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Cutting edge secure digital watermarking technology developed at the Intelligent Systems Research Centre (ISRC) at the University of Ulster’s Magee Campus, is being showcased this week during the Home Office Scientific Development Branch (HOSDB) exhibition in Farnborough, England.

The University of Ulster is the only university to exhibit at the HOSDB show, and the people behind the unique technology offering – called ‘HidInImage’ – are forecasting it could be “the next breakthrough in digital media”.

With specialist security products, technology and services on display from over 400 organisations, HOSDB is billed as UK’s premier event for public security and law enforcement professionals.

HidInImage  is the product of a decade of research into steganography  -  the science of writing hidden software messages in such a way that only the sender and intended recipient realise they exist. Although the first recorded use of the term steganography dates back hundreds of years, it is a relatively new area of academic research.

Dr Joan Condell, who leads the research team at ISRC, says digital technology has meant major advances in steganography.

“With HidInImage, digital watermarks are embedded directly into content. They are imperceptible to humans but readable by computers. The embedding technique used is impervious to image and data compression so the image can be copied and moved around without anyone knowing that the text exists.”

Dr Condell says HidInImage technology has great potential in a wide range of areas, including identity cards or secure tamperproof CCTV technology.

“There are very many security applications for HidInImage, such as authenticating identity to tighten security at airport checks-ins and other public access points; securing watermarking for forensic photographic and video evidence transmitting sensitive information like medical records securely; and also guaranteeing that images and video and have not been tampered with.”

Dr John MacRea from Ulster’s Office of Innovation who is taking the commercial lead on the HideInImage project says the ISRC’s research into the security of digital technologies has already generated a lot of commercial interest.

Dr MacRea anticipates that following the exhibition, HidInImage will secure the necessary backing from investors to establish a university spinout company to supply the growing security market.

He adds: “However since protecting the authenticity of imagery is just as important in commercial Markets and indeed, even in protecting the privacy of individuals, HidInImage could be the next big breakthrough in digital media.”