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Secret Snaps

Encryption software is making good business - but is also under intense discussion.


There are many ways to disguise terrorist messages

An apartment building in Frankfurt. For security reasons, the address will remain unknown. Fabian Hansmann and Gabriel Yoran are on the way to their - even more secure - place of work.

Hansmann and Yoran own the Steganos company, one of the world's leading producers of encryption software.

Fabian Hansmann, Steganos: "Of course secret service people visit us from time to time. Whether domestic or foreign, they ask how certain parts of the program work. And we get regular visits from the police who have problems solving certain cases that involve steganography."

Gabriel and Fabian are both 23 years old. They met at high School. Six years ago they discovered for themselves the world of encrypting messages.

Since then, they have been working almost around the clock to make the internet more secure.

Today their company has 15 employees and more than two million customers.

Gabriel Yoran, Steganos:"What we do is completely legal. And we have to obey certain regulations, like the ones on controlling exports. For example, we can't deliver our products to every country. And we even go a step further than is asked of us. That means we don't sell our encryption software to 29 countries, including of course Afghanistan, China and Yugoslavia."

Hidden messages in holiday snaps

Otherwise, the Steganos software - which only runs on the Windows operating system - is available everywhere. It encrypts data of any kind that is exchanged on the internet, keeping the contents secret. The data is digitalized and hidden in audio or picture files, like vacation photos for example.

Without the password, the receiver cannot open the secret message hidden in the photograph. So far, no hacker has succeeded in cracking the so-called AES code used by Steganos.

Politicians around the world now want to forbid the use of steganography, which top terrorist bin Laden is believed to have used to organize his terror attacks.

Fabian Hansmann, Steganos:"Unfortunately, cases of abuse are unavoidable. That means that our software will also be used by some criminals. But someone who does not obey the law will not let another law prevent them from using steganography. And in the end, you can't prove it anyway."

Which is why the American National Security Agency, the NSA, wants to limit the use of encryption techniques. Since the September 11th attacks, the Americans have been using the Echolon global satellite system to intensively filter the billions of e-mail messages and the contents of internet web sites.

One Echolon station is located in Bad Aibling in Bavaria. But many German companies feel threatened by the system.

Ulrich Sandl, German Economics Ministry: "We advise our companies - and not only companies but private individuals as well - to encrypt their e-mail when dealing with sensitive contents. That's not happening nearly as much as we'd like, and it's one of our top priorities."

Fabian Hansmann and Gabriel Yoran, the young owners of Steganos, agree. They have ambitious plans with their security software, and they're thinking about unusual advertising campaigns.

Gabriel Yoran, Steganos:"James Bond would of course be an interesting option. A product placement in a 007 flick would be great. But we're still working on that. The immediate goal is to become the leader in security software in the consumer and small-and-medium sized markets in Europe."

Their role model is none other than Bill Gates. Even the richest man in the world started small - just like Gabriel and Fabian.