1993-12-01 - dithering, repudiable steganography

Header Data

From: jel@sutro.SFSU.EDU (John E. Levine)
To: cypherpunks@toad.com
Message Hash: 8f517d5a51a176c95f37fff3a1630253ce3bead2d684d8d60e26b7032e324d22
Message ID: <9312010302.AA05375@russian.SFSU.EDU>
Reply To: N/A
UTC Datetime: 1993-12-01 03:07:55 UTC
Raw Date: Tue, 30 Nov 93 19:07:55 PST

Raw message

From: jel@sutro.SFSU.EDU (John E. Levine)
Date: Tue, 30 Nov 93 19:07:55 PST
To: cypherpunks@toad.com
Subject: dithering, repudiable steganography
Message-ID: <9312010302.AA05375@russian.SFSU.EDU>
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/plain


I have a book (unfortunately not with me now) describing
the format of data on music CDs.  It seems that there is
a kind of objectionable, heard noise in digital
recordings called granulation noise.  This is peculiar
to digital; analog recording doesn't have this problem.
Granulation noise manifests itself at low amplitudes,
when the signal being represented is just at the
resolution of the digital sampling.  For example, if the
signal is a sinusoid with a peak-to-peak amplitude
represented by just a little greater than one bit
difference in each sample.  The problem is, the sampled
sinusoid sounds just like a square wave when it is played

Input, the signal:
 2 |
   |        xxx                                 xxx
   |      xx   xx                             xx   xx
   |     x       x                           x       x
 1 |    x         x                         x         x
   |   x           x                       x           x
   |  x             x                     x             x
   | x               x                   x               x
 0 +x-----------------x-----------------x-----------------x--------------
   |                   x               x                   x
   |                    x             x                     x
   |                     x           x                       x
-1 |                      x         x                         x         x
   |                       x       x                           x       x
   |                        xx   xx                             xx   xx
   |                          xxx                                 xxx
-2 |

Output, the digitized, sampled signal:
 2 |
   |                                        xxxxxxxxxxx
 1 |    xxxxxxxxxxx
 0 +xxxx-----------xxxx-----------------xxxx-----------xxxx--------------
-1 |                   xxxx         xxxx                   xxxx
-2 |                       xxxxxxxxx                           xxxxxxxxx

This introduces (would introduce) lots of strong harmonics,
making a very quiet flute, say, sound very unflutelike.  The
people who make commercial CDs get around this problem with
a technique called dithering.  They add to each sample a
number from {-2, -1, 0, 1 2}, picked randomly.  I.e., they
randomly scramble the low few bits of each sample.  The
interesting thing about this is that, while it obviously
degrades the signal, the result sounds better to human ears!
It solves the problem of granulation noise.  (The noisy
flute sounds better than the clear but mangled squarewave
thing the flute sounds like through the granulation noise).
Of course there is something like 93 db dynamic range on a
CD, so the dither hardly makes a dent in the usual sound
quality -- it's only there to solve the granulation noise
problem, which is only a problem at very low signal

The only requirement for the dither bits is that they be
such that they sound random, like noise.  But any random
source of bits with this property would work just as well
for dithering.  In particular, let's suppose you have an
encrypted file, represented as a sequence of symbols, each
of which has exactly 5 values it can assume.  Musically,
this would sound exactly like noise :-) .  So *this* file
could be used to dither an audiofile, instead of the "real"
random values currently used.

I guess what I really mean to say is that this insures that
the low bit in a dithered file is *really* random; hence
could be replaced with a bit from your encrypted file.

Moreover, such a dithered audio file has some nice steganographic

1) Repudiability.  Under the assumption that the encrypted file
   cannot be cracked without the possession of the key to the file
   (which the owner of the steganographically-injected audio file
   has but claims ignorance of), the dither *really does* look like
   genuine, random dither.  She can claim that the file is in fact
   a recording of the minutes of the last cypherpunks meeting, or
   a 3 hour concert that she taped off the radio, and no TLA can
   prove otherwise.  Usually, a steganographically hidden datum
   (a microdot, invisible ink, etc.) doesn't have this property.

2) Zero storage requirements.  This follows from 1), really.  If
   you hide data in the unused parts of the last blocks on disk
   in a disk file, or in a hidden partition, the secrecy of the
   data (the "steganographic integrity"?) depends on the enemy
   not knowing or suspecting the existence of the data.


You wouldn't be able to hide anything in your private copy of
Michael Jackson's Thriller; the enemy could simply compare your
copy with the standard copy, making the differences (the hidden
file) stand out.  Unless you were Warner Brothers, in which case
you could just steganographically-inject ALL copys of Thriller
with the secret file.  This would make storage of the hidden file
trivial.  You could get a copy from the nearest Wherehouse.  [I
don't know if W.B in fact publishes Thriller; it's just an example]

I wonder if CD pulishers know that they could make some money on
the side by hiding data for people in their thousands of CDs?

Anyway, while I don't know the format for DAT, I suspect there
is some point where the sound signal is dithered to mask the
granulation noise, and at this point Alice with information to
hide could inject her file.

Do digital pictures employ dithering to prevent aliasing?  I
think so.

--John.		jel@sutro.sfsu.edu