Off the grid

Updated: 25 December, 2019 09:51 IST | Dalreen Ramos | Mumbai

At a time when Internet shutdowns are the norm to challenge dissent ,here is a round of apps that could prove helpful

Bhatia has been using Signal, an open source software for a year. It doesn't collect or store encrypted information and you can also send disappearing messages covering a distance of up to 300 feet, Bridgefy has a broadcast mode for emergency messages. It also lets you share your location
Bhatia has been using Signal, an open source software for a year. It doesn't collect or store encrypted information and you can also send disappearing messages covering a distance of up to 300 feet, Bridgefy has a broadcast mode for emergency messages. It also lets you share your location

In the recent past, India has emerged the world leader for many reasons: TikTok app downloads, black tea production, and Internet shutdowns. It accounts for 67 per cent of the total shutdowns recorded worldwide. In 2019, the government has shut off internet services over 100 times, and it shows no sign of stopping as the strength of anti-CAA and NRC protests continues to rise all over the country.

Ritesh Bhatia
Ritesh Bhatia

But where there is a will to strike, there is also a way out of technological disruption. Another cause for concern, besides the shutdown, is the Personal Data Protection Bill that was introduced in Parliament on December 11 that gives the government power to access private data in the interest of public order or national security.

Signal Offline lets you communicate via WiFi Direct in a range of up to 100 metres. Images and videos are shared without resizing or rescaling
Firechat offers a connection up to 200 feet. Groups are restricted to 50 people. Pic courtesy/ Play store

Communication is key to dissent, and that’s why in 2014 when pro-democracy protestors took to the streets, an app called FireChat’s popularity rose. The application, which enables people to send messages without an active Internet connection, via Bluetooth, is also finding currency in India. And so have similar apps like Bridgefy, Signal Offline, Vojer and Briar. “These apps operate on a peer-to-peer model. They do not use your telecom service provider or ISP and instead function with the help of your radio signal, which is primarily Bluetooth or WiFi Direct. You should download them irrespective of a shutdown — it could be helpful in a hijack on an aircraft, for instance,” says Ritesh Bhatia.

Signal Offline lets you communicate via WiFi Direct in a range of up to 100 metres. Images and videos are shared without resizing or rescaling
Signal Offline lets you communicate via WiFi Direct in a range of up to 100 metres. Images and videos are shared without resizing or rescaling. Pic courtesy/ Play store

The city-based cybercrime investigator and cybersecurity consultant who has been using Bridgefy lately also elaborates on the disadvantages that go beyond a restrictive radius — FireChat, for instance, lets you connect with people within 210 feet. “Traps can easily be created in case of a protest, since authorities can be in the same proximity. Malware can also easily be embedded. Plus, as a cybercrime investigator, going about forensics is a challenge since these companies do not have offices,” he states.

Staying secure

Available on iOS devices only, Vojer doesn’t have a sign-up process. It is priced at R599. pic courtesy/app store
Available on iOS devices only, Vojer doesn’t have a sign-up process. It is priced at Rs 599. pic courtesy/app store

  • Check if your app has an in-built app lock, and activate it if it does. This will help avoid unauthorised access.
  • Enable two-factor authentication. So, in a situation of unrest, if you have logged off an app and are being forced to give access, you can make your excuse of forgetting your log in details seem more genuine.
  • Disable your notifications when your screen is locked. This is also useful when an OTP is sent to you and you don’t want anyone to see it.
  • Always update your apps. Many people disable the auto-update feature thinking it drains the battery but you can also schedule updates over WiFi. Updating is not just about an improvement in features, and is more to do with building additional security. For instance, if you have 1,000 people complaining about a bug on WhatsApp, then the company is going to fix that bug in its next update.

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First Published: 25 December, 2019 09:03 IST

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