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Introducing Intra: A New App to Stop DNS Manipulation

Today we’re announcing the release of Intra, a new Android app that protects against DNS manipulation.

There are a variety of ways that repressive governments restrict access to information. They can shut down the internet or restrict publication of certain media outlets, try to overwhelm servers with bogus traffic, or prosecute journalists. But perhaps the least known — but widely used — form of censorship around the world is a set of techniques called DNS manipulation, where attackers manipulate the domain name system. DNS manipulation lets an attacker block certain websites, prevent people from accessing social media platforms and messaging apps, or redirect people to malicious websites that can download malware.

Intra is an easy and free app that protects people from DNS manipulation — just turn it on once and forget about it: You’ll have safer access to the open web.

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DNS manipulation is important to study for two reasons. First, it’s a frighteningly common technique used around the world. For example, a recent study by the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) suggests that DNS manipulation is being used in Venezuela to block several independent media organizations, news sites, and social media applications. We are increasingly seeing this tactic being used around the world to suppress the news.

Second, DNS manipulation is worth examining because it reveals a deeper flaw in the fundamental architecture of the internet. The Domain Name System is like the phone book of the internet: it’s how computers know what servers are connected to certain domains. But the connection between your computer and the Domain Name System is usually unencrypted, meaning people can intercept that traffic and manipulate it. Intra works by encrypting your connection to the Domain Name System, so no one can manipulate it or see what websites you’re trying to visit.

DNS manipulation is such a widespread issue that the most recent version of Android (Android Pie) included DNS protection as a default feature for all new Android devices. But billions of people around the world use older versions of Android that lack this critical feature. Intra gives them the similar state-of-the-art protection.

Intra is dead simple to use. 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.

Intra is especially useful for people who live in one of the countries where DNS manipulation is a common censorship technique. Of the 65 countries assessed in Freedom House’s recent “Freedom on the Net” report, nearly half have experienced a decline in overall freedom, meaning techniques like DNS manipulation are likely to increase in the near future.

In a perfect world, the Domain Name System would be encrypted by default for everyone, everywhere, and we’re working to make that happen. But in the meantime, everyone deserves access to a free and simple tool that makes this pervasive form of censorship obsolete.

Download Intra today.

— By Justin Henck and Ben Schwartz, Intra’s product and technical leads

Written by

A unit at Google that uses technology to make the world safer.

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