THE University of Ulster’s newest security spin-out company, HidInImage, has secured significant funding to commercialise its digital watermarking innovations and give a 21st twist to the ancient science of steganography.
The art of writing hidden messages so that only the sender and intended recipient know they exist, steganography has been used in various guises for centuries.
Researchers are still looking - and finding - additional information hidden within the hieroglyphics of the Egyptian pyramids, and even in Michelangelo’s depictions of human anatomy within the ceiling paintings of the Sistine Chapel.
Now, thanks to their latest innovation in image processing technology, Ulster academics at the Intelligent Systems Research Centre at the University’s Magee campus have developed a way to conceal and retrieve information from within digital computer files.
The work has been led by Dr Joan Condell from Coleraine and Dr Kevin Curran. According to Dr Condell, digital watermarking is a well-known technology that can be used to hide personal or sensitive data in security in digital imagery.
“However the watermarking technique that we have developed is significantly more impervious to image and data compression than any previously known methods. This means that the encoded image can be copied and moved around without losing the hidden information.”
She adds: “Our watermarks cannot be seen by the human eye but they can be identified and decoded by our algorithms alone: hence the name HidInImage.”
The team at Magee have international patents pending for the HidInImage technology. Professor Paul McKevitt, holder of the patents along with Dr Condell and Dr Curran, observes that the prevalence of digital technology has resulted in a lot of information moving around rather quickly.
He says: “With society so dependent on computer technology, providing additional ways of authentication and verification to improve security can only be of immense value.”
Taking the technology from lab to spinout has been led by Dr John MacRae from University of Ulster’s Office of Innovation.
He says one of the most compelling aspects of this technology is its wide range of applications - you could be selling it to a farmer one day and the next day to a bank.
“Our ambition is for the high quality research and development work ongoing at University of Ulster to assist local businesses to grow and thrive,” he says.
“ HidInImage presents a great opportunity for this objective; it can really add something innovative and cutting edge to business.”