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Ancient art given 21st century spin

A company to set up a cutting edge new security product based around the ancient tradition of watermarking is being set up by academics in Londonderry.

HidInImage, set up at the University of Ulster’s Magee campus, brings the ancient art of hidden messages — steganography — to computers.

The messages are designed so that only the sender and intended recipient know they exist.

Now Ulster academics at the Intelligent Systems Research Centre at Magee campus have developed a way to conceal and retrieve information from within digital files.

The work has been led by Dr Joan Condell and Dr Kevin Curran.

Dr John MacRae from university's Office of Innovation said the new technology can be sold for everything from tagging cattle to prevent rustling, to legal and business documents and banking.

Dr MacRea added that the new company — expected to employ up to five graduates — will be looking for local partners with a knowledge of markets to licence HidInImage technology.

Dr Condell said that while digital watermarking is already a well-known technology, the Magee project takes it to a different level.

“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,” Dr Condell said.

She added that the watermarks can only be viewed and decoded by formulas also developed at Magee.

Professor Paul McKevitt, holder of the patents along with Dr Condell and Dr Curran, said: “With society so dependent on computer technology, providing additional ways of authentication and verification to improve security can only be of immense value.”

Professor Hugh McKenna, the university’s Pro Vice Chancellor of Research and Innovation’s said: “Our ambition is for high quality research and development work ongoing at University of Ulster to assist local businesses to grow and thrive.”

Belfast Telegraph