A Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) researcher has developed a new technique that could provide virtually 100 percent protection against cyberattacks launched through internet videos or images, according to a university statement.

“Any downloaded or streamed video or picture is a potential vehicle for a cyberattack,” says Professor Ofer Hadar, chair of BGU’s Department of Communication Systems Engineering. “Hackers like videos and pictures because they bypass the regular data transfer systems of highly secure systems, and there is significant space in which to implant malicious code.”

Cybersecurity is a hot-button issue in today’s digital world. Recent WikiLeaks allegations against the Central Intelligence Agency of hacking techniques that bypass security encryption, made the issue even more urgent.

Hadar says downloaded and shared videos and images are a growing target for cyberattackers.

To counter this emerging threat, Hadar developed a series of algorithms that can completely prevent attackers from being able to infiltrate and extract information through videos or pictures.

His techniques combat steganography — a process that involves hiding a message in an appropriate carrier, such as an image file. Using steganography, the carrier can be sent to a receiver without anyone else knowing that it contains a hidden message.

“We are dealing nowadays with the use of steganography to insert malicious codes within videos and photos to attack the viewer,” says Hadar. “We have developed algorithms to find a solution to that problem in the ‘compressed domain.’ The idea is to manipulate the file’s ‘payload’ to remove the malicious code without damaging the data quality.”

Hadar’s approach, which he has dubbed The Coucou Project, addresses two potential attack scenarios. Both scenarios assume that basic malware has been planted on the victim’s servers/hosts by means of social engineering, such as phishing scams or other means of exploiting data vulnerability. From there, the malware gathers classified information from the victim’s data center.

In the first scenario, once the user uploads an image or a video to a social network, the malware embeds the classified information into the uploaded content (making it accessible to the attacker).

In the second scenario, the attacker uploads infected content to a social network or any other shared server where the malware can extract the malicious code and execute it.

“Preliminary experimental results show that a method based on a combination of Coucou Project techniques results in virtually 100 percent protection against cyberattacks,” says Hadar. “We envision that firewall and antivirus companies will be able to utilize Coucou protection applications and techniques in their products.”

The Coucou Project receives funding from the BGU Cyber Security Research Center and the BaseCamp Innovation Center at the Advanced Technologies Park in Beersheva.