New Day, New Internet Threats in Iran
It was widely reported today that Iran vowed to step up its efforts in digital censorship, saying the era of “mercy” is over. But what does this mean for those in Iran and for the people trying to help them abroad?
In the statement released by ILNA — a regular mouthpiece of the regime — national police chief Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam said: “These people should know where they are sending the SMS and e-mail as these systems are under control. They should not think using proxies will prevent their identification.” He added that those who have used the Internet for organizing the opposition had “committed a worse crime than those who come to the streets”.
Let’s break these claims down…
- Proxies can be tracked. It’s true that proxies are easy to detect. If one is not using an encrypted proxy, the contents can be read and even altered.
- Text messages can be tracked & read. We know that Iran (along with the United States) uses the same monitoring technology sold by Nokia Siemens. What they call ‘lawful intercept’ technology can certainly be used to track & read text messages sent from cellphones. When possible, people should use prepaid cellphones and calling cards to disassociate their location/identity with calls being made.
- E-mails can be tracked & read. This is certainly true for clear-text emails. People need to make sure they’re accessing their e-mail using an encrypted connection (POP + SSL or IMAPS) and for extra security, people should really be using PGP/GPG encryption on emails they send. There are great tutorials for Mac and Windows available.
Bottom line: if you control the network, you can control & inspect the contents. Think of sending an email like sending a package. What FedEx is to your package, the government is to emails in Iran. But what if FedEx decided it wanted to open every box, poke around inside, and change or remove anything it didn’t like? That’s kind of like communications in Iran.
In a recent interview with PRI’s The World, I discussed how the Iranian government will ramp up censorship on certain days considered crucial in suppressing the opposition. This demonstrates further that they are shifting tactics, grasping for an effective policy of strategic oppression.
Maghaddam’s statement, though, is important in two other ways. First, it shows that the regime knows the power of the Internet. They know arresting, beating, and killing thousands of people that show up to protest makes more and more Iranians oppose their regime. Now, they will try to focus on silencing the organizers. Ultimately, this strategy will fail because the strength of the opposition has been its diffuseness: the “organizers” and the “protesters” are one in the same. Moreover, this new strategy demonstrates the continuing and pressing need to disseminate information and technology in Iran to allow people to continue to communicate freely, without fear. As time goes by, will they give up on the public violence again the protesters? Or are they trying to murder the vox populi before it can take tangible form? Either way, this is exactly why tools like Haystack are crucial for the people in Iran.
- Freegate is Working in Iran!
- Get Off My Internet, Censorship!
- Anti-Censorship Software Licensed by US Government for Export to Iran
- How to setup a proxy for Iran citizens (Virtual Machine Disk Format!)
- How to setup a proxy for Iran citizens (for Mac!)