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10/3/2018
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An Intro to Intra, the Android App for DNS Encryption

Alphabet's Jigsaw has released Intra, a free security app that aims to prevent government censorship.

Jigsaw, a technology incubator operated under Google parent company Alphabet, has released a new security app designed to prevent DNS manipulation attacks by encrypting connections.

The app, dubbed Intra, aims to strengthen mobile browser security by protecting Domain Name System connections, which bring users from the Web addresses they type to their intended destinations. DNS connections are typically unencrypted, enabling attackers to redirect mobile traffic toward malicious websites or away from legitimate information.

DNS manipulation is a popular tactic among cybercriminals who want to distribute malware and governments that try to censor the Internet by blocking certain websites. In nations like Turkey and Iran, governments interfere with DNS connections to control what citizens see online.

In Venezuela, too, a study by the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) shows the government has used DNS manipulation to prevent access to news sites and social media apps. The country became a test site for Intra, which was used among a group of activists. Jigsaw's idea was to keep the beta release small – but word of the app quickly spread.

Now Jigsaw, a subdivision focused on tackling global security challenges, has rolled out Intra to the public as a free offering on the Google Play store.

Google, along with many companies, has driven the push toward more secure browsing by encrypting HTTPS connections. It acknowledged HTTPS as an Internet-wide security standard by removing the "secure" label from HTTPS websites in May, stating users should expect all websites they visit to have this protection. Non-HTTPS sites are now flagged as "not secure."

While HTTPS was a big push for Web security, DNS connections are usually unencrypted and leave people vulnerable to malware and political interference. Intra encrypts communications between users and the DNS so they can safely browse wherever they are.

"Intra is dead simple to use," Jigsaw wrote in a blog post on the news. "Just download the app and turn it on. That's it. If you want to customize your connection, you can change the DNS provider you use."

DNS manipulation is such a broad problem, the company says, that Android 9 (Android Pie), the latest version of Android, comes with DNS protection as a default feature. Android 9 uses DNS over TLS encryption protocol, while Intra uses DNS over HTTPS, Wired points out.

Intra is Jigsaw's way of bringing protection to the billions of people who use older Android phones and may not be able to afford an upgrade. It works on Android 4.0 and later.

Jigsaw anticipates DNS manipulation is likely to continue. In the Freedom House's "Freedom on the Net" report, nearly half of 65 countries surveyed reported a decline in overall freedom, which experts take as a sign that governments will increasingly try to restrict open Internet access.

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Kelly Sheridan is the Staff Editor at Dark Reading, where she focuses on cybersecurity news and analysis. She is a business technology journalist who previously reported for InformationWeek, where she covered Microsoft, and Insurance & Technology, where she covered financial ... View Full Bio

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