WhatsApp is rolling out a new feature designed to help users bypass government-enforced internet shutdowns.
Updates let people connect to messaging platform Through a Proxy Server – Provides an alternative route for those whose direct access is blocked.
Instead of connecting directly to the desired website or service, the user connects to a proxy, which essentially acts as an intermediary for data passing between them.
Meta, the owner of WhatsApp, said it had made the decision in response to internet shutdowns in countries such as Iran, where protests are taking place. Massa Amini.
The 22-year-old died in September After being detained by the country’s morality police for allegedly breaking its strict dress code.
From then onwards, Iranian regime activates internet ‘kill switch’cutting off access to services including Instagram and WhatsApp to reduce the organization of demonstrations.
Other authoritarian regimes have imposed similar shutdowns in the past, Such as addressing the protests in Myanmarhas been under military rule since the coup about two years ago.
How will the WhatsApp by proxy server work?
The option to connect through a proxy server will be in WhatsApp’s settings.
Users in affected countries will be able to enter the server name and use it to connect to the internet.
WhatsApp recommends searching social media or search engines for trusted sources of created proxies.
In a blog post, the company said volunteers and groups around the world have set up a number of proxies to help those affected “communicate freely,” but will also provide guidance on how users can set up their own proxies.
Connecting through a proxy will maintain the app’s privacy and security features, including protecting messages with end-to-end encryption, the company said.
HOW TO ACCESS WHATSAPP VIA PROXY
WhatsApp outlines instructions on how to connect to a proxy on iPhone or Android.
In both cases, users should make sure they are using the latest version of WhatsApp.
On Android, in the Chat tab, tap More options, Settings, then Storage & Data. To get to this stage on an iPhone, go directly to the Settings tab of WhatsApp.
In Storage & Data, click Proxy, Use Proxy, Set Proxy, and enter the desired address.
After clicking Save, a check mark will appear if the connection was successful – a failed connection may indicate that the proxy has been blocked.
‘Meaningful step’ to help those ‘facing scrutiny’
Research by internet monitoring group NetBlocks after Ms Amini’s death found that the Iranian government often imposed online curfews during protests.
This is not only to neutralize the communication between Iranians, but also to neutralize the connection with the outside world.
NetBlocks founder Alp Toker told Sky News that WhatsApp’s announcement was “a meaningful step towards helping Iranians and others facing censorship”.
“The approach is sound and it effectively ‘distributes’ the parts of WhatsApp’s infrastructure that are most vulnerable to Iranian state portal filtering,” he said.
“While the Signal messenger app previously supported a similar approach, it’s still important for a major company like Meta to follow Signal’s lead and call on volunteers to help users access WhatsApp in challenging circumstances,” he added.
Internal protests have pushed Iran to ‘brink of explosion’
Can regimes bypass proxy servers?
Some have suggested that proxy servers do not provide a foolproof solution to internet shutdowns.
Professor Alan Woodward, a cybersecurity expert at the University of Surrey, told Sky News the regime itself could theoretically set up proxy servers and conduct “man-in-the-middle attacks to eavesdrop on messages”.
Users in countries such as Iran want to make sure that the proxy server they are connecting to is not malicious.
He added: “Whether the agent you’re connected to is running Meta code that’s being run by a ‘volunteer’, I think you have to trust that.
“In some parts of the world, trust is in short supply.”
Connecting to a proxy server also requires system-level internet access — if your phone doesn’t have service, then you can’t connect to a proxy server.