The growth of smartphones and online transactions, while very positive trends, could also place a large section of the population under the threat of cyber attacks. Twenty-year-old Siddharth Raja developed iFreedom as a solution.
India is witnessing amazing growth in the smartphone market and is expected to have 314 million mobile Internet users by 2017. But as a largely mobile-first internet country, the high cost of mobile data and lack of security over public Wi-Fi systems are barriers that need to be overcome.
With the volume of monetary transactions occurring online over public networks rising, even amateur hackers could exploit the situation for their benefit.
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iFreedom is an app that compresses data and also provides a secure way to browse the Internet on public Wi-Fi hotspots. The app has an infrastructure that helps secure transmission of encrypted data over the Internet using protocol technologies like VPN, SSH Tunnelling and some new packages designed by the startup’s internal team. It claims to be able to save about 100MB of data for 1GB of usage. It can also break Wi-Fi filters like Fortiguard and Cyberroam and provide better security.
Siddharth is currently a student at Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies, Mumbai. He started iFreedom in late-2014 as a project in college with his own savings, when he had to access international journals and was unable to do so due to country restrictions. The first version of the app got about 20,000 downloads within three days. Owing to the scale and high traffic, the hosting company that provided the servers decided to discontinue their service.
Encouraged by the feedback and responses from users, Siddharth decided to rebuild the app by hosting it on his own servers. He spent about three months on the process and finally went live with the app in January 2015. He first launched it only on Android and then based on feedback worked on an iOS version too.
Siddharth utilises the Internet extensively for his college work and believes that, “If everyone can harness the full potential of the Internet, without any restrictions based on location or other factors, it would be even more powerful!”
He is currently in the process of applying a patent for the technology used in his app. He has a team of four server specialists and few Android, iOS and Windows developers who assist him. Within the first three months of their operation, Siddharth says that over 10 million GB of data was transmitted through iFreedom.
This app also has a 128-256 bit RSA encrypted connection to ensure data security of its users. On the functioning of the app, Siddharth says,
Text data is more compression-efficient and hence saves more data of the user. iFreedom has very good compressibility factor while using services like instant messaging, browsing Facebook posts and comments (excluding picture and video content), browsing informative websites like Wikipedia etc. Our app also has a ‘stats’ tab which shows amount of saved data in a particular session. That also shows real-time data graph and usage.
The app has seen good traction and was among the Top 10 free app downloads in India and Top 30 in USA on the Google Play Store. The app is free for end users and the startup is currently sustaining itself through in-app ads. Siddharth says,
“iFreedom is being used in 89 countries worldwide and it has more that 25 lakh users. We have received sponsorship of $100,000 from tech giants like Microsoft and Facebook and also have a tie-up worth $25,000 with IBM for its softlayer and Bluemix cloud infrastructure.”
Currently, iFreedom is focussing on improving its features and getting more users on board. In the future, Siddharth plans to offer custom encryption and compression services to businesses. On what makes his app stand out, he says,
We have a mechanism that ensures that no two users' data is mixed or interfered on our servers. This also ensures that our servers are secured, and even logged in users can't access other users’ data or hack into the servers.
The app has a simple interface and the features are self-explanatory. Over the course of a few days, I was able to verify most of the claims of the app. I was able to experience about 11 per cent compression for outgoing data and about seven per cent for incoming data on an average.
The app has potential use cases in a variety of locations such as restaurants, government offices, schools and colleges or wherever one is dealing with sensitive information, but still need to access public Wi-Fi networks. It automatically picks the server with the best performance, but users can also manually chose servers of their choice based on their need.
While techies will probably be convinced at this stage to try out the app, to generate wider appeal the user interface could be further enhanced with better use of colours and more prominent buttons. Also, currently the ‘stats’ option provides information only about the current Internet session that is in progress. Providing users with historical data about all their past sessions would be a useful feature.
With smartphones and Internet becoming a large part of our lives, we are now more vulnerable to hacking and other cyber security threats. Currently, the worldwide cyber security market is estimated in the range of $71 billion in 2014 to more than $155 billion by 2019. Global spending on mobile and network security is estimated at $11 billion annually.
Earlier this year, digital security firm Uniken, which works with banks and other financial institutions, had raised $2 million (Rs 12 crore). Then there are players like Appknox that help businesses better secure their apps. On the other side, there are startups, like Gigato and Mcent’s Jana, that are trying to make mobile Internet more pocket-friendly for end users-. iFreedom’s app sits at the intersection of cyber security and bringing down the cost of Internet data. While it is still early days, iFreedom has a lot of potential to go after the Indian and global market.
What do you think about this app, do let us know in the comments below. Also do check out other apps under our App Fridays series.