grow increasingly popular with hackers in the near future. How does a hacker use steganography, and how can enterprises best defend against steganography-based attacks?

Steganography is the hiding of a secret message within an ordinary message. Using steganography techniques, like using encryption, helps attackers to minimize the chance of their attack being detected. And like encryption, using steganography techniques effectively requires proper implementation. But as attackers improve their usage of encryption, moving beyond simple ransomware schemes and using it to hide and exfiltrate corporate data, they will need to take additional steps to hide their communications, which could lead to an increase in using steganography techniques. This helps thwart heuristic or behavioral analysis that looks for anomalies in network connections. For example, attackers could use a social network of their choosing for their command-and-control infrastructure in order to hide their communications with the legitimate network traffic to the website. In a targeted attack, an attacker could try to identify the most common social network in use at the enterprise and use that to set up the command-and-control communications for their malware.

Enterprises can defend against attacks that use steganography techniques in much the same way they can defend against attacks using encryption -- by using tools that look for anomalies in protocol or extra data in a communication channel. For example, if a JPEG file looks like a low-quality image when opening it in a picture viewer, but the file is larger than expected, there is a good chance there is something else being stored in the JPEG, requiring further analysis.

Next Steps

Learn how to use steganography to secure data instead of concealing it

Discover ways to detect and mitigate advanced evasion techniques

Find out how to use OpenPuff steganography to send sensitive info securely

This was last published in January 2016

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