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Iran to block Google, Gmail

Tehran cites security concerns; citizens fear cyber isolation

Iran to block Google, Gmail
Iran has long filtered Internet content.

Iranian state television announced that the government will block access to Google Inc’s search site and email service, reports Reuters.

In a separate statement, a government official said Iranian Internet services would be switched to a domestic network for what the official claimed were security reasons.

"Google and Gmail will be filtered throughout the country until further notice," an official identified only as Khoramabadi, said, without giving further details.

"In recent days, all governmental agencies and offices ... have been connected to the national information network," deputy communications and technology minister Ali Hakim-Javadi was quoted as saying by the Mehr news agency.

The second phase of the plan would be to connect ordinary Iranians to the national network, he said.

Iran has long filtered Internet content from sites such as Facebook and YouTube on the basis of alleged offensiveness or criminality, but many Iranians believe the practice is aimed at restricting resources that were used to protest the controversial re-election of President Mahmoud Ahamdinejad in 2009.

In the past Iranians have used virtual private network (VPN) software to assign IP addresses to their machines that fool domestic host servers into thinking the user is based in another country. But many faced difficulties accessing email and social networking sites in February, in the run-up to parliamentary elections.

According to Iranian media, the domestic system would be fully implemented by March 2013 but it was not clear whether access to the global Internet would be cut once the Iranian system is rolled out.

The Islamic Republic tightened cyber security in 2010 after the Stuxnet worm attacked Siemens-based control systems at the Natanz  uranium enrichment facility, causing several centrifuges to fail. Tehran leveled blame for the incident at the US and Israel.

In April a virus was detected inside control systems at Kharg Island, which handles the vast majority of Iran's crude oil exports - but the terminal remained operational.

"Control over the Internet should not be in the hands of one or two countries," said Communications and Technology Minister Reza Taqipour, last month. "Especially on major issues and during crises, one cannot trust this network at all."

In May Iran threatened legal action against Google over its decision to drop the term "Persian Gulf" from its Google Maps, leaving the waterway between Iran and the Arabian Peninsula nameless. Many Arab states refer to the sea as the "Arabian Gulf", a term Tehran considers unacceptable.

In separate news, Bloomberg reported on Friday that US Senator Joseph Leiberman believes Iran to be responsible for recent denial-of-service (DoS) attacks on US banks.

“I don’t believe that these were just hackers,” Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut, said in an interview with C-SPAN’s Newsmaker program. “I think that this was done by Iran and the Qods force [an arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps], which has its own developing cyber attack capacity. And I believe it was a response to the increasingly strong economic sanctions that the United States and our European allies have put on Iranian financial institutions.”

Lieberman said the attacks were targeted at JPMorgan Chase & Co and Bank of America Corp. He did not share the reasons for his suspicions.

“I don’t want to put it forward as a conclusion of the intelligence community yet,” Lieberman said. He said “there’s more than just theory; there’s some basis for believing that this was an Iranian sponsored attack.”

NBC News this week cited unidentified national security officials as saying the Iranian government was behind the attacks on the banks. Such attacks disable a website by flooding it with resource requests.

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