Egyptian Dissidents Offered Android Encryption Apps

Whisper Systems has released country-specific Android apps to encrypt VoIP calls and texts in Egypt

Enterprising company Whisper Systems (Whispersys) has released its two free Andoid-based encryption apps especially for the Egyptian market.

A white-hat hacker and Whisper spokesman who works under the alias Moxie Marlinspike said, “When the protests started in Egypt, we stepped up our efforts to get it working there. Now we’re ready to release and hopefully enable some pro-democracy advocates to communicate and co-ordinate without being surveilled.”

Egypt’s Digital Uprising


The civil unrest in Egypt has been fuelled by modern digital communications and the government is believed to be behind the closing down of virtually all electronic communications systems last month. These links have now been restored but it is not known if the authorities are monitoring calls and texts.

Using Whisper Systems’ RedPhone and TextSecure apps, anyone in Egypt can make secure voice over IP (VoIP) calls or send encrypted text messages from their Android phones. Even if the communications system is closed down, calls can be made via Wi-Fi links.

The only problem is that the take-up of Android in Egypt is only three percent of the market, with cash-starved consumers going for the cheaper, low-end Nokia phones (91 percent), according to market researcher Canalys figures.

Even if the Whispersys software release is a token gesture of support, the belief that government agencies may be logging calls is a real concern. In 2009, a Vodafone employee admitted that the company had been legally committed to release data to the authorities of a group of dissidents who had pulled down a poster of president Hosni Mubarak.

The company also stated last week that it had been forced to send propaganda texts in support of the government during the current unrest.

US Government Sanction Or Maverick Act

In exporting the technology over the Internet, Whisper Systems has either been specially sanctioned for clearance by the US government or is taking maverick action. The normal release of the software, which is still in beta, is only available in the US because negotiating the Stateside export of encryption systems regulations is blocking it from accessing Europe and other markets.

RedPhone and TextSecure first appeared on the Android Market in May of last year and have claimed 20,000 downloads and 30,000 downloads respectively. The export versions have been modified to ensure use with Egypt-specific VoIP protocols, Marlinspike said.

A vociferous privacy advocate, Marlinspike said that the company is now working on more country-specific ports of the app for use in other countries with repressive leaders but did not offer further details.