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Encrypt your data with pick-up lines, Chuck Norris and more

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The Enigma Machine, a German World War II encryption device. (AP GraphicsBank)

This one’s no laughing matter: Humor and encryption may not seem obvious partners, but new research advocates using jokes to hide your secret information in plain sight.

While encryption is one way to keep your information and emails safe from prying eyes, using it can also draw attention to the fact that your information is worth hiding. University of Maryland computer scientist Abdelrahman Desoky’s research -- published in the International Journal of Security and Networks -- suggests humor is the answer.

Steganography is the art of concealing a message, image or file within another message, image or file, a way to hide secrets in plain sight.

Desoky has developed a steganography approach that leverages automatic joke generators to camouflage or hide messages.

One current option is to encode a message as binary strings of 0s and 1s and compress it into an image or music file. A snooper would only see the image or hear the song, but the intended recipient could extract the hidden message with special software.

This often requires large file sizes that could suggest what’s inside, however.

Another popular stenography method takes a seemingly boring text document and hides a message in it using a code. This method creates smaller files, but the grammar, syntax and spelling can become distorted by the hidden message.

Desoky’s “Jokestega” capitalizes on the smaller file sizes, while overcoming any disruption to natural syntax and flow. Desoky notes that eight bits of data can be hidden in a joke.

The system leverages joke generators that are readily available online, a broad spectrum ranging from pick up-line providers (with cringe-worthy gems like “Is your name Gillette? Because you’re the best a man can get.”) to the Chuck Norris Joke Generator ("Ghosts are caused by Chuck Norris killing people faster than Death can process them").

Perhaps the widest range is provided by the Random Joke Generator, which includes G-rated jokes like “What happened when the dog went to the flea circus? He stole the show!”

Jokestega harnesses these groaners to encode your private information using word substitution. Take the joke, “Where do milkshakes come from?” The correct answer for this is “nervous cows.”  Using Jokestega, the word “nervous” would be substituted with “shaking” so that humor is retained and information in embedded without arousing suspicion.

Jokestega takes advantage of the fact that for the most part, jokes and puns can be told with different words, yet still convey the essence of the joke. An alternative answer is substituted for the traditional one to conceal a message. Items like letters, locations, and other details may be altered to hide the data.

More detail on Jokestega and creative encryption options are available in Abdelrahman Desoky’s book Noiseless Steganography: The Key to Covert Communications.

Ballet dancer turned defense specialist Allison Barrie has traveled around the world covering the military, terrorism, weapons advancements and life on the front line. You can reach her at wargames@foxnews.com or follow her on Twitter @Allison_Barrie.