Progress Report 2011.09.12

Development continues. The preliminary proof-of-concept work focused on exploring the simplest form of MRF, one in which the plain text consists solely of single case alpha characters (i.e., no punctuation, no spacing, just the 26 letters in the continuum “A”…”Z” or “a”…”z”).

Once the concepts had been established and validated, the next step was to devise a way to extend the same concepts (essentially scaling) so that the full 7-bit ASCII character set could be employed.

That step has been completed. Continue reading

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Progress Report 2011.02.02

MRF has been undergoing development on two levels – one exploring the theoretical space, the other examining ways to implement some of the theoretical aspects that are becoming reasonably well understood.

For example, it is now clear that the MRF family of steganographic techniques can be divided into two main branches.

One is codenamed MRF1, the branch that has been studied extensively, and the other, not unsurprisingly, is MRF2, which has not been studied except in the most cursory way. It is orders of magnitude more complex than MRF1.

MRF1 has several sub-branches and even branches below that, with some interesting potential for sending exactly the same information cloaked in ways that are sufficiently different that the various forms do not appear to be even remotely related.

MRF1 can even emulate other forms of steganography – for example, the Fleissner Turning Grille.

One of the most interesting aspects of MRF in general is that for some branches it is not necessary to exchange the key – an indirect reference to the key is all that need be exchanged, and that exchange can itself be cloaked.

MRF1 appears to have a broad spectrum of potential applications.

For example, it can be implemented as a software application in a number of environments (development at present is focusing on Android devices), under which usage it may be employed to cloak either part or all of a plain text message, using any one of several different types and levels of cloaking. The cloaked text can be embedded in the plain text by the simple means of surrounding it with square brackets ([...]).

Thus a Tweet, an email, a Wall post, or any free text entry in a Web form can contain private and personal information that, even if made public by accident or design, will not readily reveal its contents to the observer who does not possess the correct key.

For example, I can write a paragraph and reveal an instruction to  [suroslamondyeteshmetintui] in a way that is very difficult to decrypt without knowing the key. (This form is the most elemental of MRF1 and wouldn’t necessarily stand up to brute force searching of the entire range of possible re-arrangements, although as with many anagrams, multiple arrangements may be possible that are all equally likely to be correct (or incorrect)).

I read recently of someone who thought they were inviting a few close friends to a birthday party through a well-known social networking site and instead had tens of thousands of respondents saying that they would turn up. If MRF1 had been available then and used to cloak the invitation, only those who had been given the key to decloak the details would have known what it was about, when and where it would take place, and there would have been no embarrassment.

MRF1 could also be implemented at the OS level, under which it could operate as a function available to any application, such as an email client, a browser, an office productivity application, a graphics program, and so on.

MRF1 could also be implemented as part of a supervisory executable, (similar in operation to those applications that decompress compressed executable code on the fly, allowing programs to occupy less space, both on storage devices and in memory), without unduly slowing down the program’s execution.

For example, any executable may have its contents re-arranged according to an MRF1 key, rendering it impossible to execute as-is. The supervisory executable would apply the key to the cloaked code, executing the instructions according to the sequence dictated by the key as if they were meta-instructions (p-code or bytecode, for example).

If the original executable is updated or modified, its code sequence can be re-arranged so that a different key is required, eliminating the possibility of using an old key with a new release.

Some aspects of MRF1 are now in the process of moving from theory to the definition of proposed usage including the creation of likely Use Cases and a GUI for an application (at this stage, under Android 2.1 using the Eclipse IDE).

It should be a short step from there to alpha-testing.

In parallel, preparations are under way to create one or more preliminary patent filings in order to begin the process of protecting this valuable intellectual property.

Further information will follow as development proceeds.

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Progress Report 2011.01.23

The development of MRF is proceeding in fits and starts. A development system consisting of the Eclipse/Helios IDE(1) and the Google Android SDK under Microsoft XP Pro SP3 was tested using an emulator and preliminary results were good.

A simple .apk has been created using the IDE and it has been successfully downloaded onto a non-phone Android device (Nextbook3 tablet running Android 2.1), installed and executed without errors. Further testing of the publishing route will take place using Android phones in due course.

(1) IDE: Integrated Development Environment

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An Introduction To MRF

Recent years have seen a distinct loss of personal privacy, usually in the name of marketing products and services, and associated particularly with use of the Internet (or just ‘Net).

For younger ‘Net users this obviously isn’t an issue, but more seasoned users are much more wary (often because of negative personal experience).

The MRF Privacy Tool (under development) is a software utility based on a novel implementation of an old steganographic or “message cloaking” technology. It aims to allow any user of the ‘Net to retain control over some (not all) aspects of their personal information even if that information is suddenly made public without their knowledge or consent.

MRF is not all-powerful. If a social networking website demands that you use their tools to enter information such as a birthdate, you have no option. MRF can’t help you hide your birthdate there (although of course you don’t generally have to provide “real” information for non-governmental sites, cough, cough).

But if you want to provide some sensitive information to family and/or friends in a way that – if it was suddenly made public – would not reveal that information to all and sundry (such as a Wall post about the results of your latest medical exam or a Tweet about your upcoming vacation – when your house will be empty and vulnerable to being burgled), then MRF is probably going to be very useful to you.

The tool is still in development but will hopefully become available before the end of 2011 at very nominal cost (we’re talking $1 here) to help cover development and ongoing support costs.

Planned implementations include versions for Windows/Mac/Linux and Android, with others likely to follow.

Further announcements will follow in due course.

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