Oct 3, 2018

Old Android phones get security boost

A cyclist passes Google headquarters in 2011. Photo: Nehring via Getty

Jigsaw, a humanitarian technology incubator sharing a parent company with Google, released a new app Wednesday granting old phones Android's current defenses against a favorite trick of authoritarian governments, tampering with traffic to the internet's phonebook-like DNS servers.

  • "It's important to spread freedom to legacy devices," said Jigsaw software engineer Ben Schwartz.

Why it matters: DNS translates text-based web addresses (like "axios.com") to machine readable internet addresses. Intercepting that traffic, regimes are able to reroute citizens trying to visit unflattering news websites or dissident groups to any other website. Criminals could use the same tactic to send victims to malicious websites.

Details: Newer Android phones encrypt traffic to secure DNS servers, making it impossible to tell what site a user is trying to go to.

  • Intra brings that security to any device released in the past 7 years, reaching 99% of devices in use worldwide.
  • Intra is open source, in case a country blocks the app store app from reaching potential users.

What they're saying: "Part of Jigsaw's methodology is to talk to people in the world to see what issues we could tackle. We noticed people in Venezuela were particularly at risk of DNS manipulation, which was being used to block access to journalism," said product manager Justin Henck.

The bottom line: Jigsaw opened a low-key test of Intra in Venezuela. Without Jigsaw promoting the trial, the software was downloaded worldwide, spread entirely by word of mouth.

Go deeper

Situational awareness

Photos: Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty Images; Alex Wong/Getty Images

Catch up on today's biggest news:

  1. Bloomberg campaign says Tennessee vandalism "echoes language" from Bernie supporters
  2. Scoop: New White House personnel chief tells Cabinet liaisons to target Never Trumpers
  3. Trump misrepresents 2020 Russia briefing as Democratic "misinformation"
  4. Bernie Sanders takes aim at Bloomberg: "Trump will chew him up and spit him out"
  5. Nearly half of Republicans support pardoning Roger Stone
  6. Scoop: Lyft acquires cartop advertising startup Halo Cars

Sanders takes aim at Bloomberg: "Trump will chew him up and spit him out"

Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Bernie Sanders told CBS "60 Minutes" that he was surprised by Mike Bloomberg's lackluster performance at Wednesday's Democratic debate.

What he's saying: "If that's what happened in a Democratic debate, you know, I think it's quite likely that Trump will chew him up and spit him out."

Scoop: Lyft acquires cartop advertising startup Halo Cars

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Lyft has acquired Halo Cars, a small startup that lets ride-hailing drivers earn money via ad displays mounted atop their cars. Lyft confirmed the deal but declined to share any details.

Why it matters: Ride-hailing companies are increasingly eyeing additional ways to generate revenue, and Lyft rival Uber has been quietly testing a partnership with New York-based Cargo that gives it a cut of the advertising revenue, as I previously reported.