Hiding Secret Spy Messages in Your Soda

You can now use soda to send secret messages. This would make for an interesting James Bond movie, right? The paper documenting this technique is published in the journal Nature Communications.

Coding and decoding the message. Photo credits: Margulies et al. Nature Communications
Coding and decoding the message: (a) Converting the message to numbers. (b) Making the unique encryption key. (c) Adding encryption key to initial message, and sending the encrypted one to recipient. (d) Recipient with an identical device to read the message repeats the procedure, and adds the said chemical. (e) Original message revealed. Photo credits: Margulies et al., Nature Communications.

A team of scientists from the Weizmann Institute of Science have turned chemicals like cola and soda into an encryption key to be used to code and decipher secret messages. This would be the height of spy techniques.

This method is a complex one to develop, but relatively easy to use. It is a combination of older techniques, like steganography, together with encryption and password protection. It is based on making fluorescent molecules respond to different light wavelengths in the presence of specific chemicals. Measuring the wavelength of light given off by the molecules allows one to get a code that is then to be decrypted. And, the message is thus read. The code-bearing molecule has to be made in the lab. All you need is common products like a specific cola, mouthwash, or instant coffee to ‘activate’ it.

The letters in the message are encoded with a series of numbers each (as illustrated above). Each of them is also given a wavelength of light. When the molecule is placed in the chemical (like, cola), the amount of light given off at the wavelength can then be measured with a small device. An additional security aspect is that the coding and decoding devices have to be the same because fluorescence is measured in arbitrary units. Then, the result of the measurement is added to the initial assigned number, and the final value will be the letter. Also, the same chemical will have to be used as that used to create it.

The password protection entails the measure the researchers took to make the light given off to rely on the order the chemicals were added.

If one were to follow the instructions properly, it would be pretty easy to read the hidden messages, explain the team.

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