Date of Award

Spring 5-10-2014

Degree Type




Director of Thesis

Stephen Fenner

First Reader

Mandy Fang


Live Musical Steganography is a project created as a way to combine the two typically unrelated fields of music and information security into a cohesive entity that will hopefully spark one’s imagination and inspire further development that could one day be beneficial in the world of security. For those who are unfamiliar with the term steganography, it can be defined as the art and science of preserving the integrity and confidentiality of a message by hiding the existence of that message within some larger body of data. In the field of steganography, much research and development has gone into methods of obscuring the presence of information digitally in photos or audio files. However, this project is unique in that the information is hidden in a composition that can be performed without unsuspecting listeners being aware of the modification of the piece to include a secret message.

The process of transmission is as follows. There is a sender (call her Alice) and a recipient (call him Bob). Alice and Bob are in a place where they can be near each other without having to seemingly be together (like a park). Alice would play her modified composition, which contains the secret message within the work. While Bob is aware that a message is being transmitted and records the performance accordingly, everyone else would probably just assume that Alice is playing her piece because music is her hobby. Bob would then compare Alice’s performance to the notes of the original composition and write down the notes that differ. From there, he would be able to obtain the secret message. The most interesting part of this project is the fact that the piece that Alice plays sounds just as musical as the original composition.

Now that the basic gist of how the message will be transmitted has been addressed, we can briefly discuss the algorithm for inserting the message into a composition. The first step is to choose a composition large enough to conceal a message. Next, the message should be encrypted into what is known as a ciphertext so that if security was somehow compromised and the message was retrieved, it would be a jumble of letters instead of a coherent message. After encrypting the message, each letter of the message should be turned into a corresponding note and inserted consistently (such as every third note of each measure) into the composition. The resulting composition is now ready for Alice to play for Bob.

While there is an added layer of security provided with the message being encrypted before being inserted into the composition, most of the security of the message lies in the unassuming nature of the set-up. If the transmission between Alice and Bob were to occur in a park, then the casual observer may see what appears to be a normal day with a couple jogging, a mother pushing a stroller, Alice playing around on her flute, Bob on his laptop, and some teens playing Frisbee. In the midst of this normality however, Alice could be transmitting information that is of national importance to Bob.