Secret messaging with endogenous chemistry

Sci Rep. 2021 Jul 6;11(1):13960. doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-92987-2.


Data encoded in molecules offers opportunities for secret messaging and extreme information density. Here, we explore how the same chemical and physical dimensions used to encode molecular information can expose molecular messages to detection and manipulation. To address these vulnerabilities, we write data using an object's pre-existing surface chemistry in ways that are indistinguishable from the original substrate. While it is simple to embed chemical information onto common objects (covers) using routine steganographic permutation, chemically embedded covers are found to be resistant to detection by sophisticated analytical tools. Using Turbo codes for efficient digital error correction, we demonstrate recovery of secret keys hidden in the pre-existing chemistry of American one dollar bills. These demonstrations highlight ways to improve security in other molecular domains, and show how the chemical fingerprints of common objects can be harnessed for data storage and communication.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.