Iran: the digital sling against the mullahs

In Iran, are we experiencing the last gasps of the 1979 Islamic revolution replaced by another, secular one, embodied mainly by these young women who make the social networks crackle?

This last decade has seen the emergence of the digital weapon, much more effective than guns and accessible to as many people as possible. From the Arab revolutions to this uprising of Iranian women, it is clear that dictatorial regimes always use the same instrument to extinguish these revolts: cutting off the connection to the Internet network and repression. In the present case, despite the significant devices and means available to the mullahs’ regime, they are unable to muzzle the opinion of the protesters or the dissemination of protest messages all over the world.


In the 1940s, Georges Orwell already prophesied the global surveillance of citizens by States. The author of 1984 was obviously right: the examples are legion. But this surveillance has become massive with the advent of the Internet. Democratic countries use it, often outside the nails, while sometimes being overtaken by various whistleblowers, whistleblowers or civil servants who have developed a conscience. On the other hand, rogue states like Iran abuse it in every sense of the word: massive surveillance of the population and social networks, censorship, propaganda, sometimes going, in extreme cases, to the total shutdown of the network under all its forms.

But although over-equipped, the security organs of the Islamic Republic can no longer stop the dissemination of revolutionary information. Because on the ground, the protesters also have tools but above all friends: networks of defenders of freedom, human rights, supported by computer experts.

But why do social networks represent such a great danger for these despotic regimes?

The danger is of course freedom of expression above all, but also anonymity and the possibility of reaching a huge part of the population at the speed of light (or almost, the data crossing the optical fiber at nearly 68% of the speed of light). The networks therefore enable the acceleration of news dissemination, mass coordination for protesters, and give material to all the world’s news agencies. Material of a citizen-journalist nature, taken directly from the field, raw and without filters.

Social networks were of paramount importance during the Arab Spring:

  • In Tunisia, it was Twitter that launched the political change dialogue,
  • In Egypt, Facebook has been the main disseminator of popular discontent.

Today, bloggers and activists are forced to remain anonymous in order to protect their very existence, and to resort to technological tools to achieve this. Among these tools, there is the TOR browser which makes it possible to anonymize the source of a web browsing session, or the VPN (virtual private network), which makes it possible to isolate through cryptography the exchanges taking place on networks. public telecommunications…

During the Arab Spring, the international community of computer specialists, communication technology professionals, and above all those who are widely called hackers, with a negative connotation due to the media, mobilized to come to the aid of the demonstrators by offering them alternative ways to be able to connect to the Internet.

This is exactly what we are witnessing regarding the Iranian crisis. How to bypass total network censorship? Several ways are available to Iranian protesters today.

First of all, to circumvent censorship at connection level and therefore at access provider (ISP) level, proxy servers are made available to users: the Signal application, for example, recognized worldwide as the more secure – its source code is open and constantly audited – has just published posts encouraging its entire community to host proxy servers for Iranians, while publishing a manual in Persian to explain to users how to connect to them.

In the most extreme cases where the rogue state decides to cut off all access to the Internet, outside groups recommission old banks of modems and give access numbers to activists in Iran who connect using traditional telephone networks (which the State cannot cut). Obviously these connections are slow, the equivalent of a typical 56k modem today is 0.006 MB/s, but that allows messages to get through.

Still using the telephone lines, it is possible to call a service and leave a message on an answering machine which will then take care of reproducing and posting the message on Twitter with the desired hashtag using the “speech to text” process. “.

There are also applications that allow, by using mobile phones and creating a spider’s web of connections between them, to form networks, bypassing any traditional cellular connection and allowing, for example, demonstrators to organize themselves among themselves. Obviously, the radius is limited but still useful.

It therefore appears very difficult for a rogue state to fully control the message and access to the Internet. If a people is truly determined to carry out its fight and take charge of its destiny, it will always find human and technological support within the world community.

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Iran: the digital sling against the mullahs

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