Can the ZXX typeface thwart and call attention to the NSA’s spying?


Thanks to recent events, we now know that the government is monitoring our emails about dinner plans and 40% off coupons. While – at least in the short term – there’s not a lot we can do about it, one designer has found a way to possibly make our transmissions a little less obvious. Sang Mun, a designer who spent two conscripted years in the Korean military and then worked for the U.S. National Security Agency, has developed a typeface with four font styles that are designed to confuse OCR (optical character recognition) scanners, but are still readable to the human eye. He calls the typeface ZXX. Not coincidentally, this is also the code given to books in the Library of Congress that contain no linguistic content. 

There are the standard Sans and Bold varieties of the font, then are four more, Camo, False, Noise, and Xed, that use different methods to confuse computers. Camo, as you might guess, cloaks the individual letters in camouflage with ink splotches and twisty vines around the characters. Noise uses a similar method and obscures the letters with extra digital dots of different sizes hanging out around the characters.  False reverses the standard alphabet and numerals to seemingly create a code of nonsense where Z equals A, and 0 equals 9. It’s easy enough to decipher though thanks to the very small placement of the correct letters within each character. Lastly, there’s Xed, which simply places an “X” on top of each letter. 

In the video below, Mun shows how an OCR program interprets his font styles and, interestingly enough, the style that elicited the most confused result from the program was Xed. The pattern of “X” in each word completely through off the character recognition program.

So how will these nifty fonts protect you from the prying computerized eyes of the NSA? They won’t. Nearly all of the data collected is already in digital form, so it’s as simple as “Select All” and changing the font to Times New Roman. Plus, as you can see, the fonts don’t fool the human eye. As soon as a real, live person looks at your Xed font email, the jig is up. The point of Mun’s project isn’t that it will protect you from the government’s prying eyes. The point is to use graphic design to raise awareness about surveillance and privacy. In Mun’s own words, “I believe that stripping humanity of its freedoms can never be justified as a natural evolution. It’s our duty to call out crimes against democracy.”

Want to try out ZXX for yourself? Download the typeface here

Image via Walker Art Center.

Emerging Tech

A.I. finds non-infringing ways to copy drugs pharma spends billions developing

Researchers have demonstrated an artificial intelligence which can find new methods for producing existing pharmaceuticals in a way that doesn’t infringe on existing patents. Here's how.

Do these case images confirm a side-mounted fingerprint scanner on the S10 E?

It won't be long now; With 2019 underway, the Samsung Galaxy S10 is almost here. Before it arrives, here's absolutely everything you need to know about all three of Samsung's next flagships.

Apple banned from distributing some iPhone models in Germany

Apple is following the FTC's lead and has sued Qualcomm for a massive $1 billion in the U.S., $145 million in China, and also in the U.K., claiming the company charged onerous royalties for its patented tech.

From DIY to AAA, here's how to take a passport photo in 6 different ways

If you're applying for a passport or renewing one, you need to submit a photo in your official application. There are strict guidelines, but fortunately, it's something you can do at home. Here's how to take a passport photo.

It's not all free money. Here's what to know before you try to mine Bitcoin

Mining Bitcoin today is harder than it used to be, but if you have enough time, money, and cheap electricity, you can still turn a profit. Here's how to get started mining Bitcoin at home and in the cloud.

Need a free alternative to Adobe Illustrator? Here are our favorites

Photoshop and other commercial tools can be expensive, but drawing software doesn't need to be. This list of the best free drawing software is just as powerful as some of the more expensive offerings.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: camera with A.I. director, robot arm assistant

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!

What is fixed wireless 5G? Here’s everything you need to know

Here's fixed wireless 5G explained! Learn what you need to know about this effective new wireless technology, when it's available, how much it costs, and more. If you're thinking about 5G, this guide can help!

Fix those internet dead zones by turning an old router into a Wi-Fi repeater

Is there a Wi-Fi dead zone in your home or office? A Wi-Fi repeater can help. Don't buy a new one, though. Here is how to extend Wi-Fi range with another router you have lying around.

Heal your wrist aches and pains with one of these top ergonomic mice

If you have a growing ache in your wrist, it might be worth considering ergonomic mice alternatives. But which is the best ergonomic mouse for you? One of these could be the ticket to the right purchase for you.

These are the best indie games you can get on PC right now

Though many indie games now come to consoles as well, there's still a much larger selection on PC. With that in mind, we've created a list of the best indie games for PC, with an emphasis on games that are only available on PC.

Want a MacBook that will last all day on a single charge? Check these models out

Battery life is one of the most important factors in buying any laptop, especially MacBooks. Their battery life is typically average, but there are some standouts. Knowing which MacBook has the best battery life can be rather useful.

Want a Dell laptop with an RTX 2060? Cross the new XPS 15 off your list

The next iteration of Dell's XPS 15 laptop won't come with an option for an RTX 2060, according to Alienware's Frank Azor. You could always opt for a new Alienware m15 or m17 instead.

Always have way too many tabs open? Google Chrome might finally help

Google is one step closer to bringing tab groups to its Chrome browser. The feature is now available in Google's Chrome Canady build with an early implementation that can be enabled through its flag system.