Challenging Iran’s Internet Blockade

Some media services have systems in place to attempt to bypass digital blockades. The Signal . secure messaging appFor example, provide tools so that people around the world can set up proxy servers that securely forward Signal traffic to bypass government filters. The proxy service was previously only available for Signal on Android, but the platform added iOS support on Wednesday.

However, if people in Iran do not have the Signal app installed on their phones or have not registered their phone numbers, then losing the connection will make it difficult to download the app or receive the SMS codes used. used to set up an account. Android users who can’t connect to Google Play can also download the app directly from Signal’s website, but this creates the possibility that malicious versions of the Signal app could spread on other forums and trick people into downloading them. In an effort to solve this problem, the Signal Foundation create email address “[email protected]” to which people can text to request a secure copy of the app.

The Tor anonymity service is largely unreachable in Iran, but some activists are working to establish Tor bridges inside Iran to connect the national intranet to the global platform. However, the job would be difficult without the infrastructure and resources, and extremely dangerous if the regime discovered this activity. Similarly, other attempts to establish secret infrastructure The country is tense because they often require too much technical expertise for a single citizen to perform safely. When it comes to safely downloading apps like Signal, it can also be difficult for people to determine whether the circumvention measures they’re looking for are legal or illegal.

Users in Iran are also relying on other services with built-in proxies. For example, Firuzeh Mahmoudi, executive director of the United States-based nonprofit United for Iran, said that the law enforcement tracking app Gershad was heavily used during times of disconnection. The app, which has been circulating in Iran since 2016 and is currently developed by United for Iran, allows users to collect information about the activities of the regime’s “ethical police” and is currently being used as well. used to monitor security forces and other checkpoints.

The underlying issue of connectivity access remains a fundamental challenge. Attempts to provide satellite service as an alternative could theoretically be very effective and threaten the entire internet blackout. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted last week that he had “activated” the company’s Starlink satellite internet service for people in Iran. In reality, however, this option is not a panacea. To use Starlink or any satellite internet, you need hardware including base stations to receive and translate signals. Procuring and setting up this infrastructure is resource intensive and especially not feasible in a place like Iran, where sanctions and trade blockades significantly limit access to equipment and capabilities. pay for subscription services or other connection fees. And even if users can overcome these barriers, jamming is a potential problem. French satellite operator Eutelsat speak yesterday, for example, two of its satellites were jammed from Iran. In addition to providing internet service, the satellites broadcast two popular Iranian dissident TV channels.

“There were many challenges when installing this system in Iran,” said Rashidi of Miaan Group. “If you have a terminal, I understand that Starlink is working, but getting those terminals into the country is a challenge. And then they are a security risk because the government can locate those terminals. And then, who will pay for it all and how, put in place the sanctions? But even if you ignore all those problems, satellite base stations don’t solve the problem where mobile data is part of the outage. You cannot put a Starlink terminal in your backpack to protest. So a satellite connection would be useful, but it doesn’t solve the problem. “

Although the issue is nuanced, Iranian human rights advocates and activists emphasize that the global community can make a difference by raising awareness and continuing to seek out solutions. Creative solutions to problems. With digital censorship and disconnection used as leverage for authoritarian control, the development of tools to bypass firewalls is increasingly important. As United’s Mahmoudi puts it, “We all need to turn on the lights.”


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