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Lorem Ipsum: Of Good & Evil, Google & China — Krebs on Security
"Imagine discovering a secret language spoken only online by a knowledgeable and learned few. Over a period of weeks, as you begin to tease out the meaning of this curious tongue and ponder its purpose, the language appears to shift in subtle but fantastic ways, remaking itself daily before your eyes. And just when you are poised to share your findings with the rest of the world, the entire thing vanishes.

This fairly describes my roller coaster experience of curiosity, wonder and disappointment over the past few weeks, as I’ve worked alongside security researchers in an effort to understand how “lorem ipsum” — common placeholder text on countless Web sites — could be transformed into so many apparently geopolitical and startlingly modern phrases when translated from Latin to English using Google Translate. (If you have no idea what “lorem ipsum” is, skip ahead to a brief primer here).

Admittedly, this blog post would make more sense if readers could fully replicate the results described below using Google Translate. However, as I’ll explain later, something important changed in Google’s translation system late last week that currently makes the examples I’ll describe impossible to reproduce."



"The researchers wondered: What was going on here? Has someone outside of Google figured out how to map certain words to different meanings in Google Translate? Was it a secret or covert communications channel? Perhaps a form of communication meant to bypass the censorship erected by the Chinese government with the Great Firewall of China? Or was this all just some coincidental glitch in the Matrix?

For his part, Shoukry checked in with contacts in the U.S. intelligence industry, quietly inquiring if divulging his findings might in any way jeopardize important secrets. Weeks went by and his sources heard no objection. One thing was for sure, the results were subtly changing from day to day, and it wasn’t clear how long these two common but obscure words would continue to produce the same results.

“While Google translate may be incorrect in the translations of these words, it’s puzzling why these words would be translated to things such as ‘China,’ ‘NATO,’ and ‘The Free Internet,’” Shoukry said. “Could this be a glitch? Is this intentional? Is this a way for people to communicate? What is it?”

When I met Shoukry at the Black Hat security convention in Las Vegas earlier this month, he’d already alerted Google to his findings. Clearly, it was time for some intense testing, and the clock was already ticking: I was convinced (and unfortunately, correct) that much of it would disappear at any moment."



"In any case, we may never know the real explanation. Just before midnight, Aug. 16, Google Translate abruptly stopped translating the word “lorem” into anything but “lorem” from Latin to English. Google Translate still produces amusing and peculiar results when translating Latin to English in general.

A spokesman for Google said the change was made to fix a bug with the Translate algorithm (aligning ‘lorem ipsum’ Latin boilerplate with unrelated English text) rather than a security vulnerability.

Kraeh3n said she’s convinced that the lorem ipsum phenomenon is not an accident or chance occurrence.

“Translate [is] designed to be able to evolve and to learn from crowd-sourced input to reflect adaptations in language use over time,” Kraeh3n said. “Someone out there learned to game that ability and use an obscure piece of text no one in their right mind would ever type in to create totally random alternate meanings that could, potentially, be used to transmit messages covertly.”

Meanwhile, Shoukry says he plans to continue his testing for new language patterns that may be hidden in Google Translate.

“The cleverness of hiding something in plain sight has been around for many years,” he said. “However, this is exceptionally brilliant because these templates are so widely used that people are desensitized to them, and because this text is so widely distributed that no one bothers to question why, how and where it might have come from.”"
loremipsum  googletranslate  security  translation  latin  blackhat  ceciladams  cia  china  cicero  lancejames  michaelshoukry  nato 
august 2014 by robertogreco

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