A new app helps Iranians hide messages in public view

In a growing government Internet control, surveillance and censorship in Iran, the goal of a new Android app is to give Iranians a way to speak freely.

Nahfoot, which means “hidden” in Persian, is an encryption tool that turns 1000 characters of Persian text into a mess of random words. You can send this reunion to your friend via any communication platform like Telegram, WhatsApp, Google Chat etc. and then they run it through Nahft on their device to understand what you said.

Published last week on Google Play by United for Iran, a San Francisco-based human rights and civil liberties group, Nahfat is designed to address multiple aspects of Iran’s Internet crackdown. In addition to creating coded messages, the app can encrypt communications and embed them invisibly into image files, a technique known as steganography. Recipients use Nahft to inspect the image file at its end and retrieve the hidden message.

Iranians can use end-to-end encrypted apps like WhatsApp for secure communication, but open source Nahfoot has an important feature in the back pocket when they are not accessible. The Iranian regime has repeatedly imposed Internet blackouts almost exclusively in specific regions or across the country, including a full week in November 2019. Instruments. Enter the message you want to encrypt and the app will extract the coded Persian message. From there you can write a string of seemingly random words in a letter, or read it to another Nahfoot user on the phone and they can manually enter their app to see what you’re actually trying to say.

When the Internet is shut down in Iran, people can’t communicate with their families inside and outside the country, and everything goes awry for the workers, “said Firuza Mahmoudi, executive director of Iran, who lived through Iran in 1979 at the age of 12 and revolutionized. “Leaving the country. It doesn’t feel good. It’s a direction we don’t want to see. So that’s where the app comes in.”

Iran is a highly connected country. Of its 3 million citizens, more than 5 million use the Internet. But in recent years the country’s government has developed a huge state-controlled network, or “intranet,” known as the “National Information Network” or SHOMA. It increasingly gives governments the ability to filter and censor data, and to block certain services, from social networks to blockchain tools such as proxies and VPNs.

This is why Nahft was deliberately designed as an application that works locally on your device instead of a communication platform. In case of complete internet shutdown, users need to download the app already to use it. But in general, it will be difficult for the Iranian government to block Nahfat as long as Google Play is accessible there, according to Reza Gazinouri, Iran’s strategic adviser. Since Google Play traffic is encrypted, Iranian surveillance users cannot see which app they download. So far, Nahft has been downloaded 4,300 times. It is possible, Gazinori says, that the government will eventually create its own app store and block international offers, but for now that power seems far away. In China, for example, Chinese technology giants like Huawei and Google Play have been banned for offering a curated version of the iOS App Store.

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