Wednesday, April 24, 2013

World Wide [Redacted]: inside Iran's private internet

Can Iran censor its way to a state-controlled web?

mehr iran stock 1020 
For years, the leadership in Iran has been threatening to build its own private, state-controlled internet, but in recent months, we've started to see what that looks like in practice. Since March, the regime has led crackdowns on any technology that might threaten its control of the online space, pulling the plug on outgoing VPN connections, throttling encrypted traffic nationwide and blocking the Tor bridges that would help Iranians escape onto the global web. It’s a broadside attack on the open internet, and a test of every tool in the cypherpunk arsenal.

It’s a cut-rate version of China’s Great Firewall, built with less sophisticated tech and without the market power to draw in services like Google and Skype. As a result, the Iranian firewall relies more on soft coercion, often throttling traffic rather than blocking it outright. Blocks will often be unofficial, occurring in a small area for only a few days. "It's an effort to force people into national services, national email, national social networks," said Collin Anderson of Small Media, which produced a recent report on Iran's web-filtering practices
 "Why would you go to, which is slow, it's filtered, it's not in Persian, when you can go to which is fast and has pirated content? You'll never see a video of [martyr of the 2009 uprising] Neda getting shot, but how often are you going to look at that? And it's illegal anyway." For censors, it's not a question of unplugging from the global web, but making foreign sites so inconvenient that Iranians will choose to ignore them. 

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