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[liberationtech] Iran blocks use of tool to get around Internet filter

Amin Sabeti aminsabeti at gmail.com
Sun Mar 10 11:36:40 PDT 2013


http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/03/10/iran-internet-idUSL6N0C24M620130310

(Reuters) - Iranian authorities have blocked the use of most "virtual
private networks", a tool that many Iranians use to get around an extensive
government Internet filter, Iranian media quoted an official as saying on
Sunday.

A widespread government Internet filter prevents Iranians from accessing
many sites on the official grounds they are offensive or criminal.

Many Iranians evade the filter through use of VPN software, which provides
encrypted links directly to private networks based abroad, and can allow a
computer to behave as if it is based in another country.

But authorities have now blocked "illegal" VPN access, an Iranian
legislator told the Mehr news agency on Sunday. Iranian web users confirmed
that VPNs were blocked.

"Within the last few days illegal VPN ports in the country have been
blocked," said Ramezanali Sobhani-Fard, the head of parliament's
information and communications technology committee, according to Mehr.
"Only legal and registered VPNs can from now on be used."

Iran is holding a presidential election in June, its first since 2009, when
a disputed result led to the worst unrest since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Protesters used services like Facebook to communicate during those "Green
Movement" demonstrations, and the government has taken steps to curb access
to the Internet in the last few months, apparently determined to prevent a
repeat this time.

An internet user named Mohamad from the Iranian city of Isfahan confirmed
that VPNs had been blocked.

"VPNs are cut off. They've shut all the ports," he said in a Facebook
message, adding that he was using another form of software to access the
service without a VPN. He said Skype and Viber, internet services used to
make telephone calls, had also been blocked.

In January, Mehdi Akhavan Behabadi, secretary of Iran's Supreme Cyberspace
Council, told Mehr that Internet users would soon be able to purchase
registered VPN connections and that other VPNs were illegal. Financial
institutions and other organisations might need to use VPNs for security
reasons, which would be a legal use, Behabadi said.

The government's move to block VPN access may also have inadvertently cut
off access to widely used sites such as Yahoo and Google, Sobhani-Fard told
Mehr on Sunday, adding that parliament would study the issue more this week.

Amin Sabeti, a UK-based researcher on Iranian media and the web, said
foreign companies such as airlines and banks had had problems using VPNs in
Iran.

Through government-registered VPNs, Sabeti said, authorities could be able
to monitor traffic more easily.

DETERIORATE

Millions of Iranians experienced disruption to email and Internet access
ahead of parliamentary elections last year.

"As the June election approaches ... Iran's Internet connectivity, and the
accessibility of uncensored information, continues to deteriorate," said a
report on Iran's Internet infrastructure published in March by the UK-based
group Small Media, which researches Internet use in Iran.

"Prominent Persian-language websites and other online services have been
filtered one by one, and communications with external platforms is becoming
progressively more difficult."

Iranian authorities banned Google's email service for a week last year but
reopened access after complaints from officials. They have also announced
plans to switch citizens onto a domestic Internet network which would be
largely isolated from the World Wide Web.
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