Security Experts:

Iran Continues to Lockdown Internet Access - Blocks VPN Access

Iran has blocked VPN traffic within its borders, preventing its citizens from accessing domains and Web content outside the firewall established by the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology.

The lockdown seems to be a pre-emptive measure, aimed at preventing Web-based protesting ahead of June’s elections, while pushing users towards state run VPN access. In June, Iran will hold the first presidential election since 2009. Those elections led to the creation of the Green Movement, due to the fact that the populous wasn’t too pleased with the way the election was being handled, nor were they all that happy with the results.

In 2009, the Green Movement’s use of the Internet to spread information on brutality and alleged election fraud prompted the government’s resurgent push for strict Internet controls. Earlier this year, in January and February, many domains within Iran (music blogs, dating sites, and movie and software download portals) were subjected to increased censorship and takedown orders by the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology. Even sites previously approved by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance were cutoff from the Web.

According to Mehdi Akhavan Behabadi, Secretary of the Supreme Council of Cyberspace, all VPNs on the market are illegal in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Soon, Internet users will be able to purchase state-approved VPN access, but until then the only legal VPN connection is one that has been deemed “legitimate” by the Ministry. Further, the VPN provider has to be registered on VPN.ir, which isn’t available to Internet traffic outside of Iran due to the domain’s use of a national private network.

“In the next three months, Internet filtering will begin to occur more frequently based on content, and not against whole domains or websites,” the U.K.’s Small Media Foundation explains in a report on Iran’s Internet policy.

“The government will begin sponsoring domestic hosting services for websites, including through decreasing costs at national data centers, and providing other incentives to encourage administrators to move their hosting to a domestic location. This push will begin with news sites and move to others progressively.”

“As the June election approaches and the internal politics of the government becomes more continuous,” the report continues, “Iran’s Internet connectivity, and the accessibility of uncensored information, continues to deteriorate, reflecting offline crackdowns on the press.”

“Prominent Persian language websites and other online services have been filtered one by one, and communications with external platforms is becoming progressively more difficult.”

Sources within Iran for SecurityWeek can confirm that VPN access within the country has been severed. They confirm the reports issued by local media, and the sources used by Reuters in their story on Iran’s VPN data. However, access to some social networks and communication channels (such as IRC), are available in a limited capacity. The use of external dial-up has also been an option, but not for many. 

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Steve Ragan is a security reporter and contributor for SecurityWeek. Prior to joining the journalism world in 2005, he spent 15 years as a freelance IT contractor focused on endpoint security and security training.