Website Operator Sentenced to Death in Iran Over Porn Site: “Iranian officials have sentenced a man to death for allegedly running a porn site in Canada.”
(Via XBIZ.com | News & Articles.)
'Iranian cyber army' hits Twitter: (BBC)
A group claiming to be the Iranian Cyber Army managed to redirect Twitter users to its own site displaying a political message. Twitter said the attack had been carried out by getting at the servers that tell web browsers where to find particular sites. The site said it would start an investigation into what allowed the ‘unplanned downtime’ to take place. see also Twitter hack by ‘Iranian Cyber Army’ is really just misdirection (Guardian).
(Via QuickLinks Update.)
Popular online messaging service Twitter was left reeling overnight, after Iranian hackers appeared to break into the site and deface it.
The strike left the site completely unavailable for several hours in the early hours of Friday morning, with the site’s estimated 30m users unable to access the service or send messages to each other online.
The incident took place some time around 6am in the UK, when the main Twitter page suddenly seemed to disappear – instead replaced with a stark black and red screen featuring an image of a flag.
The page, which carried a mixture of English and Farsi slogans, appeared to name the group behind the attack and offer a call to arms.
‘This site has been hacked by the Iranian Cyber Army,’ said the message.
‘The USA thinks they control and manage internet access, but they don’t. We control and manage the internet with our power, so do not try to the incite Iranian people.’
The site returned to normal functions around two hours later, with staff telling users that it had suffered from ‘unplanned downtime’.
Although early reports suggested the site itself had been breached by attackers, it now seems that the strike was actually a crude form of assault known as a DNS hijack.
The DNS, or Domain Name System, is effectively a telephone directory of the internet – connecting the name of a website, such as twitter.com or guardian.co.uk, to the web servers that hold its contents.
In hijacking cases, computer criminals effectively redirect the traffic intended for a particular website, sending users to a page of their own choice rather than the planned destination.
Around two and half hours after the outage occurred, Twitter staff issued a short statement on the company’s blog confirming the style of the attack it had suffered.
‘Twitter’s DNS records were temporarily compromised but have now been fixed,’ said the post. ‘We are looking into the underlying cause and will update with more information soon.’
It is not the first time that Twitter has found itself subject to attention due to its links with Iranian activists.
During the uprising that followed the elections in June this year, in which incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad eventually triumphed, the US state department urged the site to remain online to allow more information about the protests to spread online.
Little is known, however, about the group who appeared to claim responsibility for hacking Twitter. But the nature of the messages they left appears somewhat confusing.
Though the text left by the hackers appeared to be anti-American, they also used the image of a green flag – the colour connected to the election protesters, and to Mir-Hossein Mousavi, the main challenger to President Ahmadinejad.
IR – Iran moves to silence opposition with internet crime unit: “(Guardian)
Iran has moved to block the last remaining outlet of expression for the country’s political opposition with the launch of a special force to police the internet. A 12-member team reporting to the chief prosecutor will scour websites with a view to pressing charges against those judged to be ’spreading lies’ and ‘insults’ against the Islamic system. Members will include police and personnel from other, unspecified, parts of Iran’s security apparatus.
(Via QuickLinks Update.)
Thu Aug 13, 2009 7:09pm EDT
By Jim Finkle
BOSTON (Reuters) – The U.S. government is covertly testing technology in China and Iran that lets residents break through screens set up by their governments to limit access to news on the Internet.
The ‘feed over email’ (FOE) system delivers news, podcasts and data via technology that evades web-screening protocols of restrictive regimes, said Ken Berman, head of IT at the U.S. government’s Broadcasting Board of Governors, which is testing the system.
The news feeds are sent through email accounts including those operated by Google Inc, Microsoft Corp’s Hotmail and Yahoo Inc.
‘We have people testing it in China and Iran,’ said Berman, whose agency runs Voice of America. He provided few details on the new system, which is in the early stages of testing. He said some secrecy was important to avoid detection by the two governments.
The Internet has become a powerful tool for citizens in countries where governments regularly censor news media, enabling them to learn about and react to major social and political events.
Young Iranians used social networking services Facebook and Twitter as well as mobile phones to coordinate protests and report on demonstrations in the wake of the country’s disputed presidential election in June.
In May, ahead of the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, the Chinese government blocked access to Twitter and Hotmail.
Sho Ho, who helped develop FOE, said in an email that the system could be tweaked easily to work on most types of mobile phones.
The U.S. government also offers a free service that allows overseas users to access virtually any site on the Internet, including those opposing the United States.
‘We don’t make any political statement about what people visit,’ Berman said. ‘We are trying to impart the value: ‘The more you know, the better.’ People can look for themselves.’
In addition to China and Iran, targets for the FOE technology include Myanmar, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam, he said.
Berman, however, said there would be modest filtering of pornography on the system. ‘There is a limit to how much (U.S.) taxpayers should have to pay for,’ he said.
(Reporting by Jim Finkle, editing by Matthew Bigg and Paul Simao)
The Associated Press: Iran activists work to elude crackdown on Internet: “Iran activists work to elude crackdown on Internet
By REBECCA SANTANA (AP) – 3 days ago
CAIRO — The tweets still fly and the videos hit YouTube whenever protesters take to the streets in Iran — even as the Internet battle there turns more grueling.
Authorities appear to be intensifying their campaign to block Web sites and chase down the opposition online, and the activists search for new ways to elude them.
Sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube remain blocked, as they have been since Iran’s political turmoil began following the disputed June 12 presidential election. Internet experts believe the government is going further — including tracking down computers from which images and videos of Iran’s protests are sent out to the rest of the world. Activists fear their every move online is watched.
‘We are really worried about this. To protect myself, I just limit my posts on social networks, my tweets and also I deleted some parts of my personal blogs and my other notes on the Web,’ one Iranian who regularly sends tweets about the election turmoil said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.
Another said, ‘Every site where people can gather and stay connected and share news and pics … is blocked.’ Both agreed to e-mail interviews on condition of anonymity, fearing government retaliation.
The government is believed to have been aggressively developing software and technology in recent years to strengthen its filtering and monitoring of Web sites. Since the election, a number of Internet experts are countering by providing Iranians with improved proxy systems and other programs to get around government blocks and escape detection.
‘I think the Iranian government is learning quickly how to control and contain these things,’ said Andrew Lewman, executive director of The Tor Project Inc., based in Boston.
His group’s free downloadable Tor program allows Internet users to work through a network of relays run by volunteers around the world to access blocked sites and hide what they are doing on the Internet. Active sessions using Tor in Iran have jumped from a few hundred before the election to thousands after, the nonprofit group said.
The Internet has been a key tool for Iran’s opposition on two fronts. One is internal — to organize protests and exchange information. The other is external — to let the world know what is going on amid severe government restrictions that bar foreign media from reporting and taking pictures and video on the streets. The government has been actively trying to block online activists on both fronts.
Hundreds of thousands of Iranians held protests denouncing the election as fraudulent until security forces launched a heavy crackdown, arresting hundreds and killing at least 20 protesters. Throughout, activists took to the online messaging site Twitter to relay 140-character posts about what they were seeing and hearing. They furtively recorded video of police and members of the feared Basij militia riding on motorcycles through throngs of protesters, or photos of demonstrators bleeding from battles with government authorities.
One video in particular gripped Iran and the world: Images of 27-year-old Neda Agha Soltan bleeding to death after being shot on a Tehran street were viewed millions of times on YouTube, and her death became a rallying cry for opponents of the regime.
Even after the crackdown crushed the large protests, the Internet has remained key. In two smaller protests organized in recent weeks, constant tweets reported on where the demonstrators were gathering. Despite the restrictions, videos quickly emerged on YouTube showing thousands of protesters clashing with police and Basij. At the same time, Internet news sites have become vital for tracking arrests of opposition politicians and activists, who are often picked up from their homes far from scenes of protests.
During the height of the protests, authorities cut off cell phone service and text messaging — which are all run by state-run firms and through government-owned towers — to break up communications for organizing rallies. Phone service has returned, though it cuts off in parts of Tehran when authorities believe a protest will be held. Texting has been slower to come back and is sporadic at best.
The government has also tried a more traditional route to subdue dissent: arrests. At least 34 journalists and bloggers were detained after the election, joining seven others already in prison, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Around a quarter of Iran’s 65 million people are believed to have Internet access. Iran has long used filtering to restrict certain news and political or pornographic Web sites. But since the election, the number of blocked sites has increased.
Besides Twitter and YouTube, the BBC’s Farsi-language news site is still blocked, and Web sites associated with opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi — who says he won the election — are constantly shut down. In the last week, two new Mousavi sites have been created after others were targeted.
The day after the election, Internet traffic in and out of Iran came to a near total stop, according to research done by Arbor Networks, a Chelmsford, Mass.-based Internet security company.
The cause is not known, but the group says one explanation could be that the state-run Internet company all but shut down the network so all traffic could be run through filtering programs, which can only handle limited volume. In the week after the election — the latest figures available — traffic picked up again to about 70 percent of normal. In Iran, the Internet remains slow because of the brakes on traffic.
Given the secrecy with which the Iranian government operates, it’s difficult to assess exactly what it is doing to monitor the Internet. A number of groups have sprung up to offer Iranians their online expertise, including on called NedaNet, in honor of the woman who died.
Morgan Sennhauser, a project coordinator for NedaNet, published a 31-page paper detailing the strategies and tactics the government is believed to be using.
The methods include blocking data from going to or from certain Internet Protocol addresses — the numeric identifiers for every computer connected to the Web. Another technique used, called packet fingerprinting, allows the government to judge certain characteristics of a packet of data to decide whether to block it or not, so that, for example, a firm’s international transactions can go through but pictures of a protest cannot.
NedaNet, which describes itself as a group of independent ‘computer hackers and computer users,’ aims to set up proxy servers and other technology to enable Iranian users to make themselves anonymous and escape detection. Another proxy system that Iranians often use is Freegate, which was first developed by Chinese dissidents to get around Beijing’s heavy Internet censorship.
‘I do think that we’re going to continue to counteract just about everything they can come up with, it’s just a matter of time,’ Sennhauser said in e-mailed comments to the AP.
Gaurav Mishra, CEO of the social media research and strategy company 20:20 WebTech, said Twitter and Facebook do help get news out of Iran, but he warned against exaggerating their power to enact change.
‘At best, these tools are catalysts, which are very important roles, but should not be overrated,’ he said. ‘To expect Twitter and Facebook on their own to make a fundamental change in that situation is expecting too much.’
There is one method of communication that the government has been unable to stop. Every evening since the election, Iranians climb to their rooftops and scream ‘Allahu akbar,’ — ‘God is great’ — a protest tactic used during the 1979 Iranian Revolution.
On the Net:
Following social media flurry in Iran and China, lawmaker calls for a hearing to look into online censorship abroad.
July 9, 2009, By Kenneth Corbin
In response to the recent flurry of street-level updates from citizens using social media during the unrest that followed the disputed Iranian election, a lawmaker is calling for a congressional inquiry to ensure that those services don’t go dark under pressure from repressive governments.
Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.) has appealed to the leadership of the House Energy and Commerce Committee to hold a hearing to revisit the contentious issue of Internet censorship overseas, hoping to raise awareness and lend a formal stamp of approval to the groups and companies working to keep Web sites and services like Twitter and Facebook up in the face of government restrictions.
‘It is becoming increasingly evident that communications technologies and applications that are developed in the United States are becoming a growing part of the lives of people beyond our borders,’ Bono Mack wrote in a letter to the chairmen and ranking members of the Commerce Committee and its Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet.
‘It is imperative that the U.S. government do more to uphold and promote basic human rights, free expression and the economic activity generated and supported by the Internet,’ she said.
Spokespeople for the committee leaders told InternetNews.com they were reviewing Bono Mack’s request, but that there were no immediate plans to convene a hearing on the issue.
This would not be the first time online censorship abroad has caught the attention of lawmakers. In 2006, executives from Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Cicso appeared in a high-profile hearing to defend their Internet operations in China. In the last Congress, Sen. Richard Durbin chaired a Judiciary Committee hearing revisiting the Internet heavies’ China policy.
But in the time since, the face of the Internet has changed considerably as sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have marched steadily into the mainstream and given people easy ways to broadcast real-time updates in areas where the mainstream media might not have access.
In the demonstrations that followed the election in Iran last month, for instance, the government moved swiftly to expel media outlets, and, for a time, the world watched as eye witnesses posted updates on Twitter, while correspondents from outlets like the BBC and Associated Press filed their reports from cities in neighboring countries.
Reflecting on the demonstrations a few weeks later at a security conference outside Washington last month, New York Times reporter David Sanger described the use of social media in the Iranian elections as a point of no return, both for sharing news with the world and organizing resistance within a repressive state.
‘The art of street protest against a government will never be the same after what we saw a few weeks ago,’ Sanger said.
He said he was not convinced that the protests ‘would have come together had it not been for the technologies that many Americans had not really thought of in political terms prior to this month.’
The Iranian people’s reliance on Twitter to communicate with the outside world was not lost on the State Department, which contacted the site’s executives to request that they delay a scheduled service outage so Twitter would stay online in Iran.
But it was broader than just Twitter. Images of the death of Neda Agha Soltan, known to most of the world simply as Neda, appeared on YouTube and Flickr and quickly became among the most recognizable icons of the Iranian government’s efforts to put down the demonstrations.
‘At a time when the Ahmadinejad government was doing everything in its power to control messages and images leaving Iran, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube became unfiltered, citizen-fueled news bureaus of reports filed straight from the streets of Tehran,’ Bono Mack said.
She also called attention to China, a key U.S. trading partner long criticized for restricting access to online content deemed subversive.
The most recent flare-up in China involved the uprising of the ethnic Uighars in Xinjiang province, but China has also come under fire in recent months for censoring Internet access to YouTube content documenting harsh tactics used against Tibetan demonstrators and blocking certain sites during last year’s Olympics in Beijing.
‘A hearing held by your committee will help shed light on government-sponsored censorship and around the world and its serious implications for trade and human rights that cannot be ignored,’ Bono Mack said.