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Former NSA Contractor Designs ‘Surveillance-Proof’ Font

· Business & Technology (rev 18:23) · No Comments

In response to Edward Snowden’s leaks of NSA spying on Americans, a designer and former NSA contractor found a creative way to protect privacy.


Former NSA contractor Sang Mun\’s ZXX font is designed to disrupt Optical Character Recognition (Credit: CNN)


South Korean designer Mun designed four fonts: \’Camo\’ which adds camouflage-like patterns over letters, \’Noise\’ which overlays each letter with dots, \’Xed\’ which puts a neat X across each character, and \’False\’ where a small letter is placed beneath a larger false one. (Credit: CNN)


Research Professor Matthew Green says \’the idea of building puzzles that only a human can solve (Credit: CNN)


Mun says that he understands the criticisms, but says that his fonts are meant to spark dialogue and make people think about their own online security: \’ZXX is a call to action, both practically and symbolically, to raise questions about privacy.\’ (Credit: CNN)

This video explains how the different fonts work:

CNN adds:

“I decided to create a typeface that would be unreadable by text scanning software (whether used by a government agency or a lone hacker),” Mun told CNN via email, “misdirecting information or sometimes not giving any at all.”

Mun, who worked with the NSA during his time in the Korean military, says that a number of global developments motivated him to act: “The news about the NSA secretly building the country’s biggest data center; the House passing the controversial Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA); the social network media accumulating abundant information on every individual’s life; Google announcing its work-in-progress Glass project — and the list goes on.”

“Sometimes these ideas about privacy can feel large and abstract to the average person. I thought that addressing these issues through the design of a typeface — a building block of language and communication — would bring home the conversation to the average person,” Mun says.

The four different fonts — Camo, False, Noise and Xed — were developed through a rigorous process of drawing a testing, Mun says: “The challenge was to make the OCR legible typeface illegible to computer vision, while keeping it readable to the human eye.”