Covert Communications

If you’re anything like me, then you’re probably growing increasingly troubled by the growing culture of observation that we live in today. It may not look exactly like George Orwell’s 1984 out there, but it’s certainly starting to feel like it.

I guess that it’s to be expected. With every new piece of technological equipment that comes along, there’s another place where you’re going to leave your digital footprint, and another place where someone might surreptitiously intercept what you’re trying to communicate.

What’s kind of ironic is that the more technologically advanced communication has gotten, the more important and vital old forms of communication have become. I’m taking about ciphers, dead drops, and mysterious invisible ink. Rather than becoming obsolete, they’re beginning to come back in a big way. It makes sense; people will always need private ways to communicate with one another.

We even have a bit of high tech covert communications for good measure!

Ciphers: A Tried and True Method of Secret Communication

Ciphers have been around for as long as people have been communicating with each other. Because of this, there are more than a few ways to write in cipher. In order to find a method that’s going to work best for you, you’ll have to consider how much time you’re willing to both encode and decode your messages, as well as just how protected you want your communication to be.

The easiest way to get going is to create a codebook, which you and the people you’re trying to communicate with will have access to. Inside of this codebook, you can create a key list for certain words and phrases that are going to be substituted as part of your cipher.

Alternatively, you could develop a code sheet in which letters are replaced for other letters and symbols. The benefit of this method is that it’s easy to get going, but that’s also this method’s shortcoming.

If the codebook or sheet is compromised or lost then so are all of the messages made using them.

That’s why super-spies have often used another method to create their coded messages. Rather than creating their own codebooks, they use books themselves!

To do this, each person that’s going to be secretly communicating will have to have a copy of the same book. Then, messages can be passed in code by using numbers to reference page, line, and words within the book. 75-15-8 would indicate the 75th page, 15th line, 8th word.

This method has the benefit of having a codebook that can hide in plain sight, and also the benefit of being a code that can only be broken if the identity of the secret book is revealed.

Dead Drops: Your Own Personal Mail System

If you really want to raise your coded message game, then dead drops are a great way to do so. With this method you and the people that you wish to communicate with will agree on certain locations where coded messages can be passed back and forth.

In order to select these locations, you’ll need to find ones that are easy to access, but also not likely to be disturbed by the chance interloper. Therefore, you wouldn’t want to use a mailbox or another location that’s likely to see a lot of action.

Once the locations have been agreed upon, some sort of signal is left – an “X” in chalk on a mailbox or a certain colored shirt hung out to dry – and you will simply leave your message at the site that’s been agreed upon for the other party or parties. Then, that person will come to the site and pick up the message that you’ve left.

In order to guard against the message falling into the wrong hands though, it’s advisable that you make use of a cipher to protect your messages, like one of the cipher methods mentioned above.

Invisible Ink: It’s Still Something that You Can Use

Believe it or not, people are still buying and using invisible ink today.

The benefits of using this spy technique to create hidden messages are obvious, but there are some pitfalls. Most invisible inks sets that you’ll find rely on ink that can only be read when ultraviolet light is shined on it.

While this will work at keeping your message hidden from prying eyes, if someone knows that a piece of paper has an invisible message on it, then they’ll know how to reveal it. For this reason, you should couple invisible ink with a cipher, or you should, at the very least, write your hidden messages on items that won’t appear to be obviously carrying a hidden message.

An envelope with a blank piece of paper in it is, after all, rather obvious! So why not hide your messages on a supermarket circular instead?

Steganography:  A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words

Stegnography is the practice of hiding a message or information inside another file.  Most often, it is used with digital photographs.

A message is written, and is embedded inside the bits and bytes of the photo!  To the naked eye, there is nothing unusual about the photo.  Special software is used to embed and decode the hidden message.

What are the advantages to doing this?  Wikipedia tells us –

The advantage of steganography over cryptography alone is that the intended secret message does not attract attention to itself as an object of scrutiny. Plainly visible encrypted messages—no matter how unbreakable—will arouse interest, and may in themselves be incriminating in countries where encryption is illegal. Thus, whereas cryptography is the practice of protecting the contents of a message alone, steganography is concerned with concealing the fact that a secret message is being sent, as well as concealing the contents of the message.

There are numerous free software packages online to allow you to create and decrypt your messages.

Take your picture, embed your message, and post the picture to your Facebook account!


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