A Font to Discourage NSA Snooping

The ZXX font is designed to be difficult for machines to read. Former National Security Agency contractor Sang Mun created the font as a response to increasing government incursions on privacy. “I have become dedicated to researching ways to ‘articulate our unfreedom’ and to continue the evolution of my own thinking about censorship, surveillance, and a free society,” he explained after releasing the font online in June.

Several different techniques are used to baffle digital scanners, including camouflage patterns drawn from nature, crowding the letters with digital noise, and simply crossing out each letter. The font is named after the Library of Congress code ZXX, which labels a document as containing “no linguistic content.” The goal is to make the contents of a document unreadable by text scanning software while still being intelligible to a human reader.

Part awareness-raising art project, part useful tool, the font only works to protect the contents of attachments or other items that can be transmitted as images. Though it’s unclear how important optical text recognition is in government snooping, every bit of extra privacy counts.  

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Jerry on the boat||

    Just steganographically encode your message under a layer of Comic Sans fonts, you'll be safe.

  • Dweebston||

    And pedantic internet hipsters will despise you forever. Win-win.

  • Acosmist||

    Pedantic? Huh?

  • Dweebston||

    Man, I can think of few things more pedantic than the smug opprobrium for comic sans. Granted, I think most of it anymore is trendy hipsterness, but that's even less defensible.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    Comic Sans has been despised since its inception. It's not a "trend".

  • Dweebston||

    Deriding it as if it's something new is a trend.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Were it combined with other cryptographic techniques, it could be useful.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Hey, BP, today I saw you sent me an email to my gmail account. Sorry I haven't seen it until now, I use my gmail as a spam trap and for gravatar only. I'll send you my everyday personal email.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Cool. I thought I'd pissed you off.

  • Snark Plissken||

    Get a room, ladies.

  • BakedPenguin||

    You're just sad because you're the only libertarian in Czechia.

  • Snark Plissken||

    Vaclav Klaus, biatch. At least according to the Cato Inst and Ler Rockweall.

  • ||

    He dead. Name another?

  • Snark Plissken||

    You're probably thinking of Václav Havel, Jesse. But he never pretended to be a libertarian.

  • ||

    You are absolutely correct, I've muddled my Vaclavs

  • ||

    Muddled Vaclav. Good name for a cocktail, that.

  • Snark Plissken||

    Three jiggers of Pilsner Urquel, a shot of absinthe and a shot of Becherovka?

  • ||

    It's an interesting project but it would mean printing and scanning documents to be sent as attachments.

  • johnl||

    You don't need to print and scan to get an image of your document.

  • ||

    True, but don't most soft prints produce text encoded renders of your document? PDF, XPS and PS all contain text data if you generate them directly, no?

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    OT:A good observation on the difference between the difference between "being nice" and "being kind"

    "Nice" originally meant "foolish," from the Latin nescius; whereas "kind" originally meant "natural", "native", or "innate", that is, how one acts to one's kin.

  • ||

    You know who else cared about the health of their community?

  • AnarchoAlex||

    Hitler

  • Snark Plissken||

    Jenny McCarthy?

  • ||

    Read part of that article. As usual, Sunstein misses the mark.

    Maybe large numbers of clubs in one area did not lead to greater membership in the nazi party, but a high percentage of 'joiners' in those populations led to both? Maybe.

  • Scarecrow Repair||

    Maybe isolation by the Treaty of Versailles increased internal social relations? All people want social interaction of some sort, and maybe if Germans felt the world was ganging up on them for what had been a pretty normal war by the standards of the time, they would see themselves as victims and develop more internal social networks.

    I'm just guessing, never thought on the topic before.

  • Bramblyspam||

    This seems pointless. If this font starts getting any use at all, it should be a very simple task for the snoops to program the scanning software to recognize the letters of this font.

    Then again, I'm not an expert in this field, so what do I know.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    You're quite correct...this is a publicity stunt. I seriously doubt much of the NSA's surveillance depends on OCR anyway, they're looking at bits in network traffic.

  • Jake W||

    A friend of mine works at a Network Access Point in Miami. Himself and his coworkers are told to obey orders from the NSA before anything. They do a floor by floor dump of all data in the building every couple of hours. There is a huge 0 spike in bandwidth usage during these dumps, they are trained to anticipate it now. The NSA basically copies the whole of internet traffic at every large access point.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    Ah, it looks like KMW has already covered herself:

    Part awareness-raising art project, part useful tool, the font only works to protect the contents of attachments or other items that can be transmitted as images. Though it’s unclear how important optical text recognition is in government snooping, every bit of extra privacy counts.

    So basically after going on about how great this is, in the last paragraph she admits it's probably useless.

  • RightNut||

    I said it in the last thread about this font, this is fairly easily crackable. If someone had interest they could write a program to read this in maybe a month or two. If you're afraid the government really is reading your stuff, the best bet is to use actual encryption, or hide your message in plain sight.

  • AlmightyJB||

    So someone calls CPD about a dog attacking someones. The cops get there and the attack is still going on? and the cop "stops the attack" by shooting the dog? May be legit but story doesn't smell right to me.

    http://www.nbc4i.com/story/234.....ts-animals

  • AlmightyJB||

    OK, well this makes more sense. Looks like they even captured one of the dogs alive rather than shoot it.

    http://www.10tv.com/content/st.....ttack.html

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    OK, speaking of online snooping, today I signed up for UPS MyChoice so that I can have packages held for pickup when I won't be home. They ask for your name and address, and then verify that you really are the person who lives there by asking you a bunch of multiple-choice questions about your past life.

    What kind of questions? Well, one question asked me which of these streets I'd lived on, and the correct answer was a street I lived on for a few months back in 1997. Next question was "which of these people do you know?" and the answer was a roommate from college. And so on -- I was like, how the hell do they know all this just from my name and address?!

    A real eye-opener, that.

  • Sevo||

    You sure that was UPS?

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    Hee hee. Well, they provided the multiple choices so it's not likely to be a phishing scam.

  • Snark Plissken||

    I used to work for UPS and I don't find this extremely shocking.

  • ||

    I believe it's data culled from the files in your credit history. One of the online traffic schools did something similar. IIRC it's a service provided by Experian, but it's been a while since I encountered it directly.

  • sarcasmic||

    I believe it's data culled from the files in your credit history.

    That's exactly what it is.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    For me it's Bank Gothic or nothing.

  • Snark Plissken||

    I'm getting a tingling of deja vu...or it could be my spidey sense.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    So, is dunphy going to be wearing a Kaepernick jersey this weekend?

    Be careful, Seattle Seahawks fans. That person in a San Francisco 49ers jersey you might want to confront or heckle Sunday just might be a cop.

    The Seahawks announced Wednesday that undercover law-enforcement officers will wear opposing team jerseys at games this season in an effort to quickly detect fans exhibiting unruly and inconsiderate behavior.
  • RightNut||

    Unruly?! Inconsiderate?! At a sporting event?! Say it ain't so!

  • ||

    Whatevs, Seattle, nobody is going to get British unruly at your silly sporting event so chill the fuck out.

  • ||

  • ||

    Good call, I always forget about Brazilian football related stabbings, stonings and dismemberments.

  • RightNut||

    Sounds like the perfect country to hold the World Cup and Olympics.

  • mad libertarian guy||

    Sounds like the perfect country to hold the World Cup and Olympics.

    You might have a point except that Brazilians won't be able to afford tix to the events their tax dollars paid for.

  • ||

    This won't end well.

  • sarcasmic||

    I wonder how many people the cops will kill before they decide this is a bad idea.

  • ||

    I'm unclear on how the pigs will even hear heckling and taunts over the noise of the 12th man. But I'm not surprised they're doing this during a game against the Niners at home. It's going to be insane. I still try and hear the stadium from my deck but it's just a little too far. Maybe I should try from the rooftop deck.

  • ||

    I am psyched for the game, but plan to steer clear of the stadium tomorrow. I think what with the Niners rivalry, and the attempted Guinness record, it will be even more of a shitshow than usual.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    "The as yet unnamed fan fell to his death from the upper tier of the stadium as he was resisting arrest for disorderly conduct. The officers have been cleared of any wrongdoing."

  • sarcasmic||

    "Home game attendance has dropped dramatically ever since the police shot and killed a drunken spectator. The family of the dead fan has sued the for wrongful death, and the football franchise has sued for lost revenue. The unnamed officers are still on duty."

  • Hollywood||

    "No officers, however, were hurt in the incident."

  • Ted S.||

    ever since the police shot and killed a drunken spectator

    Why is this not in the passive voice? :-|

  • sarcasmic||

    Good catch.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Why is this not in the passive voice? :-|

    "Died in a hail of police bullets"?

  • Mizchief||

    That's cute and everything, but computers read text as values, not images. Just saving your text as images in any font would be a big first step if you were inclined to go that route.

  • Austrian Anarchy||

    The missing link to the project page is here: http://blogs.walkerart.org/des.....a-privacy/

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Progressive Puritans: From e-cigs to sex classifieds, the once transgressive left wants to criminalize fun.
  • Port Authoritarians: Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal
  • The Menace of Secret Government: Obama’s proposed intelligence reforms don’t safeguard civil liberties

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement