23 June 2009

Iran Has Built a Censorship Monster, With Help From Western Tech

22 06 2009 - When it comes to online censorship and monitoring online activities, the first country that usually comes to mind is China and its Great Firewall.

This, however, may soon change, as it seems that Iran has built one of the most advanced systems for monitoring all online traffic, with the help of technology built by Nokia and Siemens.

The Great Firewall of Iran, as it will undoubtedly be dubbed, involves deep packet inspection, a technique that examines both the header and the data part of internet data packets and can be used for eavesdropping, censorship and data mining.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Iran’s online monitoring and censorship system digs through data at one big choke point, which is made easy by the fact that the government owns a telecom which holds a monopoly over the country’s online communication. This is different from China’s Great Firewall, which is far more decentralized, but it makes it even more advanced than the Chinese version, since it’s easier to monitor traffic at one point than having to synchronize such efforts at many locations. This is enhanced by the fact that China has 300 million Internet users, compared to Iran’s 23 million Internet users.

The equipment that enables such measures has been provided to Iran, in part, by a joint venture between Nokia and Siemens, and according to the WSJ, the spokesman for the venture, Ben Roome, has confirmed this. However, the company has since sold the business of “and interception of all types of voice and data communication on all networks” – as described in the company brochure – to a Munich-based investment firm Perusa Partners Fund 1 LP.

The morality of creating “intelligence solutions” such as these and selling them to oppressive regimes is subject to debate. However, what the end user needs to be concerned with is stopping and preventing such measures. One approach, is encryption. The idea is for a critical mass of users – perhaps 30% of all Internet users – to start encrypting their Internet traffic, which would make it too expensive and too complex for any organization, even a government of a wealthy country, to monitor it.

Several initiatives that help end users easily encrypt traffic have emerged in recent years; hopefully, some of them will soon enter the mainstream and make any censorship and online monitoring effort futile.


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