Saturday, April 29, 2017

The VOIP and the Internet Revolution in Egypt : Not So good "Updated"

Yes, Pope Francis was in Cairo and yes, he held important meetings with Sheikh Al-Azhar and President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. He also made a historical agreement with Egypt's Coptic Orthodox church about baptism.

All the media around the globe is speaking about that important visit in critical time.
Thus I will speak today about something that happened in the past 48 hours in Cairo and I think it will be forgotten or be ignored amidst the coverage of the Pope's visit to Egypt.
Do you remember when I spoke about how FaceTime video and voice chat were not working properly from two weeks ago ??

Do you know that I have received comments on the blog as well replies on twitter confirming that there was a problem not only in FaceTime but also in other chat and msg apps !??
People began to speak last week about how Facebook messenger's audio and video services were not working. Same thing was reported with WhatsApp and Viber.
It was a nightmare for Egyptians working abroad and could not check or speak with their families back home. Yes, most of them are back to work fine again now but still, it was a nightmare.
All fingers were pointed to the mobile phone operators and internet service providers but those companies denied their involvement.
We know that those companies hate VOIP because it makes them lose money.
The companies pointed to the National Telecom Regulation authority "NTRA" but the NTRA also denied blocking the VOIP services on its official twitter account on 21 April.

It is not true what has spread by some that VOIP service was suspended in some apps. The authority stated that this news was untrue.
On April 24, NTRA spoke about the VOIP problem admitting that the VOIP was suspended actually while speaking about the upcoming e-crime draft bill.

The Undersecretary of the telecommunication committee in the House of Representatives : The draft cybercrime bill is from the most important bills that the committee will look in to carefully in upcoming stage. He also confirmed that the cybercrime bill has nothing to do with suspending the VOIP.
Tahrir newspaper quoted an unnamed source in NRTA saying that those services were suspended because of national security concerns.
Ahmed Abdel Naby
Ahmed Abdel Naby 
It is worth to mention that according to the state of emergency declared in Egypt from a couple of weeks ago, social media networks are being monitored according to the law.

Early Friday morning, Egypt's Homeland security arrested Ahmed Abdel Naby, the co-founder of The Internet Revolution Egypt Facebook page which has been calling for better and faster as well cheaper internet speed in the country since 2015.

Updated on 30 April: The general prosecution decided to release Abdel Naby for LE 1000 Bail for spreading false news and attempting to destabilize the society.

It turned out that Abdel Naby published leaks from alleged documents that show the government was involved in blocking and attempting to monitor the VOIP services in Egypt illegally since at least 2012.

On 25 April, Ahmed and Internet Revolution Egypt published the first part of the alleged leaks which can not be authenticated technically speaking.
The first leak is allegedly a proposal presented by Etisalat Egypt to allegedly Egyptian government explaining how bad the VOIP on its profits. The Emirati owned mobile phone operator allegedly suggested that the government should use "Deep packet inspection" or "DPI" system to control and block VOIP as it wants.
It had no date but it could have represented in 2012 to the government according to the info mentioned inside the presentation.

On the 27 April, the Page who got one million followers released another leak.
The second leak showed summarized minutes of a meeting allegedly held on 28 October 2013 for the members of "technical committee" to put together an organizing framework for VOIP apps through mobile phone operators.
The alleged technical committee was made of 5 NRTA officials,  One representative from Egypt's armed forces and another representative from General Intelligence whose names were completely blurred by Internet Egypt Revolution.
It is worth to mention that the army and national security council got representatives in NRTA's board so actually it is not a big surprise.
Interestingly, the first name of those NRTA officials who allegedly attended the meeting is Mostafa Abdel Wahid, the current acting "executive president". Abdel Wahid was appointed to his position in July 2015.
Anyhow, this meeting allegedly spoke about how mobile phone operators have got DPI system so they would use it with some apps easily. It also spoke about VPN and Proxi "yes, instead of proxy" and how it was an obstacle for the companies.
The meeting discussed the experience of UAE where users inform the companies that they use VPN. Then we got an attempt to put a framework with the chat as well audio features of "Whatsup" aka "WhatsApp".
Allegedly, the meeting agreed that some security agency in Egypt would ask Saudi Arabia to give them "the Source code" of WhatsApp if I understand correctly.
I have never read before that the Kingdom has got the WhatsApp's source code but the popular msg app has been blocking encrypted call to the KSA since July 2016.
That alleged meeting agreed on having a bigger meeting with the "general committee" 2 days later to discuss what they would do.

On April 27 also, the popular FB page published another leak.
Undated leak, that presentation was allegedly prepared by NRTA and again it was about how control to deal with VOIP.
Listing other countries' experiences with VOIP especially KSA and UAE, allegedly NRTA recommended enforcing apps developers to decrypt their apps in order to operate in Egypt and the mobile phone operators to use DPI.
Internet Revolution FB page promised to release the next leak about surveillance in Egypt but unfortunately, its admin was arrested.

Realistically speaking all those leaks alone do not say if the government stood behind what happened in the past weeks especially we are speaking about unauthenticated documents speaking from 2012 and 2013.
Not to mention, those leaks are speaking about NRTA's plans and we do not know if those plans have been implemented eventually or not.
We have not seen the leak speaking about surveillance.
Still, the arrest of Abdel Naby shows that there is something wrong.

We do not know what this young man is facing currently.
Officially, NRTA is still denying its responsibility for what has been happening in the past few weeks.
Yet, the long record of state online surveillance and phishing as well blocking apps in the country tells us otherwise.
In the end , it turned out the Internet revolution in Egypt is just like January revolution; both are misfortune.

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