Iran's leaders fight Internet; Internet wins (so far)

Being dependent on the Net means having to live with it

Iran's government in recent days has tried to cut off Internet access for most of its election protestors by shutting down routers at the nation's perimeters, ripping satellite dishes off roofs, cutting cables and turning off telephone switching networks.

Iran, in effect, has declared cyberwar on itself. And it doesn't appear to be winning the fight because of the resilience of a communications grid originally designed to be both resilient and pervasive. In fact, its actions may also be crippling banking systems and hindering commerce in what is a technologically advanced nation. Cutting off Internet access affects more than Web sites or Twitter and Facebook. Credit card and ATM systems could be affected, as could critical infrastructures.

One cybersecurity expert, Stephen Spoonamore, a partner at Global Strategic Partners LLC in Washington, pointed out that at about the same time Iran was trying shut down phone and switching systems this weekend -- a response to the huge crowds of citizens upset by what they see as a stolen presidential election -- electric power was lost in Tehran.

Was the power loss a intentional -- or a side effect? Spoonamore think it's the latter.

He believes that once the Iranians began turning off switches to the nation's phone networks, IP-enabled pieces of its electric grid didn't get commands they expected. When you lose switching, "you end up with systems going down that you didn't expect to go down," he said.

What Iran is trying to do is a lot harder than running a cyberwar. In a war like Russia's attack on Georgia last year, the attacker can be indiscriminate and see any unanticipated results as a boon. But Iran is trying to "selectively eliminate connectivity," said Spoonamore -- something the Internet itself was designed and built to thwart.

Twitter users and bloggers, combined with infrequent media reports, have all detailed efforts by Iran to hinder communications in the apparent hopes of quashing protests. And while Iran can censor or block access to the domains it doesn't like, the Internet provides a way around selective blocking.

The most popular method for bypassing censorship is through the use of proxy servers, servers that sit between the point of origin and ultimate destination, which is often enough a service that has been blocked the government. The user connects to the proxy service and is rerouted and disguised.

Some users, particularly those worried about government repercussions, seek more sophisticated methods of protection. If you are an activist in Iran "you care very much that no one can figure out where your IP address is," said Andrew Lewman, executive director of the Dedham, Mass.-based nonprofit, Tor Project Inc.

Tor is one of number of groups that have devised methods for circumventing government censorship. It has software and services that link users to volunteer node providers that route traffic through three separate network hops to defeat traffic analysis, which used to try to deduce who you are dealing with from the source and destination of IP traffic. Its services are agnostic: it can be used by police, bad guys, journalists and activists -- anyone.

Kunal Johar, a former U.S. Department of Defense computer scientist who now runs a security firm in Washington, vOfficeware Inc., said governments will find proxy services and block IP addresses in a never ending game of cat-and-mouse.

Johar believes this is now happening in Iran. Even so, information continues to seep out online. "It has allowed people to get their voice. It's important to note that the only people we are hearing from are the people who only know how to use the Internet."

"The fact that we even have a movement like this going on in Iran can be credited to the Internet," said Johar.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags iransocial networkingtwitter

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Patrick Thibodeau

Computerworld
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?