Stop Fundamentalism – Considering the major role the internet and social media played in flaring up popular protests in the Middle East and North Africa since the rigged presidential elections in Iran back in 2009, dictators in the region are now attempting more and more to block access to open internet by their citizens.
Heavy control of communication lines by governments and usage of internet filtering systems, and also the usage of internet surfers’ profiles and access history to find and arrest dissidents has led many Iranians and other citizens of countries in the region to start using a technology known as Virtual Private Network or VPN to cloak themselves from the government eyes.
Using the technology, surfers in Iran could sign in to a server in the United States for example and pretend that they are actually located in the US and not Iran. This way they circumvent the Iranian government’s installed filters and Iran’s information agents will not easily know which websites they visited.
The latest information indicate that now Syria is also following China and Iran in blocking VPN ports on the internet to limit user access.
In Syria access to major ports for VPN protocols have been blocked and others have been greatly slowed.
But users do not have to use the standard VPN ports in order to benefit from the technology in the Middle East as more sophisticated VPN software can allow users to change to non-standard ports circumventing the filtering put in place by authoritarian regimes.
It seems the only three countries in the world that have taken such measures to prevent user access are in fact Iran, Syria and China.
This may be alien to people living in democratic countries in the west where having a VPN Connection is nothing to fear about. In fact many large corporations and multisite enterprises use the platform to converge their networks into one giving the feeling to their employees that they all work in the same place while, in reality, they are miles apart. That is beside the security of information advantages VPN brings to big corporations.
Iran’s communication minister, Reza Tagipour, told reporters yesterday that, “VPN and its usage is against the law.”
“All countries have their own specific rules for using internet,” said Tagipour to reporters.
According to Iranian websites and reports, VPN usage was blocked from Thursday in Iran and all services have stopped since then.
Some internal sources speculate that blocking of VPN access is for preparations of the new Iranian national internet. But Tagipour rejected the notion and said the two have no relations to each other.
Tagipour said that in Iran the filtering part of the internet is enforced by special institutions and there is a group effort involved.
VPN is used all over the world but not specifically for the same reason as Iranian and Syrian users do. Its main benefit is for security of information and prevention of eavesdropping on the internet.
VPN not only diverts a connection on the net it can also encrypt sent information.
Iranian officials consider activities of Iranian dissidents on the internet to be a ‘soft war’ against the Islamic Republic to overthrow the government.
For the past two years the government of Iran has been trying to initiate a ‘Clean Internet’ and a national search engine has already started work in this country.
Currently most websites are filtered in Iran and users need VPN to view them.