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What Is Digital Watermarking?

by Chris Brook on Wednesday June 14, 2023

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What Is Digital Watermarking?

Piracy is theft, and for all the advantages of our digital economy, it has made the hijacking and violation of copyrighted works much easier.

Digital watermarking is a potent tool for protecting intellectual property and copyrighted material. It is a marker embedded in digital content material, typically used to identify the source and ownership of copyrighted material. This article will explore the concept of digital watermarking, how it works, and the different types of digital watermarking.

What is digital watermarking?

Digital watermarking involves embedding a digital code or image, which might be visible or covert, inside multimedia content. Digital watermarking is used to trace copyright infringement as it contains source tracking code. In essence, it is a security measure meant to discourage and deter piracy while determining the validity and ownership of digital media.

Visible watermarks are also a means for copyright owners to promote their brand, themselves, and their organization. In the event of unauthorized usage, digital watermarks make it easier to prove a copyright’s valid ownership.

In addition to copyrighted materials like images, logos, audio, video, and general multimedia, businesses also utilize digital watermarking to protect the following:

  • Legal contracts
  • Business secrets such as business plans and manufacturing plans
  • Creative intellectual property like manuscripts and product specs
  • Financial documents
  • Real estate applications
  • Confidential memos and HR policies
     

What are the main types of digital watermarks?

Here are the various ways digital watermarks are used and implemented:

1. Visible watermarks: These are perceptible watermarks that can be readily seen by the human eye. They are typically in the form of brand logos, images, copyrighted text, personal signatures, and more.

2. Invisible watermarks: As its name suggests, invisible digital watermarks can’t be seen by the human eye. They usually come in the form of embedded code and typically utilize stenographic techniques and watermark extraction algorithms. When it comes to audio content, the embedded watermark is inaudible. 

3. Fragile and robust watermarks: A watermark is deemed fragile if the slightest modification is detectable. In essence, transformation causes it to lose its effectiveness. In many cases, they are so fragile that when they encounter modification in the form of compression or resizing, they can be destroyed. However, this seeming weakness makes fragile watermarks valuable as a use case for rendering tampering efforts futile.

Conversely, a watermark is said to be robust when it is capable of resisting any transformation, alteration, or modification attacks. As a result, it can withstand extreme alterations like resampling, filtering, shearing, rotation, or even geometric manipulations.

4. Public watermarks: By virtue of being public, these watermarks are not secure since they can be modified by anyone who understands and utilizes certain algorithms.

5.Frequency and spatial watermarks: Spatial watermarking is a form of domain watermarking that defines images as pixels. This provides improved quality and imperceptibility. It is a popular method to implement robust watermarking techniques.

 

With frequency domain watermarking, the watermarks are embedded in the spectral coefficients of the image. Some digital watermarking techniques combine these two distinct schemes, first using the frequency domain before adding the spatial domain-based method. 

The benefits of digital watermarks

Watermarking provides an added layer of security, giving authors persistent control while protecting digital media and documents shared internally and externally. However, digital watermarks have several benefits beyond the obvious advantage of fortifying copyright protections. Here are some other benefits of digital watermarking:

Copyright material protection

Digitalization has made it possible and effortless for anyone to infringe on intellectual property by manipulating or duplicating copyrighted material. In addition, it is possible to perpetuate this without the fabricated material losing its quality.

Fortunately, digital watermarking can provide an additional layer of security for content protection by deterring illegal use and duplication.

Because they are digital, these types of watermarks can be read and deciphered by computers, making it easier to validate original content and possibly trigger actions to forestall illegal dissemination.

Ultimately, this copyright protection prevents brand erosion.

Preventing data exfiltration

In addition to protecting intellectual property and copyrighted material, digital watermarks can also help organizations prevent the unauthorized transfer, copying, or retrieval of company documents. This is especially crucial when malware or a malicious actor is seeking to remove high-value documents from an organization.

The act of applying digital watermarking to documents before distribution can assist organizations in identifying the culprit in the event of a leak, too.

Source and broadcast tracking

This capability lets publishers detect when their copyrighted material has been illegally posted on other websites.

One of the main advantages of digital watermarking is discouraging people from leaking documents in an insider threat scenario. However, in the event that a document or data leak occurs, digital watermarking enables tracking of the illicit removal.

Moreover, global broadcast and news organizations routinely apply watermarks to their videos to frustrate copyright infringement and facilitate monitoring of such materials.

Proof of ownership

Copyright and proof of ownership typically go hand-in-hand. Digitally watermarking grants content authors the ability to assert ownership by certifying that online images and content were initially sourced by them, even if the metadata has been removed.

Tamper detection

With its ability to provide authenticity and integrity, digital watermarking is a veritable tool for detecting when a document, file, or video has been tampered with.

Hidden communication

In some instances, watermarking can be used to relay secret information in the form of hidden communication. This might include timestamps to keep track of when content was created, last modified, or last used.

How do digital watermarks work?

There are several features and capabilities woven into watermarks to make them effective, depending on their primary use. Often, these watermarks are part of the image itself, something that ensures that if an image is stolen, the watermark will remain in place. How a watermark is designed and placed affects how easily it can be successfully enforced.  

Encryption is typically recommended for paid content, sensitive documents, and embargoed visuals. For high-value data, the watermarking might encompass several distinguished features, like resistance against reverse-engineering efforts. Others include the ability for the watermarking to be detected and remain embedded after screenshots, cropping, compression or scaling is applied.

Producing robust watermarks often involve blending the signal amplitude with large bandwidth sizes and combining these with a short message length. Adding mixed domain techniques (i.e., spatial and frequency domain watermarks) to signal processing is believed to infuse the watermark with the correct amount of robustness that enables it to withstand watermark hacking attacks reliably.

However, discernible and visible watermarks tend to be the most effective deterrents for the simple fact that they can be seen.  

How can Digital Guardian Secure Collaboration / Fortra help me protect my digital assets / digital watermarking?

Digital Guardian Secure Collaboration and Fortra are at the forefront of protecting data integrity, providing digital watermarking for various documents in a seamless workflow so only authorized recipients can access valid material.

Whether you need watermarking for content authentication or protection, Digital Guardian Secure Collaboration's expertise in secure communication, extending data loss prevention (DLP), digital rights management (DRM), and information rights management (IRM), will serve you well.

To learn more about data loss prevention and how we integrate with DLP solutions like Digital Guardian, click here.

 

Tags:  Secure Collaboration

Chris Brook

Chris Brook

Chris Brook is the editor of Digital Guardian’s Data Insider blog. He is a cybersecurity writer with nearly 15 years of experience reporting and writing about information security, attending infosec conferences like Black Hat and RSA, and interviewing hackers and security researchers. Prior to joining Digital Guardian–acquired by Fortra in 2021–he helped launch Threatpost, an independent news site that was a leading source of information about IT and business security for hundreds of thousands of professionals worldwide.

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