Iran is known for its censoring of the internet and social media sites, blocking some of them outright. Earlier this year, Iran was accused of “breaking the internet” in Hong Kong. The issue was that Iran used Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) to spoof traffic away from a few hundred porn sites, the false routes spread and ended up blocking users that were outside of Iran. The problem is that Iran’s networks are a major routing center for the region, and it’s easy for malicious or false BGP data to spread from Iran’s sources, according to Engadget.
So while it can have a broader censoring impact on the region and beyond, Iran’s censorship program also is key to protecting Iranian businesses. Fear of political unrest has often been cited as the main reason for their censorship policy, but the reality is that many immediate security threats have been curbed.
What Iran has implemented to have the greatest control over internet access is a closed network, wherein Iranian users can access government-approved sources of online content exclusively through domestic servers. These servers can easily be accessed by security agencies, including the Intelligence Ministry, the IRGC and the National Security Council.
The Revolutionary Guards, who own the Telecommunications Company of Iran, have been a strong proponent of gaining full surveillance over online traffic. “In most policy meetings, the security agencies are represented by anonymous individuals participating under false names who believe that the internet cannot be controlled and therefore, their only solution is to close it off from within the country,” said a former NIN contractor.
The news media, which is heavily censored, also lives on domestic servers and can be shut down immediately if they publish a story that could be deemed critical of the Iranian government in any way.
This allows the authorities to switch off global internet access without interrupting the domestic network on which day-to-day affairs are run. Also, the restriction of access to certain websites follows a simple economic logic by increasing trade barriers for international companies, while protecting domestic IT enterprises. Thus, the filtering becomes an import tariff.
In this case, Iran is following China’s lead. By blocking the large international companies, such as Amazon.com, China and Iran are able to allow homegrown versions of these companies to thrive, keeping the funds local and domestic. Baidu, for example, is a Chinese search engine that has grown due to China’s blocking of Google and other international search engines.
However, social media seems to be a divided camp. While it has been useful in ferreting out pockets of unrest, but the regime is providing content to fight against political opposition’s activities on the web. However, Iran’s closed network is at risk of malware and multiple other issues. In the long run, the internet cannot be truly blocked forever, no matter what Khamenei says.