As Ukraine calls for an end to Russian bombing of civilians, the population is looking for ways to protect itself. A apps that sends alerts to mobile phones in the event of any air attack in a certain area, was the most downloaded app on the App Store in the country this Monday, according to the research firm Apptopia. Its creators claim that it serves to “prevent injuries and avoid absolutely unnecessary deaths in situations in which people cannot hear the sirens.”
The population of the former Soviet republic also uses encrypted messaging services and apps to view offline maps. “Applications that are rising to the top of the charts in Ukraine are walkie-talkies, VoIP (to make voice calls over the Internet), offline browsing, VPN and radio communications” , Apptopia spokesperson tweeted after the Russian invasion, adam blacker. Some of these alternatives allow communication offline through radio signals or through bluetooth. “These are applications that we normally see in fashion during natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes,” Blacker said.
The apps of communications lead the ranking of both the Play Store and the App Store, according to data from Apptopia. The first positions are occupied by some such as Signal, Telegram, Zello Walkie Talkie or Bridgefy. Signal excels at end-to-end encryption to keep chats private. This means that only users can read the messages that are sent to each other and no one can listen to their calls. “Unlike Telegram, whose end-to-end encryption only works on the famous two-user secret chats, Signal also encrypts group chats and calls end-to-end,” explains cybersecurity company Kaspersky.
Although Telegram does not offer end-to-end encryption by default, it does allow users to manually enable an encrypted secret chats feature. Simply open a contact’s profile, click on the “more” button and choose the option to start a secret chat. Doing so opens a conversation where you can choose to have messages deleted from time to time — from a second to a week. If one of the users takes a screenshot, a notice appears in the chat. Although the app allows you to have multiple secret conversations with the same person, it does not offer this feature for group chats.
Some Ukrainians use Zello Walkie Talkie, a apps that allows you to maintain end-to-end encrypted private conversations. To talk to other users, all you have to do is press and hold a button on the screen. Of course, Internet is required. This is precisely where the strong point of Bridgefy lies, an application that allows you to send encrypted messages without the Internet up to 100 meters away thanks to the bluetooth.
Its creators assure that it is an “ideal alternative to use on trips, natural disasters, rural communities, festivals or stadiums.” It has also been used during some protests in countries such as Hong Kong, India, Zimbabwe, and the United States. But the app has not been without its critics in recent years. In 2020, a team of researchers from the University of London criticized its use in protests because, in theory, it allowed users to be tracked and other people to read their messages.
Radios and ‘apps’ to view offline maps
Among the most downloaded apps in Ukraine, there are also some radio streaming apps, such as Radios Ukraine and Simple Radio, and location apps. Maps.me is used to consult detailed maps and use the GPS navigator offline. Flightradar, which shows information about air traffic, has also crept into the list of apps more installed. Since February 24, the day Russian President Vladimir Putin gave the order to invade Ukraine, the country’s airspace has been closed to commercial flights.
The Starlink app is also among the most downloaded on the App Store in Ukraine. Last Saturday, the Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine, Mykhailo Fedorov, asked Elon Musk on Twitter for stations of the Starlink satellite Internet service. “Starlink service is now active in Ukraine. More terminals are on the way”, replied the businessman that same day. The goal is that these gadgets allow Ukrainians to stay connected before the cuts of Internet that already devastate the country.
VPN app downloads skyrocket in Russia
Russia has partially restricted access to Facebook after accusing the technology company of censoring its media and Twitter, according to the NetBlocks organization. Daily downloads of the top five VPN apps have skyrocketed in the country, according to Apptopia. The researchers of this company explain that users use these apps “to access news, social networks and other services that their own government or companies are cutting off access to.”
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