Science News

Message in a molecule

Since ancient times, steganography, the art of concealing information, has largely relied on secret inks as a tool for hiding messages. However, as the methods for detecting these inks improved, the use of simple and accessible chemicals as a means to secure communication was practically abolished. Here, we describe a method that enables one to conceal multiple different messages within the emission spectra of a unimolecular fluorescent sensor. Similar to secret inks, this molecular-scale messaging sensor (m-SMS) can be hidden on regular paper and the messages can be encoded or decoded within seconds using common chemicals, including commercial ingredients that can be obtained in grocery stores or pharmacies. Unlike with invisible inks, however, uncovering these messages by an unauthorized user is almost impossible because they are protected by three different defence mechanisms: steganography, cryptography and by entering a password, which are used to hide, encrypt or prevent access to the information, respectively.