Posts Tagged ‘TELEGRAM’

Russia begins blocking access to Telegram

April 16, 2018

AFP

© AFP | Popular messaging app Telegram says it has 200 million active users
MOSCOW (RUSSIA) (AFP) – Russia’s communications watchdog on Monday began blocking access to the popular messaging app Telegram after a court banned the service for refusing to give security services access to private conversations.”Roskomnadzor has received the ruling of (Moscow’s) Tagansky court to block Telegram’s services on Russian territory. This information was sent to providers on Monday 16th of April,” the watchdog said in a statement.

Some Russian internet providers began blocking Telegram on Monday afternoon.

“Russian authorities have begun blocking Telegram. The service could be unstable without a VPN. We will inform you on the developing situation,” the messaging app notified its Russian users.

The Kremlin’s press service told journalists on Monday that it will be switching to ICQ, a 1990s chat service now owned by billionaire Alisher Usmanov’s Mail.ru, to communicate with them.

“It is telling that authoritarian governments (e.g. Russia) are trying to block Telegram over encryption, but are more relaxed when it comes to other encrypted messaging apps,” Pavel Durov, the app’s maverick creator — dubbed Russia’s Mark Zuckerberg — wrote on Twitter.

Writing on Vkontakte, the social media platform he founded that is now under state control, Durov said the decision harms Russia’s national security as users will switch to WhatsApp and Facebook which are “controlled from the US.”

“We believe the ban is anti-constitutional and will continue to defend the right of Russians to private messaging,” Durov, who left Russia in 2014 and is now based in Dubai, said.

Durov has long said he will reject any attempt by the country’s security services to gain backdoor access to the app.

The ban followed a long-running battle between authorities and Telegram, which has a reputation for securely encrypted communications, as Moscow pushes to increase surveillance of internet activities.

Telegram, a free application that lets people exchange messages, stickers, photos and videos in groups of up to 5,000 people, has attracted more than 200 million users since its launch by Durov and his brother Nikolai in 2013.

Telegram is especially popular among political activists, of all stripes, and is used by the Kremlin to communicate with journalists, but it has also been used by jihadists.

Russia has acted to curb Internet freedoms as social media has become the main way to organise demonstrations.

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Russian internet watchdog seeks block on Telegram messenger over refusal to give up encryption keys

April 9, 2018

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Russia Today (RT)

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Russia’s internet watchdog has requested that the Telegram internet messenger service be blocked, after it failed to hand over encryption keys to special services before the given deadline.

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The press statement released by Roskomnadzor on Friday reads that the agency has addressed a district court in Moscow with a demand “to limit the access to all resources belonging to the Telegram Messenger Limited Liability Partnership on the internet on Russian territory.” It specifies that the move is a result of the Federal Security Service’s (FSB) discovery that Telegram was not observing the Russian law that regulates data exchange between the security services and internet companies.

The court now has five days to decide whether to start the proceedings into the request.

In late March, Russia’s Supreme Court demanded that Telegram, a popular messenger and blogging platform, hand over encryption keys to its clients’ traffic to the FSB without court warrants. Soon after the ruling was announced, Roskomnadzor officially warned Telegram that unless it complied with the FSB and the court’s orders, it could be blocked from working in Russia. The deadline set by Roskomnadzor expired on Friday.

Telegram founder Pavel Durov replied with a tweet stating that threats would not work and that the company would always advocate freedom and privacy. A short time later, specialists at the company explained that it was impossible to comply with the state agencies’ orders because Telegram does not have encryption keys for clients’ messages – the correspondents exchange them directly.

On Friday, Telegram lawyers said that the company’s position on the issue remained the same – it considered the state agencies’ demands illegal and technically impossible to fulfill.

Russian mass media interpreted the news as a sign that Telegram will soon be blocked, and turned to officials for comments. Vladimir Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters that Kremlin officials considered Telegram a convenient messenger service and used it to communicate with the press, but added that if the service were to be blocked, they would look for an alternative platform. “It would be a great pity if they [state agencies and Telegram managers] fail to find a consensus, but as far as we understand they have not found it so far,” he said.

Presidential adviser for internet issues German Klimenko told RIA Novosti that he expected the block on Telegram to completely destroy the messenger’s positions in Russia. “If the court rules to have Telegram blocked, all state officials would stop using it at that very moment. And this is a very large group of users that create a reputation for the service,” Klimenko said. The adviser added that he expected the majority of Telegram users to migrate to other messengers, and that those who remain would become a small and marginalized community.

The head of the Presidential Human Rights Council, Mikhail Fedotov, earlier this week called on the authorities to treat the issue with maximum caution, as the block could infringe the rights of 15 million Russians who use the Telegram service and also of Russian investors who hold stakes in Telegram LLC.

Russian Communications Minister Nikolai Nikoiforov has refused to comment on the dispute before the court verdict is announced.

https://www.rt.com/politics/423396-russian-internet-watchdog-telegram/

Kremlin cracking down on internet to muzzle critics, say experts

April 8, 2018

Kremlin recognises the internet as the principal threat to its domination and one of the last refuges of free speech…

AFP

© POOL/AFP/File / by Andrea PALASCIANO | Russian President Vladimir Putin has gradually brought media — especially television — under state co0ntrol since the 2000s

MOSCOW (AFP) – As Vladimir Putin starts his fourth Kremlin term, authorities are turning up the heat on popular websites and apps ostensibly to fight terrorism but analysts say the real motive is to muzzle critics.A move this week to block the strongly encrypted messenger Telegram, less than a month after Putin’s crushing poll win, marks a new stage in the crackdown launched after his previous victory in 2012.

Telegram, which has 200 million users and is ironically the go-to messaging app for top Kremlin officials, was specifically designed by Russian developers to circumvent the Kremlin’s security forces.

Putin has gradually brought media, primarily television, under state control since the early 2000s.

Experts say the Kremlin recognises the internet as the principal threat to its domination and one of the last refuges of free speech — especially after it helped fuel unprecedented mass demonstrations when Putin returned to the presidency six years ago after four years as prime minister.

“The Kremlin got scared and responded with an attack on internet freedoms,” said Andrei Soldatov, editor-in-chief of Agentura.ru, a site monitoring the security services.

In the summer of 2012, Russia created a blacklist of sites showing child pornography or drug use and also those deemed to be “extremist” — a term vague enough to include opposition activism. The professed intention of the move was to protect children from harmful content online.

Two years later, the parliament unleashed a barrage of new anti-terrorist laws, including a ruling that blogs with more than 3,000 viewers per day must face the same strict regulations as news media.

Since then, Russian and foreign internet providers have been legally obliged to store the data of their Russian users in Russia.

This led to the blocking of professional networking site LinkedIn, which did not comply.

Subsequently, new legislation citing terror threats has forced all “distributors of information” — including boggers and even social media platform VK (formerly VKontakte), its owner Mail.ru, and internet giant Yandex — to retain all user data for six months and provide it to the authorities on request.

Under the latest measure imposed late last year, the authorities are able ban VPN services that allow users to bypass Russian site blocks by simulating a connection from another country.

– ‘Spread fear’ –

This legislative onslaught has been widely used against the opposition, who are ignored by mainstream news media but are active online.

Rights groups have also been hit hard.

The blog and website of the main opposition figure, Alexei Navalny, have been blocked partially or completely several times over his calls for street protests or exposes of official corruption.

Sites used by the opposition organisation of former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who now lives in London, were also blocked after they were designated “undesirable” — a new term for foreign entities that has also been used against the foundation of the US financier George Soros.

“The purpose is to spread fear, (to) make people think that the state controls everything and that you can’t hide anywhere, that all data can be collected,” said Sarkis Darbinyan, a lawyer and director of a digital rights centre in Moscow.

But Russia cannot simply impose a local version of China’s “Great Firewall” cutting off all access to sites, he said.

“Unlike China, where the internet was constrained since the beginning, Russian internet started off as very free,” he said.

Ultimately global players like Facebook, Twitter, Google, WhatsApp and Telegram who want to operate in Russia will have to comply with state restrictions or get blocked, he said, adding it’s only “a matter of time.”

Navalny’s anti-corruption investigations have got millions of views on YouTube and social media, and last year helped mobilise tens of thousands to take to the streets in anti-Kremlin protests. Most of the demonstrators were young people who communicate online.

Opposition figures “find new ways of working: they go over to cloud services, widely use social media such as Facebook and Twitter, and inform people how to get round blocks,” said Artyom Kozlyuk, director of internet rights NGO Roskomsvoboda.

But he said he had already observed a “slow process of enslavement” among internet users with many realising “that it’s better not to publish anything risky so as to avoid the attention of special services and prosecutors.”

by Andrea PALASCIANO

Facebook Data Scandal Raises Another Question: Can There Be Too Much Privacy?

April 1, 2018

Are encrypted messaging apps like Telegram and Signal safeguarding your data, or a threat to society?

Image result for Telegram, encrypted messaging apps, photos

WASHINGTON—The firestorm over Facebook Inc.’s handling of personal data raises a question for those pondering a regulatory response: Is there such a thing as too much privacy?

Recent scrutiny of data-analytics firm Cambridge Analytica has shown how questionable actors can abuse the power of networks that play an increasingly large role in society. Facebook claims Cambridge Analytica violated its policies, a charge the firm denies. The firm, which counts Donald Trump’s presidential campaign among its clients, crunched the data of 50 million Facebook profiles claiming it could predict individual personality traits and make ads more effective.

Legislators, the Federal Trade Commission and other agencies now are considering rules to protect the privacy of users of social networks like Facebook. While those efforts remain in the early stages, even tech companies say privately they expect some regulation to happen down the road.

Yet some law-enforcement agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and national-security advocates point to a tradeoff, noting that too much privacy can be as bad as too little. Bad actors take advantage of both extremes, abusing access to individuals on networks that are too open or freely conspiring on systems that are too closed.

Law-enforcement agencies rely on access to user data as an important tool for tracking criminals or preventing terrorist attacks. As such, they have long argued additional regulation may be harmful to national security.

Telegram is an example of a service offering users complete security. Encrypted from end to end, domiciled in a country out of reach of subpoenas—and very easy to use—the app is among the top choices of people worried about snooping governments and malicious third parties. Telegram’s reputation has been a double-edged sword.

Clinton Watts, a senior fellow at George Washington University’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security, said such apps are a big concern for law enforcement. “This is perfect for terrorist groups that want to network, propagate their message and recruit new members,” he said.

Telegram is popular in countries like Iran, where it was instrumental in helping the population organize the wave of antigovernment protests that swept across the country in early January. But it also has become known as the app of choice for Islamic State and other extremist groups, after U.S.-based tech companies like Twitter Inc. began cooperating with government agencies, removing accounts and content that promoted violence.

Governments have little recourse. Iran blocked Telegram during government protests earlier this year, and Russia is threatening to block it unless it turns over user data.

Mr. Watts, who previously worked as an FBI special agent on a counterterrorism task force, said law-enforcement agencies need to invest a lot more in human intelligence and undercover investigators to penetrate secure online spaces.

Some U.S. firms are already adapting to fears of new regulation and offering even greater security than Telegram. Signal, in San Francisco, is emerging as one of the more successful examples. It says it deletes all user information once it is no longer necessary for communication, making it impossible to comply with demands for users’ personal data.

That would make Signal more secure than, for example, WhatsApp, the popular encrypted messaging service, which Facebook bought in 2014 and that stores information such as with whom users are communicating and when.

“When we receive a subpoena for user data,” Signal founder Moxie Marlinspike posted on the company’s website, we “have nothing to send back but a blank sheet of paper.”

Observers warn the #deletefacebook movement will drive more users to these secure systems.

Telegram’s founder, the Russian entrepreneur Pavel Durov, said the firm recorded 200 million active users in March, a 70% increase on the year. “We don’t do deals with marketers, data miners or government agencies,” he wrote in the post on Wednesday. “For us Telegram is an Idea: it is the idea that everyone on this planet has a right to be free.”

Mr. Durov has relocated the company several times since leaving Russia, where it faces a court order to turn over encryption keys to the intelligence services. It is now based in the United Arab Emirates.

Telegram’s terms are simple: No calls to violence, porn or copyright infringement on public channels. The app can’t take action on private channels because all private content is encrypted and largely inaccessible even to the company. The Telegram press team didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment, but the company says it closes hundreds of public channels every day that promote violence or extremist content.

Opportunities for terrorists to exploit secure networks to boost recruitment and spread propaganda were evident in the aftermath of the Friday’s attack in France, when 25-year-old Radouane Lakdim shot at police and took hostages at a small-town supermarket.

Islamic State supporters immediately rallied on Telegram channels, using the incident to call on others to take action and launch a public campaign on Twitter, according to SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist activity online.

Now that U.S. firms are cooperating to an extent with government authorities, apps like Telegram fill an important gap in the market by providing a platform for terrorists to radicalize and spur members to action, said Jesse Morton, a former al Qaeda recruiter who works as a coordinator at the Institute of Strategic Dialogue‘s Against Violent Extremism network.

“People that are more committed and pose a greater risk are still able to view generalized propaganda,” Mr. Morton said. “It’s a grooming process.”

Write to Jessica Donati at Jessica.Donati@wsj.com.

 https://www.wsj.com/articles/facebook-data-scandal-raises-another-question-can-there-be-too-much-privacy-1522584000

Jihadists See a Funding Boon in Bitcoin

February 20, 2018

Cryptocurrencies come under increased U.S. scrutiny as militants seek anonymous donations

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When a group that says it provides financial assistance “relating to the jihad” sought to improve conditions for fighters in a squalid, sandbag-fortified trench in Syria late last year, it turned to a new funding conduit: bitcoin.

“There is currently no shelter to protect the food and ammunition from the rain,” the group, called al Sadaqah (“charity” in Arabic), lamented in a post on the messaging app Telegram. The group’s Twitter feed contains a video showing a dirt floor strewn with blankets, bags of pita bread and hand grenades along with a message—“Donate anonymously with Cryptocurrency”—followed by a bitcoin address. So far, according to an online ledger, the group has received about $1,000.

The soliciting of digital currency by jihadist groups like al Sadaqah has only recently come under scrutiny from U.S. officials. In January, Rep. Ted Budd (R., N.C.) introduced a bill to establish a financial-technology task force to combat terrorists’ use of cryptocurrency. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told the Senate Banking Committee that the agency is also planning to investigate.

Meanwhile, cryptocurrency has become an increasingly discussed topic among jihadist groups in the Middle East. Earlier this month, an issue of al-Haqiqa, a pro-al Qaida ezine, included a “Tech Talk” section that outlines bitcoin basics.

Al Sadaqah has realized what other violent groups have found: Raising funds in cryptocurrencies can evade the rules the global banking system has put in place to block terror financing and money laundering.

“It is fast, efficient, and does not pass through the same interest-loaded and traceable routes that any usual payment methods would go through,” Hassan Abdo, an al Sadaqah spokesman, wrote to The Wall Street Journal in a text message. “This way we and our donors can keep our full anonymity.”

Image result for Al Sadaqah, photos

Yaya Fanusie, an ex-CIA analyst who is the director of the Washington-based counterterrorism think-tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies, has been tracking al Sadaqah’s bitcoin accounts for months. He said it is difficult to confirm the identities of such groups online because they hide behind fake personas and use technology to protect their identities.

“What they’re more than likely attempting to do isn’t just to pick up a few peanuts in donations here,” said Michael Smith, a fellow at the New America think-tank who studies terrorists’ use of technology. “It’s to build a network of sympathizers.”

Messrs. Fanusie and Smith said al Sadaqah and its solicitation of cryptocurrency appear to be genuine. The group’s spokesman says its members are located in northern Syria, and its website includes a “disclaimer” that the group doesn’t support Islamic State or its affiliates.

There have been cases in the past of cryptocurrency links to funding Islamic State. In 2015, a Virginia teen, Ali Shukri Amin, was charged with conspiring to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization for explaining on Twitter how to send bitcoin to the group. A federal judge sentenced Mr. Amin to 11 years in prison.

The U.S. government alleges that Zoobia Shahnaz, a lab technician in New York, defrauded financial institutions last year of more than $85,000, which she converted into cryptocurrencies and transferred to Islamic State-linked individuals and shell companies in China, Pakistan and Turkey. Ms. Shahnaz, 27 years old, faces fraud and terrorism-related conspiracy and money-laundering charges.

‘I would call it a money-laundering revolution.’

—New York defense lawyer Arkady Bukh

Mr. Abdo said his group has yet to encounter supporters in Syria who deal in cryptocurrency. “But we’ve received donations from the different corners of the world,” he wrote.

Cryptocurrencies like bitcoin use a digital ledger called a blockchain that is maintained by a broad network of computers. They can be traded without relying on banks and exchanges that are required by law to make sure they aren’t working with criminals. “I would call it a money-laundering revolution,” said Arkady Bukh, a defense lawyer in New York who has represented hackers and terrorism suspects.

While bitcoin’s blockchain is visible, the ownership of the currency is often unclear. Other, more innovative cryptocurrencies can avoid tracking altogether. Governments are behind the curve when it comes to regulating digital currencies, Mr. Fanusie said.

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Marwan Khayat of the Middle East Media Research Institute, a Washington group that tracks jihadists’ online activity, discovered the fundraising efforts of al Sadaqah in November. The group solicited bitcoin for improvements including new toilets to “prevent brothers from having to leave the guard point and travel into the bushes to relieve themselves, which can be very difficult sometimes.”

Through a cryptocurrency exchange, users can convert digital currency to conventional currency transmitted to a linked debit card, credit card, or bank account, available for cash withdrawal at an ATM.

In December, al Sadaqah posted a video on Telegram showing a new roof and shorn-up walls and ramparts. “The place where the brothers eat and sleep is in much better condition than before,” a balaclava-clad man says on a video tour of the facility.

Al Sadaqah has since broadened its appeal, publishing a message that included a link to a map of bitcoin ATMs, and soliciting funds through additional cryptocurrencies that offer more privacy than Bitcoin.

“We hope that this is only the beginning,” Mr. Abdo wrote.

Write to Brett Forrest at brett.forrest@wsj.com and Justin Scheck at justin.scheck@wsj.com

 https://www.wsj.com/articles/jihadists-see-a-funding-boon-in-bitcoin-1519131601
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ISIS, OTHER JIHADISTS INCREASE BITCOIN USE AFTER FALL OF CALIPHATE

Terrorists involved in attacks across the globe have used Bitcoin to fund their attacks.

BY YONAH JEREMY BOB
 JANUARY 28, 2018 23:58

 

A MEMBER of ISIS waves the group’s flag in Raqqa recently

A MEMBER of ISIS waves the group’s flag in Raqqa. (photo credit: REUTERS)

This is the conclusion of a report obtained exclusively by The Jerusalem Post. The report was issued by the IDC Herzliya International Institute for Counter-Terrorism’s (ICT) cyber desk, with input from ICT deputy director Dr. Eitan Azani and cyber-desk coordinator Nadine Liv.

Some of the ongoing ISIS and jihadist use of Bitcoin discussed in the report include fund-raising websites’ efforts to stay afloat after the fall of Raqqa in October 2017; terrorist fund-raising in Gaza; a recently busted money-laundering operation in the US; and examples where Bitcoin was used to fund infamous terrorist attacks.

The report starts by recounting that in the summer of 2014, an important article titled “Bitcoin wa Sadaqat al-Jihad” was published in an online blog. The article set forth the various strategic reasons for jihadists to use Bitcoin.

The article “promotes the use of Bitcoin virtual currency as a means of limiting economic support for infidels and circumventing the Western banking system, which limits donations for jihad through restrictions on the financial system.”

It recommends using Bitcoin, “for ideological-religious reasons as well as for its technological characteristics, and insists on the advantages of the system that enables the issuing of this currency.”

It further says the cryptocurrency’s advantages include: “prevention of counterfeiting; it is anonymous and untraceable; it is not subject to legislation; and it has global distribution.”

Jihadists like Bitcoin because through its use they can avoid paying taxes to Western and other non-jihadist governments and avoid legal exposure.

The ICT report notes that Bitcoin is transferred from one user to another “without systemic intercession, such as eBay or PayPal, while relying on a decentralized system; it does not have security weaknesses and cannot be hacked.”

Jumping forward, the report discusses the Akhbar al-Muslimin website, which publishes news from Islamic State. Analysts were asking if ISIS would survive the October 2017 fall of Raqqa; by November 2017, the ISIS propaganda site had launched an online fund-raising campaign.

The site’s operators “attached a link to each published news report encouraging donations using Bitcoin virtual currency for the purpose of operating the site.”

In December, the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center found that clicking on the link led to a dedicated donations page on a Bitcoin trading site called CoinGate. When ICT independently examined the issue on January 16, it found that the link no longer directs to CoinGate, showing how quickly ISIS’s online arms adapt to avoid being tracked.

ISIS-affiliated groups in Gaza have also increased their online Bitcoin fund-raising efforts, led by the Ibn Taymiyya Media Center which serves as the media wing of the Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem.

In mid-January 2018, a new Bitcoin address was identified in a Telegram instant-messaging group affiliated with the ISIS-Gaza group.

The report said that an examination of the address on Blockchain, a digital ledger in which Bitcoin transactions are recorded publicly, revealed a series of 15 transactions from July 1, 2016, to January 12, 2018.

The average Bitcoin transfer through this platform is estimated to be about $16,700, but some account totals reached close to $300,000 in transfers.

One ISIS agent, Zoobia Shahnaz of Long Island, New York, used Bitcoin in 2017 to defraud several financial entities and to launder money for ISIS, the report noted.

In mid-December, Shahnaz was indicted in the Federal District Court of Central Islip, New York, for stealing and laundering more than $85,000 of illegal returns using Bitcoin and other digital currencies.

THE report said the funds were transferred out of the US to shell corporations in Pakistan, China and Turkey on their way to the coffers of ISIS.

Shahnaz was arrested at JFK Airport in New York as he tried to flee the US for Syria.

Work has begun in the US on legislation to grant more resources to Department of Homeland Security to follow terrorist uses of Bitcoin.

The report said that terrorists involved in attacks across the globe, from France to Indonesia, have used Bitcoin to fund their attacks in ways that are harder for law enforcement to track than other forms of funding.

 http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/ISIS-Threat/ISIS-other-jihadists-increase-Bitcoin-use-after-fall-of-Caliphate-540079

China to step up cryptocurrency crackdown

January 17, 2018

AFP

© AFP/File | The international value of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies has plunged amid Asia crackdown fears

BEIJING (AFP) – China is preparing for a new crackdown on cryptocurrency, planning to stamp out remaining trading in the country, according to state media.China will gradually clean up over-the-counter trading platforms, peer-to-peer networks where large exchanges occur and firms registered in the country which allow Chinese to trade overseas, the state-run Securities Journal said Tuesday.

The publication cited an anonymous source close to regulators tackling online finance risks.

The new plan follows China’s crackdown on cryptocurrency trading last year, which saw Beijing shut down bitcoin exchanges and ban all initial coin offerings.

But alternative channels for trading cryptocurrencies have popped up, including on social networks like WeChat, QQ and Telegram.

Those online groups facilitating large-scale peer-to-peer trade appear likely to suffer greater scrutiny in the coming months.

The international value of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies has plunged in recent days amid fears of a crackdown in Asia and concerns that many currencies’ rapid rise in value last year could reflect an inflating bubble.

At one point on Wednesday, the price of bitcoin on some exchanges had tumbled more than 20 percent, falling below the $10,000 mark that the currency broke through in November of last year.

The market movements come just one month after the most valuable cryptocurrency bitcoin broke through the $20,000 mark in December.

Iranians Turn to Tech Tools to Evade Internet Censors — Iran’s new offensive against social media is showing signs of backfiring

January 9, 2018

A crackdown aimed at helping stamp out protests could weaken Tehran’s control of information online

People protested in Tehran on Dec. 30.Photo: Reuters

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Iran’s new offensive against social media is showing signs of backfiring.

Authorities in Tehran have ratcheted up their policing of the internet in the past week and a half, part of an attempt to stamp out the most far-reaching protests in Iran since 2009.

But the crackdown is driving millions of Iranians to tech tools that can help them evade censors, according to activists and developers of the tools. Some of the tools were attracting three or four times more unique users a day than they were before the internet crackdown, potentially weakening government efforts to control access to information online.

Here’s what could be next for Iran and what the unrest means for more than 80 million Iranians. Video: Karan Deep Singh / Photo: Getty Images

“By the time they wake up, the government will have lost control of the internet,” said Mehdi Yahyanejad, executive director of NetFreedom Pioneers, a California-based technology nonprofit that largely focuses on Iran and develops educational and freedom of information tools.

An official at Iran’s United Nations mission didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

In recent days, Iran has said it has contained days of public demonstrations against the regime. Protesters used social media to spread the word about, or bear witness to, the protests, as people did during the Green Movement in 2009.

Iran blocked major social-media sites, such as Twitter Inc. and Facebook Inc., in 2009.

This time around, encrypted social-media app Telegram, which is widely used in Iran, became one of the key communication tools among protesters. Iranians have used Telegram to share information about demonstrations and videos of gatherings.

Iran moved to block Telegram in late December. In response, Iranians are flocking to a number of popular so-called circumvention tools. Downloads of such tools surged after the government move, according to data gathered by ASL19, a Toronto-based research and tech lab that helps people in Iran access information.

“When Telegram got blocked, we got a big push,” said Michael Hull, co-founder of Psiphon Inc., a Toronto-based firm that makes one such app. Psiphon said the number of unique users a day in Iran jumped from about 3 million to more than 10 million on Jan. 1 and 2, amid the protests, and remains around 8 million.

“When governments do this stuff, they are our best marketing tool,” he said.

The Psiphon app works in part by redirecting and camouflaging user traffic through cloud-service providers.

Adam Fisk, founder of Lantern, another popular app that had been primarily used in China, announced last week that it would remove all data caps for users in Iran—allowing them to browse banned sites and use banned services without limits. Its global number of mobile users grew fourfold after Telegram was blocked, with almost all the growth from Iran, said Mr. Fisk, whose firm, Brave New Software Project Inc., is based in Los Angeles.

Circumvention tools—some of which have received funding from U.S. government programs dating back as far as the early 2000s—have been increasing in sophistication in recent years. That has set up an arms race with authorities amid government crackdowns by countries including China and Turkey.

Governments are usually reluctant to shut off all domestic access to the internet, but authorities can order internet-service providers to cut off domestic access to some services. They can block or limit access to specific addresses or slow download speeds to impractical rates—essentially making the internet impossible to use.

Circumvention tools use various methods to get around the blocking of specific services. One popular technique is to redirect users’ internet traffic bound for banned addresses via foreign cloud-service providers or content-delivery networks that are used to boost download speeds, making traffic harder to spot.

A regime could still block individual cloud-service providers, but that would end up blocking lots of other traffic from local businesses and residents.

Another technique is to encrypt and camouflage data—making a Telegram message look like an email, for example.

Problems with internet service can still crop up. One Twitter user posted on Dec. 31 that the internet had slowed and Psiphon for a short time was constantly getting disconnected. “My access to domestic websites, however, has not changed at all,” wrote the user, who said they were posting from Tehran.

Still, the new tools are giving users access to Telegram, activists say. And they can also expose users to other blocked apps and websites.

“People are using circumvention tools to access Telegram who might not normally use them,” said Collin Anderson, a Washington, D.C.-based researcher who studies internet infrastructure and human rights. “And that is giving them access to a much wider internet.”

—Asa Fitch contributed to this article.

Write to Sam Schechner at sam.schechner@wsj.com

Iran president says he’s all-in on reform push after unrest — But many dismiss his pronouncements as “too late”

January 8, 2018
 
Eric Randolph | A handout picture provided by the office of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani shows him sitting next to Economy Minister Masoud Karbasian during a meeting on January 8, 2018

TEHRAN (AFP) – 

President Hassan Rouhani went all-in on Monday with a push for greater civil liberties in the wake of the deadly unrest that rocked Iran in recent days.

“The problem we have today is the gap between officials and the young generation,” he told officials, according to the presidency website.

“Our way of thinking is different to their way of thinking. Their view of the world and of life is different to our view. We want our grand-children?s generation to live as we lived, but we can’t impose that on them.”

It was a radical call to arms for change, one that has grown more pressing for the reformist faction as it became, for once, the target of the protests that swept the country for several days over the new year.

Although many of the slogans turned against the Islamic system as a whole, chants of “Death to Rouhani” showed that many had lost faith in his promise of gradual reform.

Since May, his failure to appoint any women to his cabinet or make any progress on freeing political prisoners has left many disillusioned with the moderate president and his reformist allies.

Rouhani was quick to say the unrest called for urgent efforts to improve the government’s transparency and liberalise its conservative-skewed media.

He said internet restrictions, including the block placed on Iran’s most popular social media app Telegram midway through the unrest, should “not be indefinite”.

“Saying that the complaints of the population are limited to economic questions is an insult and will send us down the wrong path,” he said Monday.

The reformist faction has backed this line, with many calling for greater freedom to protest peacefully.

Monday’s reformist papers all focused on the Tehran city council decision to set aside a dedicated place for protests on the model of Hyde Park in London or Jantar Mantar in New Delhi.

But many dismissed the idea as a gimmick.

“What about other cities?” wrote conservative analyst Nasser Imani in the government’s Iran newspaper.

“The main problem is we lack a culture of criticism,” he said, calling for the security forces to “gradually have less fear of people’s rallies”.

– ‘Are demands not clear?’ –

Hardliners, who have repeatedly attacked Rouhani’s austerity policies, say all the talk of civil liberties is a distraction from the “simple problems” of the poor.

“Are the demands not clear? Why must a worker who has not been paid for 10 months go to a certain place to shout for his rights?” demanded the hardline Kayhan newspaper on Monday.

There was an unprecedented intervention from the head of the basij — the volunteer arm of the Revolutionary Guards — who called for “convincingly tangible” efforts to fix the budget in favour of the “young, disadvantaged and vulnerable”.

To Rouhani’s chagrin, the budget he announced in December has become the first victim of the protests, with parliamentarians already ruling out the unpopular hike in fuel and utility prices.

Parliament speaker Ali Larijani described the increases as “absolutely not in the interests of the country”.

He called instead for emergency measures to support the poor and tackle unemployment, which currently stand at 12 percent, and closer to 30 percent for young people.

Rouhani has bristled under the criticism, saying Monday: “The task of parliament is to complete the budget, not to change the nature of its objectives.”

Iran’s limited finances simply could not deal with everything at once, he said: limiting inflation, capping taxes, reducing unemployment and looking after the poor.

“I don’t know a single economist with the wider public interest in mind who denies the need to increase fuel prices,” said reformist Abdollah Ramezanzadeh in a tweet.

Rouhani vowed to mend Iran’s battered economy during his campaign, and said the 2015 nuclear deal he secured from world powers had already relieved the country of crippling sanctions and allowed growth to return.

But with much of the resulting growth coming from oil sales — which produces few jobs — and renewed uncertainty about Iran’s international position since the arrival of US President Donald Trump, his wider policies look imperilled.

by Eric Randolph

Social media messaging battle rages during Protests in Iran

January 8, 2018

BBC News

An Iranian man shows his social media page which doesn't work, in a office, in Tehran, Iran, 2 January 2018An Iranian user tries and fails to access Telegram after the government blocked the messaging app. EPA

Iran has been rocked by a rare wave of protests over economic hardship and lack of civil liberties for the past week, but streets are not the only battleground between the Islamic Republic and its critics.

A cyber battle on several fronts is being fought between the two sides on social media platforms.

In 2009 – the last time Iran saw demonstrations of such scale – social media was dominated by pro-opposition users and reformists who used Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to share images of the Green Movement to the outside world.

Today, messaging apps are used by a significantly higher percentage of the population and the government is better prepared to confront its opponents on digital media.

Many senior hardline politicians and activists use a variety of platforms on a daily basis – despite some being officially blocked – and boast hundreds of thousands of followers sympathetic to their cause.

After the Stuxnet computer worm hit Iran’s nuclear facilities in 2010, the country invested heavily in cyber capabilities and set up a team of trained hackers known as the Iranian Cyber-Army.

Media captionIran protests: Why people have taken to the streets

In the absence of independent news outlets and state TV’s typically one-sided coverage, citizens took to social media to share photos and videos of the demonstrations with the aim of disseminating their message and inviting more local residents to join the crowds.

Telegram – which has an estimated 40 million users in Iran, equivalent to almost half the population – has been the platform of choice for the protestors.

In response, the officials “temporarily” blocked Telegram and Instagram. Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have been banned since 2009.

‘Nothing going on’

But proponents of the Islamic Republic did not leave the social media battleground to the critics this time.

One of the notable tactics used was the creation of dozens of Twitter bots whose job ranged from calling widely shared videos of rallies fake to discouraging potential protesters from joining rallies.

A social bot automatically generates content and followers, mostly to support a wider campaign.

Most of these accounts have unusual profile names and pictures, and were created during the protests.

The accounts have no more than a handful of followers, which happen to be similar bot accounts.

In a seemingly coordinated campaign, a group of bot accounts attempt to play down the scale of unrest and dissuade further protesters from joining ralliesImage copyrightTWITTER
Image captionIn a seemingly co-ordinated campaign, a group of bot accounts attempt to play down the scale of unrest and dissuade further protesters from joining rallies

“I just arrived here, there is nothing going on,” posted one account in response to a video about an alleged protest in Rasht, Gilan province.

“Why are you lying? No-one is here,” said another.

The exact same messages by the same accounts can be seen below many videos shared between 1 and 4 January.

While clearly co-ordinated, there is no evidence that these accounts were created by official authorities or security services.

Presentational grey line

Bot-spotting tips

The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRL) offers social-media users tips for spotting a bot:

Frequency: Bots are prolific posters. The more frequently they post, the more caution should be shown. The DFRL classifies 72 posts a day as suspicious, and more than 144 per day as highly suspicious.

Anonymity: Bots often lack any personal information. The accounts often have generic profile pictures and political slogans as “bios”.

Amplification: A bot’s timeline will often consist of re-tweets and verbatim quotes, with few posts containing original wording.

Common content: Networks of bots can be identified if multiple profiles tweet the same content almost simultaneously.

The full list of tips on spotting bots can be found here.

Presentational grey lineImage copyright ALAMY

Hashtag wars

At the same time, hardline users began an initiative to enlarge and highlight the faces of protesters captured in videos and pictures, calling for the intelligence agencies to identify and arrest them. Tasnim news agency, affiliated to the powerful Revolutionary Guards, was among those joining the initiative on Twitter.

The protesters hit back immediately. They set up a Twitter account sharing the alleged names and details of security personnel confronting the demonstrators. In addition, they identified the accounts highlighting individual protesters and repeatedly reported them to Twitter.

The protests in Iran attracted an usually large number of tweets from Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Arab worldImage copyrightTWITTER
Image captionThe protests in Iran attracted an usually large number of tweets from Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Arab world in favour of the demonstrators

The hashtag mostly associated with the recent events in Iran, #nationwide_protests, has been used more than 470,000 times so far.

But an analysis of the hashtag shows a large number of posts in favour of the demonstrations from Saudi Arabia.

Some supporters of the Islamic Republic and conservative agencies have been using their own hashtag, #nationwide_riots.

An analysis of the main hashtag of the protests shows a large number of tweets from Saudi ArabiaImage copyrightSPREDFAST
Image captionAn analysis of the main hashtag of the protests shows a large number of tweets originating from Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia

Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran are regional rivals and have been involved in proxy wars in the Middle East, notably in Syria and Yemen.

An Arabic hashtag, #happening_now_in_Iran, has been used more than 66,000 times since the first day of the protests.

By BBC UGC and Social News Team

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-42566083

Unrest in Iran dies down

January 4, 2018

AFP

© Atta Kenare, AFP | File photo of head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard General Mohammad Ali Jafar.

Text by FRANCE 24 

Latest update : 2018-01-04

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards chief announced the “end of the sedition” Wednesday as tens of thousands rallied in a show of strength for the country’s Islamic rulers after days of deadly unrest.

But even as state television aired footage shot from helicopters of the support for Iran’s clerically overseen government, videos emerged showing the anti-government unrest that has swept major cities has also spread to the countryside in the nation of 80 million people. It was unclear however when the videos were taken.

Protests over economic problems broke out in Iran’s second city Mashhad last week and quickly spread across the country. At least 21 people have been killed in the unrest and some five hundred have been arrested by authorities.

Revolutionary Guard chief General Mohammad Ali Jafari said the Guards intervened “in a limited way” against fewer than 15,000 demonstrators nationwide and that many had been taken into custody.

“A large number of the troublemakers at the centre of the sedition, who received training from counter-revolutionaries… have been arrested and there will be firm action against them,” he said.

His declaration came after major rallies by regime supporters.

Chants of “Leader, we are ready” were heard as images showed thousands marching in the cities of Qom, Ahvaz, Kermanshah and elsewhere.

The demonstrators waved Iranian flags and pictures of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as well as placards saying “death to seditionists”.

Though the anti-regime demonstrations began as protests against a faltering economy, they soon turned against the regime as a whole, presenting the biggest test for the authorities since mass demonstrations in 2009 sparked by disputed elections resulted in bloodshed.

While many Iranians denounce the violence that has accompanied some demonstrations, they echo the protesters’ frustration over the weak economy and official corruption.

US exerts pressure

A White House official, who asked for anonymity, said Wednesday the administration would look for “actionable information” to try to begin imposing sanctions on those responsible for any crackdown.

US President Donald Trump insisted Iranians were trying to “take back” their government, extending a drumbeat of encouragement for the protests.

“You will see great support from the United States at the appropriate time!” he tweeted, without offering any specifics.

Iran’s UN Ambassador Gholamali Khoshroo said in a letter that the US government “has stepped up its acts of intervention in a grotesque way” in Iran’s internal affairs and accused Washington of violating international law and the principles of the UN charter.

AFP journalists reported a heavy police presence still on the streets of central Tehran, along with a large number of Revolutionary Guards.

It remains difficult for journalists to piece together what’s happening beyond the capital, especially as the government has blocked both the photo-sharing app Instagram and the messaging app Telegram, which protesters have used to organize their demonstrations and share footage.

Telecoms Minister Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi said Telegram would only be unblocked if it removed “terrorist” content.

The political establishment has closed ranks against the unrest, with Khamenei on Tuesday saying the regime’s enemies were “always looking for an opportunity and any crevice to infiltrate”.

Even reformists in Iran, who backed the 2009 protests, have condemned the violence and the support the demonstrations have received from the United States.

But they also urged the authorities to address economic grievances.

“Officials must acknowledge the deplorable situation of the country as the first step to hearing the protesters,” tweeted Mohammad Taghi Karroubi, whose father Mehdi Karroubi has been under house arrest for almost seven years for helping lead the 2009 demonstrations.

‘Some freedom in Iran’

Many Iranians appear to have been turned off by the violence, which has contrasted with the largely peaceful marches in 2009.

Rouhani came to power in 2013 promising to mend the economy and ease social tensions, but high living costs and unemployment have left many feeling that progress is too slow.

Rural areas, hit by years of drought and under-investment, are particularly hard-hit.

On the streets of the capital, there is widespread sympathy with the economic grievances driving the unrest, particularly an unemployment rate as high as 30 percent for young people.

“People have reached a stage where they can no longer tolerate this pressure from the authorities,” said Soraya Saadaat, a 54-year-old jobless woman.

But some Tehranis said claims from the US that they were desperate for freedom were overblown.

“We do have some freedom in Iran,” Hamid Rahimi, a 33-year-old bank employee told AFP.

“If the people of Iran have something to say, it’s about economic problems. They want to see their demands, what they voted for, fulfilled.”

Mojtaba Mousavi, a Tehran-based political analyst, said Iranians do not generally support violence, no matter how unhappy they are with their government.

“There are certainly Iranians who aren’t happy with certain policies, frustrated people who would like to protest against their economic situation, but history shows none of these people support violence and subversion,” he said.

In 2009, authorities ruthlessly put down protests against the re-election of hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. At least 36 people were killed, according to an official toll, while the opposition says 72 died.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP)