Law in the Internet Society

Paper Title

No title?

-- By AndrewHarmeyer - 18 Dec 2012


The governments of closed societies such as Iran, North Korea, China, and others employ different technological measures in an attempt to restrict their citizens’ access to the worldwide web.

To call either China or Iran closed societies seems to be a little bit of a stretch. China is the second-largest economy on earth, exporting, importing, building, trading, and in every way engaged with the world. It is run by a very powerful and ruthless despotism, which controls internal communications rather rigidly, and uses national telecommunications control to manage news to a very limited extent. Iran is similarly engaged with the world, including the Islamic and European worlds, despite being substantially cut off from the United States by a sanctions regime no one else takes very seriously. Nor do you mention, say, Saudi Arabia, which controls its internet flow at least as capably as the Iranians do, but which also does not meet the "North Korea" comparison very well.

These measures have varying degrees of success, and the citizens of these societies attempt to circumvent the restrictive measures through an increasingly cat-and-mouse game of technological brinksmanship. This short paper focuses on the situation in Iran, which for now, closely resembles China’s “Great Firewall,” but may move toward a domestic intranet, similar to North Korea’s, sometime in 2013.

Iran’s Own Great Firewall

The Iranian government employs an Internet filter similar to China’s “Great Firewall” that is designed to prevent everyday Iranians from accessing around 27 percent of all Internet sites.

Only if the denominator leaves out 99% of the world's web pages.

Iran’s version of the Great Firewall uses deep packet inspection, which deconstructs packets of online data and mines that data for certain keywords or other criteria. The packet is then reconstructed and either sent along its way, rerouted, or dumped entirely. The Iranian government can do more than just block unwanted communications; it has the ability to mine packets for information about individuals sending them, as well as alter the packets for disinformation purposes.

Only if the packet is inspectable. If it is encrypted, the only choice is to remember the endpoints, and drop it.

Unlike China’s Great Firewall, which is much more decentralized, Iran’s system passes through a single communications channel because the government owns the country’s only telecom. Iran’s monitoring equipment was provided, in part, by a joint venture of Siemens and Nokia.

Nokia Siemens is a provider of telecommunications networks. Nothing custom about the joint venture. It's like saying that a car was sold by a joint venture of Ford and Renault. Today, that network would be sold instead by Huawei.

Iran’s “Great Firewall” currently blocks most Western social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter. Iran has its own social networking site called Cloob. It also blocks sites that are sexually explicit or are considered anti-government. The Iranian government blocked YouTube in 2009 after the website helped rally its citizens to attend demonstrations against the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The government has since launched a state-run alternative to the video-sharing website called “Mehr.” In late September, Iran blocked access to Gmail for one week, which was restored following a large number of complaints.

Hardly a closed society. The US KGB delivers much of its email.

Many of Iran’s users reportedly use virtual private networks (VPN) to get past Iran’s Great Firewall. VPNs create an encrypted tunnel between a computer in Iran and an Internet server somewhere outside the country that does not have Iran’s restrictions. By using a VPN, Iranians are still able to access blocked sites such as Facebook and YouTube? despite their government’s restrictions. VPNs are also commonly used to get past China’s Great Firewall; however, recent reports indicate the Chinese Government is using new smart technology that can "learn, discover and block" the encrypted channels used by VPNs. One of the largest ISPs in China is automatically disconnecting users when a VPN is detected. Whether this technology will continue to be employed for the long-term in China is yet to be seen because it will have a negative impact on Chinese and other foreign businesses, which commonly use a VPN for a secure connection to sensitive work data.

And in the end there's not much real technological oomph is this supposed innovation, unless the Chinese decide to prohibit HTTPS altogether, thus preventing on-line commerce from working overall. Your explanation of the way VPNs work isn't technologically detailed enough to help.

Moving Toward a Domestic Intranet in Iran

According to the Washington Post, Iran has already built the basic infrastructure for a closed intranet, with other reports indicating it could be operational by March 2013. There are conflicting reports on whether the system would be used as a back-up, in the event the government wants to temporarily disconnect the global Internet in times of civil unrest, or whether Iran’s domestic intranet has the potential to be totally cutoff from the global Internet. Iran’s Minister of Communication and Information Technology says the purpose of the new system is to protect “precious intelligence of the country,” most likely referring to the Stuxnet virus, a virus that attacked the country’s nuclear program, and the Flame virus, a virus that secretly collected information from the computers of high-ranking government officials. But beyond protecting from cyber spying by foreign countries, there is valid concern that the intranet will be used to further Iran’s campaign of Internet censorship against its citizens.

This is too confusing to be useful. A domestic intranet like the US classiifed network segments? A high-security infrastructure, like the one every country wants to use to protect its financial system, power grids, transport, chemical plants, and other dangers from being remotely exploited or sabotaged? "Like North Korea" is silly: the Iranians are a major international economic player, as the Chinese are, and cutting their net off from the rest of the world makes no sense for them. If you want to assess Iranian network policy you have to put yourselves in their heads, not by pretending that their heads have been entered by Wikipedia editors, or that they think like North Koreans, which they quite clearly don't.

North Korea is the only other country with a totally domestic intranet, called Kwanymyong. [1] North Korea’s Kwanymyong is not connected to the global Internet, in part to protect the leak of classified data, but also to prevent North Koreans from accessing foreign news sources. There are connections to the global Internet in Korea, through a cross-border link to China’s Netcom, or via a satellite to Germany. These connections are limited to only a few thousand people: the most elite members of society, diplomats, and companies. Some hotels also provide Internet access to foreign travelers.

This is a truly unimportant point. And of course it isn't truly correct, or those fabled North Korean "hackers" wouldn't be able to attack South Korean targets very effectively.


Iran’s move to a domestic intranet could make the practice of using VPNs to access blocked content more difficult or nearly impossible. If the intranet is truly domestic with no outside link, then a VPN could not secure an encrypted connection to another server outside of the country. However, some technology experts question whether it is even possible for Iran to completely disconnect itself from the global Internet. Further, if it were possible, it would probably encourage civil unrest. Unlike, North Korea, Iran already has a large and growing base of Internet users, many of whom reportedly use VPNs and other services to access unrestricted browsing.

Almost as though it had been written in the US State Department, this draft suggests that countries the US doesn't like have a closed Internet. Not a word about Saudi Arabia, for example, which polices its Internet more tightly than the Cubans or the Chinese.

Cutting yourself off from the world in order to prevent VPNs from working is a silly idea. Dropping all encrypted traffic is a silly idea. Global financial interdependence is real: Iran is a serious country, despite the American nonsense constantly being spewed around. It sells oil, its citizens trade in Turkey, bank in Europe, vacation in Lebanon, and so on. Of course it will spend wildly on cybersecurity: so do we. Of course it will monitor and data-mine the fuck out of its citizens: so will we. of course its ISPs will use DPI to improve their profitability and power: so will anyone's anywhere if they can get away with it. Instead of treating the effort to control the Net as a pathology of "the Axis of Evil," as you do here, one might want to take a slightly wider, more global view, starting with the supposedly "developed," "clean," "free" societies. Hence my course about data-mining and the State right here.


If it's really a footnote, why not make it a footnote? If it should be a link, make it a link.

[1] The majority of Cubans who use a computer also use a government run intranet that provides limited content. In Cuba, however, the Internet is available to the public, but most Cubans cannot afford it. The government run intranet is mostly accessed in public facilities where identification and registration is required.

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r3 - 23 Aug 2014 - 19:33:50 - EbenMoglen
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