U.S. intelligence officers believe images on the pro-Islamicwebsite Azzam contain secret messages. This has inspired somecomputer users to check images on the site carefully forsigns that they have been altered using free programsavailable online.
However, Peter Honeyman, a computer expert at the Universityof Michigan, says that after closer examination, most of thesuspicious flagged images have been cleared. He says, "Youget a lot of these. We call them false positives."
Honeyman says that in order to confirm the existence ofhidden messages, it?s necessary to crack the password usedto insert the message. This is done by searching through allthe millions of possible passwords until you find the rightone. It requires a large amount of computing power.
Niels Provos, one of Honeyman's students, says, "Web imagesare generally of poor-quality, leading to a higher falsepositive rate." Also, their small size limits theirinformation capacity.
U.S. officials believe al-Qaeda operatives have uploaded2300 images containing encrypted information to the internetauctionsite eBay since the start of 2002, but Honeyman andProvos are skeptical. They conducted an extensive search ofeBay in November 2001 and found absolutely no evidence.
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