Iran increases web censorship

Authorities improve blocking procedures, privacy project launches new technology to keep access open

Tags: CensorshipIranThe Tor Project Inc (www.torproject.org)
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Iran increases web censorship Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivers his speech during the 33rd anniversary of the Islamic revolution in Azadi Square in Tehran. Authorities have apparently been increasing web censorship in recent days. (Getty Images)
By  Mark Sutton Published  February 11, 2012

Iranian authorities have stepped up their blocking of internet access over the past three days, disabling methods that had previously enabled unrestricted access for web users in the country.

Online privacy project Tor reports that new restrictions are blocking the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) and Transport Layer Security (TLS) protocols, blocking access to almost all HTTPS sites.

The increased restrictions are believed to be an attempt to block online dissent or co-ordination of protests ahead of today's anniversary of the country's Islamic Revolution. Tor co-ordinators say that it appears the authorities are using deep packet inspection filters to locate and block data encrypted using the SSL and TLS protocols. Currently around 50,000-60,000 Iranians use Tor to get online anonymously every day and to access sites blocked by the Iranian regime.

In a Tor update posting, Jacob Appelbaum, a co-ordinator for the network, said that Tor does have "an ace up our sleeves" in the form of a new application to disguise encrypted traffic as normal data. The Tor "obfsproxy," or obfuscated proxy, project would let SSL and TLS data masquerade as data sent using an innocuous protocol such as the Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol used for instant messaging.

The technology is somewhat untested, notes Appelbaum, and may only succeed in keeping access open for a few days, so the project is calling on volunteers to help host the new Tor ‘bridge' connections, that connect users to the Tor Network, and to help with tightening up the code used.

The Washington Post, which reports that its own office in Tehran has been having internet connection problems, suggested that the new restrictions might be the Iranian government implementing its ‘Iranian National Internet' project. The National Internet, somewhat similar to the so-called ‘Great Firewall of China', is intended as a country-wide network that would block access to sites selected by the government.

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