Amid push for Indian apps, an alternative to WhatsApp in the works
The three mobile applications include Secure Application for Internet (SAI), developed by the army and launched in October last year; Sandes, developed by the National Informatics Centre with the first version being released in August last year, and SAMVAD, developed by the Centre for Development of Telematics.
While all three applications have been around for at least a year, an official familiar with the matter said that the Prime Minister may put his weight behind one of the applications after the presentations are completed. “All the three applications will co-exist,” the official said. “After presentations are done, PMO will decide the future course, which may involve PM pitching for one for secure messaging.”
HT reached out to the PMO, but did not receive a response immediately despite several attempts.
Homegrown apps have an advantage over companies such as WhatsApp as the data is stored locally in servers, which is considered more secure.
An army official familiar with the matter said that the SAI mobile application was almost out of the trial stage and would eventually be opened up to other government departments. At present, the mobile application has 18,000 users and is not open to the public. “The application was developed in June 2018,” the official said. “It is very likely to be pitched as an alternative to WhatsApp in the near future.”
In a press statement issued in October last year, the army had said that the application supports “end to end secure voice, text and video calling services for Android platform over internet”.
“The model is similar to commercially available messaging applications like WhatsApp, Telegram, SAMVAD and GIMS and utilises end to end encryption messaging protocol. SAI scores over on security features with local in-house servers and coding which can be tweaked as per requirements,” the statement said.
It added that the application had been vetted by a CERT-in empanelled auditor and the Army Cyber Group, and would be utilised pan Army to “facilitate secure messaging within the service”.
The army official, quoted above, added that the advantages of the app include server located within the country, a complete command and control of the eco-system and integrated indigenous encryption algorithms.
The second application up for a presentation is SAMVAD, which, at present, is being tested by the central government and state government agencies.
A second official familiar with the matter said that the app has collected feedback to create an ecosystem that helps ease organisational issues for the government. It also offers multiple levels of encryption, including user-end encryption. Unlike the other apps, SAMVAD also provides a separate dashboard where users can choose to access news regarding a particular subject.
“The app also has options such as disappearing messages and confidential message,” the second official. “There has been very positive feedback from the agencies.” It also offers non-forwardable messages. Organisations can use the interface to create a group for seamless interaction.
The official added that the greatest advantage is that since the application has been designed internally, any changes required can be made easily. “Moreover, the app has been designed for heavy load. Tomorrow if it has one million users, it won’t crash. The data is stored in the country, which ensures utmost security for departments that need to keep data completely confidential.”
The third mobile application in the fray is Sandes, earlier known as Government Instant Messaging System (GIMS). Developed by the National Informatics Centre, the application also provides end-to-end encryption and in-house servers. All the information on GIMS will be stored in a government-based cloud. The application was launched last year and is still in the trial stage. The first official mentioned above said that Sandes has nearly 80,000 users.
A third official familiar with the matter said that the government was closely monitoring the app’s progress.
On Monday, Sandes was number seven on the Apple app store in the social networking category. According to the information provided on the app store, NIC has declared that Sandes collects contact information, user content, identifiers, diagnostics and other data, and links it to the user’s identity. “Sandes combines all the features of govTalk and GIMS,” a fourth official said. “In terms of alerts and sharing of data and information, Sandes is exactly like WhatsApp and a lot of officials are using it to communicate.”
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