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Saudi Arabia Blocks Viber Messaging Service 83

another random user writes in with news about Saudi Arabia blocking a popular messaging service for not providing "a means to to be monitored." "The head of the messaging application Viber has said people in Saudi Arabia have had basic freedoms taken away, after his service was blocked there. Talmon Marco told the BBC he did not know the reason for the move, but that Viber would be restored soon. In March Saudi authorities warned Viber and other encrypted messaging services that they would be blocked unless they provided a means to to be monitored. Mr Marco said he had refused to provide data requested by Saudi officials. The fact that Viber's free phone and text messaging service is no longer working in the country is not entirely unexpected. The Saudi telecoms regulator had warned the firm — along with Skype and Whatsapp — that they would be blocked if they did not agree to be monitored."
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Saudi Arabia Blocks Viber Messaging Service

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  • by grub ( 11606 )
    Heads are gonna roll over this.
  • Need more Tor (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 07, 2013 @12:38AM (#43932915)
    Everybody needs to be using Tor on their mobile device [torproject.org] and running lots of servers [torproject.org] to help these people.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Everybody needs to be using Tor on their mobile device [torproject.org] and running lots of servers [torproject.org] to help these people.

      If a government has every TCP ACK and window size to analyze at their leisure, how is Tor going to help?

      • Everybody needs to be using Tor on their mobile device [torproject.org] and running lots of servers [torproject.org] to help these people.

        If a government has every TCP ACK and window size to analyze at their leisure, how is Tor going to help?

        End-to-end encryption?

        • Re:Need more Tor (Score:5, Insightful)

          by DrXym ( 126579 ) on Friday June 07, 2013 @05:43AM (#43934105)
          You don't necessarily need to know the contents of a message to know what it's being used for. I expect voice conversations possess particular qualities that are very hard to disguise even through encryption and using Tor and recognized nodes from your mobile phone would be a dead giveaway you were up to something. There are plenty of ways that the telco and Saudi authorities could disrupt what you were up to.
      • Because interception turns from 'one techie and a laptop' into 'small army of computer scientists and hundred-million-dollar datacenter network.' If they are going to be monitoring communications, make them work for it.

        • Re:Need more Tor (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Cenan ( 1892902 ) on Friday June 07, 2013 @02:35AM (#43933325)

          I don't think that is how it works in Saudi Arabia. You might be able to hide what you're doing, but that doesn't stop them from hauling your ass off to prison and beating the what out of you. You can hide behind Tor all you like, if the offense is using Tor in the first place you're screwed.

          • Not if you're using a bridge relay. A very powerful adversary could determine the existence of relays and flag you if you talk too much to them, but that's beyond the power of even a rather rich Middle Eastern country. https://www.torproject.org/docs/bridges [torproject.org]

            Now, they could try to ban https as a way of indirectly banning Tor but I don't think that will go over too well for security reasons.
          • Same with VPN service in the Middle East. Super unlikely they'll know WHAT you are sending, but the mere existence of VPN service in some of those countries means a very bad day for the hapless end user. Having run VPN services worldwide for people in this predicament, I have a good understanding of this (sadly).
    • by DrXym ( 126579 )
      Tor is highly unlikely to facilitate realtime voice calls especially with the levels of traffic it could expect to receive if it could. I also expect that it would be reasonably straightforward for a phone network to disrupt it even if it were proven possible.
    • Everybody needs to be using Tor on their mobile device [torproject.org] and running lots of servers [torproject.org] to help these people.

      And then Tor will be blocked (if it isn't already).

      Countries like Saudi would rather cut off the Internet altogether then lose control of it.

  • If only... (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 07, 2013 @12:51AM (#43932955)

    Man, I wish the summary would tell me, once and for all, whether the Saudi regulators warned these services that they'd be blocked. I have to know!

  • Not surprising (Score:5, Insightful)

    by readingaccount ( 2909349 ) on Friday June 07, 2013 @01:04AM (#43933005)

    If you want to do business in a country, you have to follow the laws. Sounds like the Saudi authorities gave clear and fair warning that the service would be blocked if the capability for monitoring was not implemented, and yet Viber chose to disregard the warning. So they were blocked.

    Having said that, I do NOT agree with these laws, clearly (because I'm on Slashdot). I'm also not one to just give a pass to any country's immoral laws because "that's just how they do things". The law sucks... but it's also clear what the law is in most countries and if you don't agree to do business and follow it, well, no surprises what will happen.

    Not that it really matters too much. "Viber would be restored soon" translates to "we'll implement the monitoring requirements the Saudi's want, because fuck it, we like money and would rather kick up a fuss on the BBC than actually stick to our position and pull out of a hostile country."

    • Re:Not surprising (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 07, 2013 @03:12AM (#43933477)


      If I want to do business in the USA, then all my user's data has to go to the NSA.

      At least the Saudi's are open about it.

      • Now now, not your users' data, just their metadata. That's just fine, I know because the Surpeme Court says so. ~

    • If you want to do business in a country, you have to follow the laws.

      That's true neither as a moral nor as a factual statement. Lots of businesses are operating in violation of laws, from banks to pot growers. Furthermore, for some laws, it is your moral right, and perhaps duty, to violate them, like discriminatory laws or laws attempting to shield fraud or human rights abusers.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 07, 2013 @01:09AM (#43933031)

    Talmon Marco, ex Israeli IDF (he was the Chief Information Officer for the Israel military FFS) runs the company. They blocked it presumably because it is too-good-to-be-true free calls. Mostly likely surveillanceware paid for by the surveillance industry, since you have to pay for the servers somehow! You can't simply offer a free app and provide free servers and somehow everything pays for itself.

    He moved to the UK, set up a lot of US companies, focussing on network management and VOIP. i.e. stuff suitable for intelligence gathering.

    " Starting 1993, Mr. Marco served as CIO for the Israeli Defense Forces Central Command. In 1995, Mr. Marco Co-Founded Nortex Software, a developer of Civil Engineering software.In 1997 he Co-founded Expand Networks, a privately held, venture back, world leader in Application Traffic Management. Mr. Marco served as President at Expand Networks until 2004, at which point the company reached a run-rate of $20M revenue a year. In 1998, Mr. Marco co-founded iMesh, a social networking and music destination serving 10 million unique users, where he currently serves as President. Mr. Marco holds a degree in Computer Science and Management from the Tel-Aviv University."


    If you look at the Wikipedia page, he tried to hide the origin of Viber.
    "Hello, Quinta222. It looks like you are currently engaged in an edit war at Viber; the page was protected recently to stop the string of reversions between you and Utlguy, but it appears to have continued again. Please stop reverting edits to this page, and make an effort to discuss the edit on the article's talk page."

    Yet it's clearly Israeli and he is/was clearly Israeli Army CIO.

    Senator Dianne Feinstein, will no doubt defend it as legal.

    • Makes me wonder if this is the catch22 behind stuff like Privitize VPN on TBP.... but thats a wopper of an informative post. Makes a lot of sense the Saudi's would rage over the service. Surprised they are letting it back.

      P.S. Saudi law is insane =/

      P.S.P.S. This actually makes me feel a tiny bit better about the NSA. At least their only recording that my communications were secure and to whom (probably would make me a target though if I had a lot of secure calls to somewhere in Saudi). Which I wouldn't blam

      • at to your P.P.S - just because we only know about the metadata because of a leak.. do you honestly believe it doesnt go deeper than that?
        • Well I think there was this cave in the Midwest (one of the largest underground cave systems). I saw a special on it from Nat Geo or Discovery or History or A&E. It was rumored at some point this facility had paper files on every person in the United States in rows and rows of giant filing cabinets. So it is very likely that this has been going on for a long time and you are absolutely correct it could go way deeper than just metadata. See PRISM. What is being done with all that info. I cannot really sa

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Diggin further


      "Expand Networks, Ltd. was a Tel Aviv, Israel based provider of WAN Optimization solutions. The company was liquidated in 2011."
      "Expand Networks was a privately held company, founded in 1998; initial financing was provided by Discount Investment Corporation, The Eurocom Group, Ophir Holdings, and a private group of investors, including Memco Software founder Israel Mezin. Additional investors joined in subsequent rounds of funding"
      "In mid October 20

    • Viber app (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 07, 2013 @02:15AM (#43933245)

      Taking a look at the Viber app, "Viber allows you to text, call, and send photos and video messages worldwide for free to over 200 million users using 3G or Wifi"...." the app syncs with your mobile contact list"...

      So the app grabs your contacts lists, there's the graph data right there, 200 million users a lot of expensive servers.

      Trying to install it, it requires your GPS location, Microphone (no surprise there, its VOIP), Camera... Your accounts, Your Phone Calls, Directly call numbers, read phone status, and identity. Your social information, modify contacts, read call logs, read your contacts, read your social stream, write call logs, write your social stream....

      It even gives itself permission to run at startup.


      • by macshit ( 157376 )

        Pretty much every VOIP app on Android (and there are a lot of them) seems to require the same laundry-list of permissions though... as far as I can figure, it's more due to lazy devs (who know most users won't even notice) than sinister ones...

        • Don't blame the application developers here. The poorly designed permission structure of android is mostly to blame. Any voice and text application that wants to integrate with the rest of android, needs to ask for nearly all of the permissions.

          But this app seems totally dodgy. Free communications? No adverts? Where the hell are they getting the funding to run any servers and application development?

          "If you aren't paying for the product, you are the product".

          • by macshit ( 157376 )

            But this app seems totally dodgy. Free communications? No adverts? Where the hell are they getting the funding to run any servers and application development?

            I agree with you, and I'd probably never install because it doesn't pass the smell test, but every VOIP app on android seems the same way (crazy permissions, no adverts, free install and free use). That includes those which are massively popular bastions of the establishment, and so presumably considered "respectable" (skype, kakaotalk, etc). [Kakaotalk at least seems to have some sort of attempt at its own store ecosystem integrated with it, but basic use is completely free.]

            The entire app ecosystem se

            • Then again, if they are sending you an SMS to verify your ownership of the number, can they gain any revenue from that?
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Weird... A guy who runs a tech startup was a higher ranking guy in the IT structure of the military of a country with compulsory military service? No SIR! I bet most if them worked in the mess hall.

    • by Bert64 ( 520050 )

      Another reason why all these isolated proprietary messaging services are a bad thing...

      No country is looking to ban email, although they may require you to use local email services (which they can monitor easily). You can choose which service you want to trust, and anyone you talk to is free to make the same decision. The same is also true of XMPP and SIP.

      If you want truly private communication, you should be using an open source encryption package on top of the service (eg OTR, GPG etc), not trusting the w

    • by moshiko ( 311814 ) on Friday June 07, 2013 @03:13AM (#43933487) Homepage

      Since the army service in Israel is mandatory, this ridiculous claim is that every Israeli company is working for the army.
      Coming from another leading Israeli VoIP company myself - I can state that the only security forces ever approaching us were American - with their CALEA program.
      We refused to cooperate.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        "Since the army service in Israel is mandatory, this ridiculous claim is that every Israeli company is working for the army." ... the ex IDF CIO, sets up a company in *Cyprus*, with lots of companies providing free services that collect info in exchange, Wikipedia flags an edit war with a user trying to hide the Israel link.... the obvious question pops up, who pays the bills for these free apps, whose the customer for that data. It's a surveillance app, because these apps capture data in exchange for the u

        • by moshiko ( 311814 )

          Where do I begin..?

          a. Let's do this Nayman guy a favour and leave him out of this - you seem to like google - I'm not hiding, you can find me.
          I'm not posting as an anonymous user you know.
          BTW - Partner is a cellular operator, not a VoIP company (you can google this up).
          b. Company in Cyprus -
          Intel has a large facility in Israel, thanks to overwhelming tax benefits they got. I'm sure you can make the connection.
          c. If I had a nickel for every company that seems to be out there picking eye balls with no real mo

      • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

        there's a difference between mandatory service and staying on as an intelligence officer followed by getting out with a hefty bankroll that you use to run telecom companies...

        • by moshiko ( 311814 )

          I really don't know this company or this guy, but I can assume he is on army reserve service, just like so many others after retiring from the army, meaning that he still retains his ranks and is called for service from time to time.
          I do the same, about once a year (in a combat unit, and for you trolls - I'm also a political anti occupation activist, and yes, the two roles don't collide).
          If you seriously believe the IDF is involved with Viber, I advise you to roll a good deal of aluminium foil around your h

          • If I had mod points I would mod you up. Too others: it's not simply his statements it's that his name is attached to it as well.
          • by cffrost ( 885375 )

            I appreciate your (claimed) anti-occupation activism, as well as your properly naming the element from which common household foil is made; thank you. :o)

    • the only refrence to his status as CIO of the IDF was the link you provided, and the rest of the web refrences his army experiance as 4 years, the manditory service every Israeli does. No one becomes a high ranking officer in 4 years in any army, from being a conscript, or basic enlistee.
  • "The head of the messaging application Viber has said people in Saudi Arabia have had basic freedoms taken away, after his service was blocked there.

    OK, they only figured that the Saudi's have taken away basic freedoms from people after they blocked viber?

  • by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Friday June 07, 2013 @01:29AM (#43933087)

    Really guys, I mean, really? The porn in that country consists of a girl showing a little ankle... and your service is named Viber. What did you expect?!

  • With all the excuses of FUD, the NSA is only one step from doing this now, in the US.
    So how free are we, really?
    I fear for our countries future. History shows us that we are starting down a slippery slope
    handing down such powers to secretive branch of the government without any verifiable
    checks and balances.

  • by vik ( 17857 ) on Friday June 07, 2013 @02:27AM (#43933289) Homepage Journal

    Not just a Saudi problem - Obama thinks snooping on messages is just fine and dandy as long as it is not done to members of his Master Race. So far. May I once more bring people's attention to the Open and Free SMS encryption via the Textsecure Android app [whispersystems.org], and the disaster- (and government-) resistant mesh networking of Project Byzantium [project-byzantium.org] which now runs on a Raspberry Pi. They are becoming more and more relevant, and soon we shall have to switch to darknets to do anything non-commercial. Get with the program early, folks.

    • by adolf ( 21054 )

      But my Dude won't run weird stuff on his phone, and my neighbors don't even know what a router is except that it gives them Teh Interwebs.

      I'm convinced of the usefulness of these tools just on their very basis, but creating locally-useful momentum is not so easy in this sea of inertia.

    • This is one of the reasons I've been more than a little hesitant to use cloud computing. As hard drive space gets smaller and cheaper I will simply have physical hard drivess. For now an exabyte flash drive should do just fine. :')
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Try running a skype-like service on US soil that leeches info from you. And give the government NO way to tap into it. See what happens.

    Now, imagine that service is run by ex-al-quaeda members. Or pakistani extremists.

    Of course, they would let them do as they please! It's the land of the free after all!

  • Now they're not allowing women to pleasure themselves? That's just sick.

  • He must mean the rights of Saudi MEN. I don't think the women there had any to begin with.

  • Not often you hear the words 'basic freedoms" and "Saudi Arabia" in the same sentence...

  • well legally... at any rate, what's the real harm?

  • I hope one day we will get rid of all these closed, proprietary messaging protocols.
    Too bad it's not for the good reason in this case.

  • Does this article suggest that all other messaging that are operational in Saudi Arabia are being monitored? Would something like Facebook chat, if it's transported over SSL, be considered encrypted? If it's operating in SA (not sure if it is... just asking) does that mean that the SA government has been given the "keys to the castle" so to speak?
    • by bmo ( 77928 )

      >Does this article suggest that all other messaging that are operational in Saudi Arabia are being monitored?

      Of course all other messaging is being monitored.

      They're just following the US's lead.


  • I originally read the article title as "Saudi Arabia Blocks Vibrator Messaging Service".

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