March 2016 Monthly Report

Fri, 2016-04-01 13:39

Of note this month, Open Whisper Systems completed the integration of their Signal encryption protocol with WhatsApp, resulting in a secure communications platform for over a billion people worldwide. This impact is a considerable return on investment, especially when compared to the budgets allocated to censorship efforts by oppressive regimes worldwide. As expert cryptographer Matthew Green noted“China and Russia have industrialized the process of censorship. We have the Open Technology Fund. It’s sad how different the level of resources are.”

Notable accomplishments

  • Open Whisper Systems completed the integration of their Signal encryption protocol with popular messaging app WhatsApp, enhancing the privacy and security of human rights activists, journalists, and other at-risk users globally. WhatsApp traffic is now essentially indistinguishable from traffic emanating from the Signal app because they use the same encryption protocol and their data is trafficked in a similar way, providing a layer of “camouflage” for users of both apps-a significant security improvement. Read more about Open Whisper Systems’ WhatsApp encryption protocol integration here:
  • Qubes, a security-focused free and open source operating system, released Qubes OS 3.1, which further simplifies usability of Qubes while maintaining the highest degree of security for users. This latest version is available for download here: Qubes staff also discussed their tool at the Logan Centre for Investigative Journalism Symposium, focusing on operational security for journalists. That discussion can be viewed here:
  • A project supporting Internet censorship circumvention for users in the MENA region is now under contract with OTF. The project will provide dedicated Arabic user support for open source censorship circumvention tools like Tor, Lantern, and Psiphon.
  • CommunityRED has completed a review of all currently existing training guides, multimedia materials, and other educational information of digital security practices. This information will be ultimately useful for mapping gaps in how digital security awareness is approached, and will inform CommunityRED’s interviews with Eurasian activists to determine which educational methods will be the most effective for learning.
  • ICFP fellow Wafa Ben Hassine, who specializes in Arab Internet freedom issues, hosted a session at RightsCon on “Ineffective and unjust national security strategies in MENA.”
  • Subgraph OS, a secure desktop operating system designed for high security use cases and for a simple, user-friendly experience, released the alpha version of Subgraph OS aaron, their first release. In 3 weeks, over 7,000 people downloaded this initial version of Subgraph OS, providing valuable user feedback to improve the tool and ensure maximum ease of use. Subgraph also presented their tool at IFF, the Logan Centre for Investigative Journalism Symposium, and RightsCon.
  • A new project aiming to increase the digital safety and online security of LGBTQI communities in selected MENA countries began contracted work with OTF, addressing the severe repression and marginalization this community faces and the threats they encounter while communicating online.
  • Serval commenced work on creating the Serval Chat application, which will allow users to communicate when the usual mobile phone network is unavailable, such as often happens during times of political unrest or other disaster situations. Serval Chat will eventually replace the current Serval Mesh application.
  • SimplySecure, Secondmuse, SUFP fellow Gus Andrews and other usability experts held a “UI/UX (User Interface/User Experience) Jam Session” at IFF, where software developers from over 10 Internet freedom technology projects were able to get immediate advice on how to make usability improvements to their tools, to make them more user-friendly.
  • Tails has released version 2.2.1, which includes updates from Tor Browser (version 5.5.4). The new release can be accessed here:
  • Tor posted an interview with a human rights activist from East Africa. Their advice: “Use Tor – For hundreds of thousands of people, it’s the only way to access critical news.” Read the full interview here:

Select news collected by OTF from the month of March2016. Get the full feed live @OpenTechFund

Vietnamese Bloggers Sentenced to Prison in a Renewed Crackdown on Free Expression | EFF
WeChat Discussions Prompt Chinese Authorities to Detain Mongolian Herders | RFA
Russia Plans to Fine Websites for ‘Propaganda’ of Circumvention Tools | Global Voices
Google now encrypts over 75 percent of its internet traffic | Engadget
Bahraini government strips WhatsApp groups of privacy | IFEX
Tracking changes in year-long espionage campaign against Tibetans | Citizen Lab
Tor use spikes in Uganda during election week blackout | Ars Technica
The business of censorship: Documents show how Weibo filters sensitive news in China | CPJ

Projects Mentioned