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The Internet Helps Iran Silence Activists 232

Hugh Pickens writes "Over the last couple of weeks, those who believe in the transformative power of technology to battle an oppressive state have pointed to Iran as a test case. However, as Farhad Manjoo writes on Slate, the real conclusion about news now coming out of Iran is that for regimes bent on survival, electronic dissent is easier to suppress than organizing methods of the past. Using a system installed last year, built in part by Nokia and Siemens, the government routes all digital traffic in the country through a single choke point, using the capabilities of deep packet inspection to monitor every e-mail, tweet, blog post, and possibly even every phone call placed in Iran. 'Compare that with East Germany, in which the Stasi managed to tap, at most, about 100,000 phone lines — a gargantuan task that required 2,000 full-time technicians to monitor the calls,' writes Manjoo. The effects of this control have been seen over the past couple days, with only a few harrowing pictures and videos getting through Iran's closed net. For most citizens, posting videos and even tweeting eyewitness accounts remains fraught with peril, and the same tools that activists use can be used by the government to spread disinformation. The government is also using crowdsourcing by posting pictures of protesters and asking citizens for help in identifying the activists. 'If you think about it, that's no surprise,' writes Manjoo. 'Who said that only the good guys get to use the power of the Web to their advantage?'"
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The Internet Helps Iran Silence Activists

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  • You can help. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by morgan_greywolf ( 835522 ) on Saturday June 27, 2009 @08:34AM (#28493917) Homepage Journal

    You can help. Get involved by going over to the NedaNet Resources Page [] and setting up a squid proxy or, better yet, a Tor proxy, to help the Iranian dissidents. This is a real, live underground network, being run by Eric Raymond and some other folks who are remaining anonymous.

    • by StCredZero ( 169093 ) on Saturday June 27, 2009 @10:18AM (#28494545)

      Since they have a single choke-point, can the Iranian regime do a Man In The Middle attack on the entire country? They'd have to do something about the certificates that get pre-installed on new computers. (China's powerful enough for that, but not Iran.) I'm not sure they can manage this. However, they can insure that the real certs won't work, and could then distribute "patches" for that. They could also cook up their own "cache" for 3rd party browsers like Firefox and Opera with the bogus certs.

      This would let them snoop on all public-key based cryptosystems, like SSL. However, they would need enough processing power to quickly do all of the key negotiation for the entire country in real-time. (I suspect that China can afford resources like that for this purpose, but not Iran.)

      • Eh? The GFW has been known to run out of capacity at peak times and stop reliably blocking things. They don't even have the resources to do stream re-assembly, splitting the stopwords across packet boundaries is enough to defeat it. I don't think they'll be decrypting traffic in realtime anytime soon.
    • unless the proxy you setup is inside the iranian infrastructure (ie, on the iran side of the choke-point), it's going to be relatively worthless, since the chokepoint will show the traffic from iran going to your proxy. realistically you've got few options:
      - install on the inside, so when the chokepoint logs say "it's $PROXY_IP doing it", your lack of logs protects those that connected to your proxy
      - route around the chokepoint, for which you'll need access to infrastructure that will be difficult to secu
    • If the article is accurate - and all traffic goes through a single chokepoint - wouldn't that mean that even connections to anonymizing proxies are also going through that chokepoint, and thus leading back to their users before those users are safely proxied?
    • This is a real, live underground network, being run by Eric Raymond and some other folks who are remaining anonymous.

      Raymond should have remained anonymous too. I would have liked it more if his name wasn't associated with it.

  • Steganography (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sowth ( 748135 ) * on Saturday June 27, 2009 @08:37AM (#28493927) Journal

    This may be true, but if encryption and steganography were the norm, the story would be different.

    What if everyone used, say Freenet for publishing instead of http? The government would have much more trouble finding or censoring them.

    • by betterunixthanunix ( 980855 ) on Saturday June 27, 2009 @08:57AM (#28494017)
      It remains illegal to export or reexport strong cryptography to Iran. Despite Phil Zimmerman's testimony before Congress, and despite his presentation of letters from people around the world who used PGP to save lives, there are still restrictions on who we may export this sort of software to. I have no doubt that the protestors in Iran would benefit immensely if they were using PGP or some similarly strong crypto, but here in the US, you could be imprisoned for sending it to them.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by QuantumG ( 50515 ) *

        Oh please, you don't actually think aiding dissidents in a foreign country is legal do ya? The only thing stopping Iran from demanding the extradition of these people is that they are anonymous.. except for Eric S. Raymond, and who wants him in their country?

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Hurricane78 ( 562437 )

          You are really believing this shit, are you?

          I can't count the levels on which this is just wrong.

          First of all, I thought in the US (and many other countries), it were the rule, that if you murdered foreign people, and did other bad things to them, you would in the first place be a "hero", as long as they are officially the "evil ones". (Example: The "soldiers".)

          Then, do you really think, Iran can demand *anything* from the USA? lol. You must be out of your mind!

          Or are you just trolling?

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Opportunist ( 166417 )

          Legal? Illegal? Remove yourself from such dated concepts.

          Whether something is legal does not matter. What matters is what is the possible punishment, what is the chance to get caught, what is the gain.

          And here the possible punishment is, essentially, nonexistant. Do you honestly think the US administration (or any administration in the self proclaimed 'free world') would extradit one of their citizens to Iran, for whatever reasons whatsoever? Obama already got some heat from the right wing for being "soft"

      • The past called and says you shouldn't be living there any more. The days when anybody cared about the U.S. trying to keep the genie in a bottle are long gone. Uh, the rest of the world understands technology too and is fully capable of working with it. GnuPG is mirrored around the world.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          Actually, there are still plenty of people who care. The company I work for ships software that uses OpenSSL, and the policy on Iran (and other countries on the "black list") is simple: if I receive an email from someone in Iran, I must immediately forward it to the corporate communications department, I must not reply, and I must not in any way communicate to them how they can obtain our software. This is despite the fact that OpenSSL could easily be obtained in Iran. The same policy applies to anyone
          • by ae1294 ( 1547521 )

            The company I work for ships software that uses OpenSSL, and the policy on Iran (and other countries on the "black list") is simple: if I receive an email from someone in Iran, I must immediately forward it to the corporate communications department

            Hummm but I wonder what the chaps in the CC dept do?
            .. CITATION REQUESTED ..

          • by fnj ( 64210 )

            As you say, they can easily obtain OpenSSL in Iran or anywhere else in the world. The point is, if you can't send it to them, SO WHAT -- from their viewpoint. They can get it. So if what you ship is open source, just mark OpenSSL as a "requires." If it's not open source ... my sympathies for having an unenlightened employer.

      • by brunes69 ( 86786 ) <slashdot@keirstead. o r g> on Saturday June 27, 2009 @09:23AM (#28494161) Homepage

        If you think PGP and other steg. tools are not available everywhere in the world you have rocks in your head. The US does not have a monopoly on smart mathematicians or encryption methods.

        The only effect of the US bans on cryptography export is to handcuff the US software industry, and make some congress-critters feel nice.

        • I did not say it was not available, nor did I say that the only crypto experts in the world lived in the US; I said we could not export or reexport crypto systems. The reexport clause is where the real problem lies -- it could be illegal to direct an Iranian to a mirror of NSS or OpenSSL even if the mirror were not in the US, since that is technically reexporting the software.

          So if I wanted to help the Iranian protestors by telling them how to set up cryptography, I would have to start by assuming that
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by westlake ( 615356 )

      What if everyone used, say Freenet for publishing instead of http? The government would have much more trouble finding or censoring them.

      Freenet demands significant space on your drive and significant inbound and outbound traffic.

      Freenet needs as many active nodes and supernodes as it can get to remain efficient and secure.

      I have often wondered precisely how many.

      TrueCrypt can hide a file or folder. It can't conceal traffic moving in and out your home.

      That marks the limit of "plausible deniability."

      The s

  • Of course. (Score:2, Insightful)

    The problem with most net communication is that it is built with the assumption that the governments that it passes through are fundamentally friendly to the citizenry. Once DPI exists it is perfectly possible to just ban encrypted traffic to anything but a white list of banking sites etc, and then one has created a system where every letter can be read. It can be the perfect police state, and probably will be.

    Stenography is probably the only answer to this, but the traffic patterns are still recorded so on

    • by mikael ( 484 )

      so once the government concerned becomes aware that the receiver is hostile to them they can follow that social network back. It's not just Google who can work out probable friends of yours automatically.

      In which case, all communication must be done using chain letters or multi-casting, so that the intended recepient is never unique.

      • Or twitter proxies, in fact. But you still have to find a way to tell the sender who to send to - any reciever (whether final destination or mere relay) has to advertise themselves to the sender, and thus also to the intelligence services. Also, to get information out of the country any eventual sender must send traffic through the choke point (saving satcomms, but that doesn't scale). And at that point I can DPI for key words.
    • Once DPI exists it is perfectly possible to just ban encrypted traffic to anything but a white list of banking sites etc, and then one has created a system where every letter can be read.

      And exactly how are you going to ban 'encrypted traffic' . There is no way to define what encrypt traffic looks like , that's one off the advantages of encryption.
      The test 'In Russia , mails read the government' , could be a slashdot meme , but it could also mean something entirely different , as you could replace the words with completely different data.

      • " There is no way to define what encrypt traffic looks like "

        Sure there is: it looks like white noise. If you are scanning through packets, and you suddenly come across something that looks like noise, you can just drop it. We are not talking about secret codes that kids use when they are in kindergarden, we are talking about AES and similar ciphers, which are designed to have output that is as close to random noise as possible.

        That is the weak point of cryptography: it is still very obvious that
        • That's only if you use conventional encryption , and don't think about it further.
          You could easily modify encryption to spout out words instead of pure binary data . It will just make the mail longer.

          You can even change do it in a way where it looks like it's a common sentence , but in reality , contains encrypted data.

        • Then you'd have to white list a fair lot, or a lot of standard services we all love to use on the internet will cease to exist. MMOs encrypt their traffic to make it harder to write bots and other automatons. Skype uses a fairly nonstandard protocol, similar rules apply to other VoIP tools. And let's not even talk about various DRMified video streams.

          You'll notice that they all are "somehow" encrypted, mangled, modified and nonstandard. Want to whitelist them all? Or block them?

        • That's only some forms of encryption. Other forms are more complex, and attempt to bury the encrypted message inside what appears to be legitimate data. Maybe the time is coming to start working harder on producing cryptographic systems that use these methodologies for normal consumer-grade hardware. If all your choke point is seeing is what look like perfectly normal sentences, with the actual meaningful data buried in it, it isn't white noise, and would require far more sophisticated means to even iden

  • by sznupi ( 719324 ) on Saturday June 27, 2009 @08:39AM (#28493943) Homepage

    For now. I suspect large proportions of recorded materials will find their way out sooner or later.

    Might not help this revolution, perhaps the next one...

  • by msgmonkey ( 599753 ) on Saturday June 27, 2009 @08:45AM (#28493967)

    you see the regime would love there to be no communications but they have to since young Iranians demand it. From what I can tell Iranians put up with the controls on public appearence/behavior because atleast in private they have outlets such as the Internet to express themselves, now with this under control too if I was an Iranian I would feel even more frustrated that it is creeping into their private lives. Maybe the youth have been placated with Internet and mobile phones but I'm hoping that whatever the outcome people will realise that the small luxuries that they are allowed to have can and will be used against them which in the longer term can only cause more angst and dissent.

  • Ins't this obvious? (Score:3, Informative)

    by emeitner ( 513842 ) on Saturday June 27, 2009 @08:51AM (#28493989) Homepage Journal
    On with the tinfoil hats...and the cynical socks...

    The power of technology from a government's perspective is to have the subjects of your suspicion(citizenry) freely and enthusiastically enter all their beliefs( micro/macro blogging), the topology of their personal relations(social networking sites), and their personal communications(gmail) into the databases of private corporations for the easy mining of the data by the keepers of all the keys(NSA, MI5, and others). Then is is a simple matter to assemble an n-dimentional database of relationships into a large net. Then they need only to pull a single knot(a person) of this net and see all others strings and knots which are pulled also. With this tool the government can intercept and neutralize any waxing movement, meme, or influential person. with the tinfoil hat and back to my coffee.
  • by petes_PoV ( 912422 ) on Saturday June 27, 2009 @09:10AM (#28494091)
    The classic mistake made by newbies (and slow learners) is to assume that stuff you put on the internet years ago somehow gets lost or forgotten.

    It doesn't

    Sadly some people in Iran, will learn this the hard way. When their security forces finally get around to processing all the blogs, tweets, SMS, emails, usenet posts, youtube videos, facebook entries and other permanent electronic records of comments they may have thought were innocent - or got caught up in the enthusiasm of the moment.

    While it may only cost people in "free" countries a job offer or a place at university - these guys could end up paying with their lives.

    In this case, the internet may have done more harm than good.

  • The effects of this control have been seen over the past couple days, with only a few harrowing pictures and videos getting through Iran's closed net.

    To properly judge the effects, you would have to know how many do not get through. If you're seing 100, but only 200 were sent, the effectiveness of the filter is 50%. But if 1000 were sent, it is 90%. You can't judge without knowing the second data point.

    So maybe the filter effectively, or maybe the unrest isn't as large as the west makes it. Don't forget that the USA already staged a coup in Iran within the life time of many of us here. Who says the reporting about unrest and revolution is entirely true?

  • not much different (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Tom ( 822 ) on Saturday June 27, 2009 @09:41AM (#28494285) Homepage Journal

    It just struck me how little difference there is between the rulers of Iran and our own.

    Here in Germany, they just passed a law to censor the Internet wrt "child porn". A party leader held a speech yesterday essentially telling the citizens that they suck and should participate more in politics (and yet when they do, as with the record signatures petition against the child porn censorship law, they get ignored). Essentially, reminding me of Brecht who once said "If the people aren't to the liking of parliament, why doesn't parliament simply dissolve the people and elect a new one?"

    Seems that people in power around the world share the same priorities. Most importantly: Staying in power and having control comes first. Everything else is secondary to that.

    Maybe in a thousand years we'll look back at the early 21st century and shake our heads at how those ancient, primitive people could still have believed in government, states and the whole power structures. At least I hope that future generations will find better ways to govern themselves.

  • These 'bottlenecks' are in the DMZ, so why not just infiltrate them... and open them wide??? Could Iran's cybersecurity be all that great?
  • Embassy Wi-fi? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by sparkydevil ( 261897 )

    Is it really that difficult for foreign embassies to create huge unfiltered Wi-fi spots that cover the city?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by petes_PoV ( 912422 )
      A very easy way to get your embassy closed down and all your staff thrown out of a country ios to go messing with that country's sovereignty. While you might think they're wrong and you're right - that does not give you (or any other government) the right to interfere in their internal affairs. How would you like it if the Iranian embassy in your country decided you weren't "islamic" enough and started broadcasting religious programmes all over your radio and TV channels? What you're suggesting is the exact
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DavidTC ( 10147 )

      Which would get them kicked out of the country.

      Embassies may be involute foreign soil, but but that doesn't mean the host country has to let you keep operating them. They can say 'You have 24 hours until this embassy stops being an embassy. We will expect you gone by then.'

      Although in reality they'd just jam the signal.

    • Is it really that difficult for foreign embassies to create huge unfiltered Wi-fi spots that cover the city?

      Iran Hostage Crisis []

      Technicians willing to maintain a repeater outside the safety of the embassy compound, please raise your hands.

      We offer a nice recruitment bonus, excellent death benefits, a bullet proof vest, an armored vehicle with a hair-triggered paramilitary escort.

      If you are caught or killed the Secretary will, as always, disavow any knowledge of your actions.

  • So "only a few harrowing accounts" have got through the blocks. If there were such a block in place it can't be very good then can it. Maybe the reason there are only a few, is because there are only a few anyway. I see more violence in the city centre on a friday night.
  • Since nobody else has posted this: there is an effort to take down the government "activist reporting" tool inside iran. Currently this is being organized largely by 888chan at [] - note this site does contain nsfw content on some pages.

    I'm not sure that I'm really for Ahmadinejad's competition, but there's not a whole lot of chance to make the situation worse by replacing a corrupt leader. If anything we can use the practice for countering government terrorism at home. I don't thin

  • All Very Sad (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tuxgeek ( 872962 ) on Saturday June 27, 2009 @01:00PM (#28495705)

    As much as Americans like to villanize the Iranians for political reasons, this is all very tragic to see the will of the Iranian people crushed by a few corrupt individuals and a couple of religious zealots in top authoritative positions.

    I thought America was bad after the past 10 years of political dictatorship by our own collection of criminals, including their gestapo arrest tactics, wiretapping of all internal communications, and general spying of all citizens. At least here in the US we can succeed at voting the assholes out. That took 8 years, but the task got done finally.

    It was a positive development to see the Iranian people, through political process, want change and friendship with the west and we are all better off for it. Our hearts go out to you all and hope you can make the changes to your system that will give you the freedom you deserve. Perhaps the Iranian dictatorship should read up about the demise of General Custer and a few other selected figures from history. They may all find themselves one day swinging from the end of a rope, or worse.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      You know, 'm getting rather tired of the United States being compared to autocratic regimes. It's apples and oranges. Was their abuse of power? You bet. Was the government stepping into areas that ought not be touched in a liberal democracy? You bet. But come on, even at his worst, Bush never had the sheer power the Ayatollahs do. Congress went along with him for a while, but that ultimately was only a few years, and the last two or three years of Bush's presidency was an absolute disaster for him an

  • Is their "choke point" technology able to break through SSH and VPN encrypted connections too? Or are they just blocking those connection completely?
  • We have always been at war of Eurasia!!

    With a staff of 2,000 full-time technicians to monitor the calls, this reminds me of 1984. Or should I say, "Thoughtcrime does not entail death. Thoughtcrime IS death."

  • by Fantastic Lad ( 198284 ) on Saturday June 27, 2009 @03:40PM (#28496911)

    Why is it that Iran is in the news ALL the time? --And always with a negative spin?


    Are we going to fall for this again?

    How stupid are we?

    I'm betting that the answer is: "Stupid Enough."

    So get your flak jackets on; we're going to war! (--And we've not even finished fighting the first. . , ugh! --I can't even remember how many idiotic and morally bankrupt engagements we're still neck-deep in.)

    So ask yourself. . . How stupid are you feeling today?


God made the integers; all else is the work of Man. -- Kronecker