When a 25-year-old activist from Minsk who goes by Pavlo was detained by Belarusian KGB security forces last summer, he knew they would search his phone, looking for evidence of his involvement in anti-government protests. The police officer asked for Pavlo’s password to Telegram, the most popular messenger app among Belarusian activists, which he gave him. The officer entered it and… found nothing. All secret chats and news channels had disappeared, and after a few minutes of questioning Pavlo was released. Pavlo’s secret? A secure version of Telegram, developed by a hacktivist group from Belarus called the Cyber Partisans. Partisan Telegram, or P-Telegram, automatically deletes pre-selected chats when someone enters the so-called SOS password.
… after entering a fake [SOS] password, P-Telegram can automatically log out of the account, delete selected chats and channels, and even send a notification about the arrest of the account owners to their friends or families. P-Telegram also allows other activists to remotely activate the SOS password on the detainee’s phone. For this, they need to send a code word to any of the shared Telegram chats. Another feature on P-Telegram automatically takes photos of law enforcement officers on the front camera when they enter a fake password. “We warn users that this can be dangerous, as this photo will be stored on the phone, revealing that a person may use Partisan Telegram,” Shemetovets said. Cyber Partisans are constantly updating their app, fixing bugs, and adding new features. They also regularly conduct independent audits to ensure that P-Telegram complies with all security measures. A recent audit by Open Technology Fund’s Red Team Lab proved that it is almost impossible for “casual observers without technical knowledge and specialized equipment” to identify the existence of P-Telegram on a device.