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

Asa Rossoff asa at
Mon Sep 23 12:07:51 PDT 2013

Thanks Collin.


Interestingly, I got a report on the 17th that some Iranian Facebook users
disappeared from friend's lists for some hours.


Since I only have one source for that information, who noticed late in the
day (in the mid-east) on the 17 the disappearance, and confirmed that they
were back in the morning on the 18th, I am speculating that Facebook may
have deactivated accounts to protect users, who soon found their way back,
there was a coincidental technical issue at Facebook, or possibly my source
was mistaken.  He did however make the observation copmletly independently,
not knowing that there had been ups and downs in Iran's filtering.


Asa R.


From: liberationtech-bounces at
[mailto:liberationtech-bounces at] On Behalf Of Collin
Sent: Monday, September 23, 2013 10:02 AM
To: liberationtech at
Subject: [liberationtech] Technical Evaluation of How Iran's Filternet
Failed Last Week




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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