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[tor-talk] New report: Internet Censorship in Iran, 2014-2017

Hello Tor community,

Today, in collaboration with ASL19, ARTICLE 19 and Small Media, the OONI
team released a new research report: Internet Censorship in Iran:
Network Measurement Findings from 2014-2017.

You can read the report here:

We also published a summary of the report on the Tor blog:

This study involves the analysis of thousands of network measurements
collected from 60 networks across Iran over the last 3 years.

OONI data confirms the blocking of 886 domains (and 1,019 URLs overall),
most of which include news outlets and human rights sites. The breadth
and scale of internet censorship in Iran is pervasive, since we found a
wide range of different types of sites to be blocked, with the blocking
extending beyond a simple definition of legality.

Blocked domains include search engines (such as google.com and
duckduck.go), online social networks (e.g. facebook.com, twitter.com,
plus.google.com), media sharing platforms (e.g. instagram, flickr.com,
youtube.com), blogging platforms (e.g. wordpress.com, blogger.com), and
communication tool sites (such as viber.com and paltalk.com). We also
found Facebook Messenger to be blocked by means of DNS tampering.

But**blocked domains also include opposition sites, pro-democracy sites,
and even the sites of digital rights groups in our community, such as:
EFF, CDT, Freedom House, ASL19, ARTICLE 19, Global Voices, The Citizen
Lab, and Reporters Without Borders.

Iranian ISPs appear to have shifted their practices from applying "smart
filters" (only censoring specific webpages) to "blanket censorship"
(censoring entire sites). Previously, they used to limit their
censorship to specific webpages hosted on HTTP. But over the last years,
as more sites have adopted HTTPS, we found that most ISPs blocked access
to both the HTTP and HTTPS versions of sites (since it's not possible to
target specific webpages when a site is hosted on HTTPS).

What's interesting is that we found internet censorship in Iran to be
non-deterministic.**By this we mean that we found ISPs to be flipping
between blocking and unblocking sites over time, possibly in an attempt
to create uncertainty or to make the censorship more subtle.

Internet censorship in Iran is sophisticated because we found ISPs to be
serving blockpages by means of DNS injection and through the use of HTTP
transparent proxies. But another reason why it is sophisticated is
because it is reinforced through the blocking of multiple censorship
circumvention tools. We even found the Tor network to be blocked most of
the time across most networks, but on a positive note, Tor bridges were
partially accessible.

Iranian ISPs also appear to be taking extra steps to reinforce internet
censorship and limit circumvention. We found various online translators
to be blocked. Pasting a URL into an online translator will provide
access to the site's content, even if that site is blocked. Online
translators can therefore provide a form of censorship circumvention,
likely explaining why we found them to be blocked.

Political relations appear to influence how information controls are
implemented in Iran. This is strongly suggested by the fact that we
found multiple Israeli and U.S. domains to be blocked. Israeli domains
even appear to be blocked almost indiscriminately. US export laws and
regulations, on the other hand, restrict the use of services in Iran,
which is why we found Norton, Virus Total, and GraphicRiver to be
inaccessible in the country.

Internet censorship in Iran also appears to serve as a tool for the
reinforcement of geopolitical dynamics of power. This is strongly
suggested by the fact that we found multiple Kurdish sites to be blocked.

Much more can be said about this study....but this email is already
quite long. :)

We encourage you to explore the data we published!

Thanks for reading.

~ The OONI team.

Maria Xynou
Research and Partnerships Coordinator
Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI)
PGP Key Fingerprint: 2DC8 AFB6 CA11 B552 1081 FBDE 2131 B3BE 70CA 417E

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