David Gorodyansky, left, and Eugene Malobrodsky co-founded AnchorFree—a software company in Mountain View—with the intention of offering consumers better privacy online. Since that time the company has outgrown its original purpose and helped foster revolutions in the Middle East.
Just before the March of a Million protesters converged on Tahrir Square in Cairo on Feb. 1, word of a game-changing online software program spread like a secret handshake among renegade computer users.
The free program, developed in Mountain View, allowed government critics to access news and social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter, without fear of government eavesdropping. With the tools, a virtual army of marginalized men, women and children transformed itself into a force so strong that crooked President Hosni Mubarak had no choice but to abandon the presidential palace for a Red Sea resort.
Hotspot Shield, which assigns users an anonymous American IP address, had become a conduit between closed societies and the free and open World Wide Web. Essentially giving individuals the kind of virtual private network (VPN) that companies have relied on for years to protect their data as it traveled across public networks, the download-able program protected communications from snoopy government packet sniffers that are used to spy on Internet traffic in many countries.
It helped provide a perfect storm of technology, allowing modern revolutionaries to access a toolkit that included Facebook Events (to invite people to rallies), Twitter (for military-style logistical communication) and YouTube (to disseminate moving images that influenced public opinion).
As the wave of revolution surged eastward, the numbers of Shield users spiked.
At the Tunisian unrest’s apex in December, 175,000 people used the program each day. Next came Egypt, where roughly 120,000 people deployed the Shield to access the Internet on Jan. 1. Before the month had ended, more than a million Egyptians were using the Shield to protect their identities as they plotted their moves.