Iran CyberWatch: February 2013

Censorship and Surveillance

Judges authorized to shut down websites

On January 27, news site Tabnak was filtered by authorities. This decision, as announced by the Commission to Determine the Instances of Criminal Contents (CDICC) was done following the order of the Prosecutor of Tehran, without the involvement of the Commission itself. Usually, the CDICC would make decisions to filter websites and the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology (MICT) implements them. However, as explained by the general secretary of the Supreme Council of Cyberspace, judges and prosecutors can also determine the filtering of websites. The Supreme Council of Cyberspace has suggested that a special judge or court be in charge of filtering cases from now on.

Content filtering instead of URL filtering

According to General Secretary of the Supreme Council of Cyberspace Mehdi Akhavan Behabadi, the current filtering system [Farsi] in Iran, where the Commission to Determine the Instances of Criminal Contents filters entire websites instead of specific pages, is problematic. At present, if the system determines that a banner advertisement on a Web page contains “criminal” content, the entire website is then filtered. Iranian authorities plan to use smarter methods in which only unauthorized content is filtered. Behabadi also stated that the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology, who is in charge of implementing filtering decisions, has been working to develop selective content filtering system in the past, but has not yet been successful in doing so.

Hizbullah Cyber website launched

(Note: Cross posted from )
A website called Hizbullah Cyber, which claims to have no affiliation with the Islamist group Hizbullah, was launched [Farsi] on February 4, to monitor and confront Hizbullah’s opponents. As the June 2013 presidential elections in Iran approach, security officials appear concerned about the recurrence of civil unrest and are planning to expand their monitoring tools in cyberspace. Hizbullah Cyber bears resemblance to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (Gerdab) [Farsi] website, which was launched after the disputed presidential election in 2009 to track and identify members of the opposition online. Reports and photos on Gerdab show that security and military officials have already started to identify and confront protesters in cyberspace under a security project known as the “Soft War.”

Legal Norms

Ahmadinejad nominates a military official for Minister of ICT

Mohammad Hasan Nami has been nominated as the new candidate [Farsi] for the position of the Minister of Information and Communications Technology. Nami was formerly deputy defense minister and deputy to the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Army. He oversaw several key infrastructure projects, such as Iran’s national Internet called theNational Information Network (NIN) and Basir, Iran’s version of Google Earth. Nami has three doctorate degrees, including one in state management from Kim Il-Sung University in North Korea. Nami’s background shows that his nomination accords with government plans to implement the NIN and impose more restrictions on Iranian Internet users.

New list of cyber crimes related to the presidential election

(Note: Cross posted at

Abdolsamad Khorramabadi, secretary of the Commission to Determine the Instances of Criminal Contents (CDICC), announced [Farsi] a new list of cyber crimes related to the presidential election, which are included in both the Presidential Election Law and the Islamic Criminal Law. This includes publishing content that encourages the public to boycott the election, hold protest gatherings without special permits, strike, interrupt the normal process of election, or conduct any independent and un-approved media activity. In addition, disturbing public opinion, spreading blasphemous material, publishing materials that are against the national interest, causing conflict between people over racial and ethnic matters, and publishing the results of polls related to the election are among the list of crimes. A similar list of cyber crimes [Farsi] was prepared last year prior to the parliamentary election.


Legal VPN project is in progress

Although using circumvention tools for bypassing filtering, and accessing blocked contents is illegal, some organizations in Iran, such as financial institutions, banks, and embassies, use [Farsi] VPNs for security reasons. Some universities also use circumvention tools to access international academic databases that are no longer accessible in Iran. According to the Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Cyberspace Mehdi Akhavan Behabadi, these organizations are eligible [Farsi] to register for legal VPNs by providing information about their organizations and their IP addresses. The Supreme Council plans to block the ports after the eligible applicants register for legal circumvention services. Behabadi believes that this new approach will stop the illegal trade of VPNs and result in more websites being hosted from inside Iran.

Originally posted to the Citizen Lab website.