Stories#078 Dipti’s hidden messages technology

#078 Dipti’s hidden messages technology

The story of Maya’s outreaching translation is a story of Dipti’s hidden messages technology

Maya van den Berg is committed to a strong connection between science and society. Like a true interpreter, she translates messages from both sides. So that everyone understands each other as well as possible. Dipti Sarmah’s research, on the other hand, revolves around hidden messages. Useful if you don't want everyone to know exactly what you are talking about. Fortunately, these two UT colleagues understand each other well. Especially since Dipti also believes in the power of actual examples from society. ‘To make students understand any subject, including steganography, real world applications work best.’

Click for Dutch version

Monday 23 may 2022 


Maya: ‘You and I are close colleagues, Dipti, but we haven’t met before. It’s always nice to meet fellow faculty members who I don’t know yet.’

Dipti: ‘So nice to meet you too, Maya. I was excited to see that you work for DesignLab, because I’ve been wanting to get in touch with DesignLab for a while now. I would love to know more about what you do.’

Maya: ‘At DesignLab, we connect UT researchers and students to the outside world – citizens, local authorities, organisations. My work is about promoting dialog, instead of UT telling the world: ‘these are our solutions, go ahead and use them’, or society telling us: ‘these are our problems, please solve them’. It’s about making two worlds understand each other and creating common ground for collaborations. Do you have experience with working with people outside academia?’

Dipti: ‘In Twente, not so much yet. I came here just before the covid pandemic started, so it hasn’t been the best time to build my network. But I'm looking forward to joining such teams and collaborating with others.’

Maya: ‘Good to hear! How would you explain your research to people outside UT?’

Dipti: ‘I work on steganography: the process of hiding information in a medium in such a way that it’s not clear that that medium conceals a message. This is different from cryptography, in which it is obvious that information is there, but it’s scrambled following some key. I focus mostly on image files. When you hide information in an image file, you make certain adaptations to it. The image quality should remain intact as much as possible, to make sure that the adaptations go unnoticed. In my research, I use optimisation algorithms to find the right balance between image quality and the amount of information that can be stored in image files.’

Maya: ‘Sounds like you’re in the secret services! What are other uses of your research?’

Dipti: ‘Today, many people use social media. We share pictures all the time. Everybody could use images to send messages that are meant for particular receivers only via their social media profiles. Think of war situations, like in Ukraine. Steganography can be a powerful weapon.’

Maya: ‘I see. But a war situation is really extreme. Can you think of ways to teach citizens in our region about your research? Could we train them? Or maybe raise awareness?’

Dipti: ‘I think we could. But before we reach out, I think UT students should be made aware. The subject of steganography is not very present in our department, yet. I have now initiated this and have proposed an idea to teach master students. So slowly, I am moving in the right direction.’

Maya: ‘Cool! Congratulations.’

Dipti: ‘Thank you! I see more opportunities for training outside university in another field I am working on: phishing emails. I’m running a project in which we analyse a dataset we got from an actual company. We look at the number of phishing emails and their features. Also, together with a student, I worked on a gamification tool for training purposes.’

‘It’s interesting that we all know about phishing; most of us are warned about it, some of us even received some form of training. We know we should not click on certain links, but many people still do. It all comes down to people's behaviour when they see a phishing email. We need to understand this behaviour. What makes people click on a link, even though they have been warned or trained? I see real opportunities for interdisciplinary research, combining a technical perspective with a social or psychological perspective. I would love to collaborate with colleagues and students from the Faculty of Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences, for example.’

Maya: ‘Is it frustrating to you to know so much about these technologies, which are always developing, but that are far apart from people’s daily lives? To know that many people are not aware?’

Dipti: ‘I wouldn't call it frustrating. I am quite driven. But it’s true that real-world examples are motivating. To make students understand any subject, including steganography, real world applications work best. Before they develop their own tool, they want to experience how existing tools work, for example. This sparks their curiosity. Then, they can develop their own algorithms.’

‘This is why I was intrigued by the idea of challenge-based learning, when I came to UT. I talked with colleagues about how we can implement this in our department and our courses. But I do have questions, like: How do we find the right partners? And how do we make sure that we give them the right answers to their questions? How do we grade a student if a partner is not entirely happy with the outcomes?’

Maya: ‘Well, I have some ideas that I would like to share with you about challenge-based learning. Let’s get together soon, on campus.’

Dipti: ‘Yes! Let’s do that.’

Dr. Dipti Sarmah (1979)

got a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and a master’s degree in Information Technology before she became an Assistant Professor at MIT Academy of Engineering in Pune (India). For a brief while, she left academia to work as a Microsoft patent analyst at CPA Global. Dipti then returned to work as an Assistant Professor at Symbiosis International University in Pune, where she also obtained her PhD in Computer and Information Security. She is a lecturer at UT since February 2020.

Dr. Maya van den Berg (1981)

is a project manager at UT’s DesignLab. She studied contemporary history at the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen and did a PhD at the UT, where she examined how local governments are preparing climate change adaptation. Working in civil service for some years, she became a research coordinator at the IGS research institute and then moved to DesignLab where she currently is a program manager. Her main goal at DesignLab is to strengthen the ties between science and society to join forces on societal challenges.