The Nahoft app (“hidden” in Farsi) is a platform to advance freedom of peaceful assembly and press in Iran. It is an offline phone app that encrypts text messages’ content, such as pictures and keywords, in Persian. With heavy internet regulation, users in Iran can use the app to communicate and bypass government surveillance. The app was launched in response to the Aban protests in November 2019, when the Islamic Republic of Iran shut off the internet. State-initiated blackouts accompany crackdowns on resistance movements, given the halted flow of information to and from Iran. Nahoft was conceived by Iranian activists Mohammad Heydari, a dissident journalist, and Reza Ghazinouri, an activist security expert; both fled Iran. The initiative was matched with a team of security penetration experts at Cure53 and incubated through IranCubator project.
Theory of Change
Secure communication tools circumvent government surveillance and censorship, and thus help protect freedom of the press and peaceful assembly, and foster solidarity among resistance movement members.
In 2021, the Iranian government passed an internet censorship bill to regulate social media messaging. With over 52 million smartphone users in Iran, there is an appetite for secure communications on thousands of banned websites, such as Facebook, Google Chat, and Twitter. In response, Nahoft interfaces with other messaging apps to encrypt texts and pictures sent. Nahoft turns the chats into random jumbled words or image files using steganography, where messages can be extracted from photos. Once a message is written and encrypted in Nahoft, the text can be sent using any other communications mode. Encryption works even without connectivity, such as during government initiated internet shutdowns, so an encrypted message can be passed through other means, e.g. read to another Nahoft user over the phone. First, users must add and confirm contacts with permission from both parties. Then individuals can also add contacts in case of an emergency. With a specific passcode, users can trigger encrypted messages to their main contacts with pre-populated instructions. This can be used in cases where journalists are arrested and wish to protect their research or future publications. Messages can be erased, after sending, with a destruction code. Once the code is entered, all data on the app will be purged. The app works offline and does not use any server, to ensure security.
Nahoft has been downloaded over 20,000 times. The encryption has provided Iranians with an added layer of confidentiality and the app’s offline features have thwarted the Islamic Republic of Iran’s efforts to limit internet freedom. Nahoft aims in the future to launch a second version of the app with UI/UX designed for iOS.