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[liberationtech] Technical Evaluation of How Iran's Filternet Failed Last Week

Collin Anderson collin at
Mon Sep 23 10:02:04 PDT 2013


The issue did not come up on the list (fatigue I suppose), but I am sure
people are well aware that many previously filtered sites were available in
Iran for much of last Monday. Today, Small Media publishes the latest in
its Iran Infrastructure and Policy series, which lays out technical
assertions on what happened.

There are also Hangout sessions associated with the series, please let me
know if you would like to attend.


*Iranian Internet Infrastructure and Policy Report*
July - August 2013<>

*On the early evening of September 16, Internet users in Iran began to
report that they were able to access Facebook and Twitter without having to
resort to anti-filtering tools. Although the censorship regime
(colloquially known as the Filternet), had been known to fail for brief
periods in the past, this time the opening paralleled the development of a
political and social environment in which the relaxation of Internet
restrictions has begun to feel inevitable. Perceptions of increasing state
leniency have been fuelled by such positive developments as the commuting
of web developer Saeed Malekpour’s death sentence to life imprisonment.*
*There have been a number of other signs pointing towards liberalisation.
In the previous edition of this series, we noted that the blogging site
Tumblr had been unblocked, though we suspected this was unintentional, as
several of the domains hosting media content for the platform remained
filtered. In the following weeks, however, these addresses were also
unblocked, and a semi-official account was created for the Supreme Leader (; however, the site was blocked again soon after.
The rapid adoption of social networking by the vast majority of ministers
in the Rouhani administration (including unprecedented activity by Foreign
Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Twitter and Facebook) led foreign
ambassadors and journalists to excitedly send out their first tweets
describing a new moderate Iranian filternet. Only the most skeptical
commentators repressed their incredulity to see what the morning would
*The skeptics were right to hold their tongues; morning brought the
disappointment of busi- ness-as-usual, and a return to the use of
unreliable anti-filtering tools. The sudden liberalization was apparently
less due to the enlightenment of the authorities, and more a glimpse into
exactly how fragile the apparatus actually is. Although a return to the
status quo means continued isolation for Iranian internet users, this
breakdown of the normal order at least brought a new understanding of the
mysterious filtering regime. In order to address this topical issue, we
begin with an attempt to explain what happened using technical evidence,
directly disputing the claims made by state media. Despite this setback, we
find hope in early government responses to the incident stating that the
continued filtering of social networks would be considered by the Supreme
Council on Cyberspace.*
*In this report we also address the emergence of a real shift in the
policies and tone of the Iranian government, including the Ministry of
Information and Communications Technology, which has laid the groundwork
for these heightened expectations. Finally, we add a new feature, tracking
the availability and performance of circumvention tools across different
Internet Service Providers, in order to lessen confusion about what tools
work and how well.*

*Collin David Anderson* | @cda | Washington, D.C.
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