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Commentary

The Iranian 'Proxy War'

Iranians are using proxies worldwide to circumvent government censorship.
Iranians are using proxies worldwide to circumvent government censorship.Some proxies are installed by people overseas who have then been giving them to their friends in Iran. Others are created by friends of Iran and posted in public forums for general use by Iranians. Yet most are proxies that have not been secured properly by their owners, or installed without their knowledge -- unrelated to this current conflict--and simply used by the Iranians to communicate with the world.

Renesys collected information about proxies, which were posted in varying online sources, such as forums, Twitter, and Facebook, noting where they are located around the world, as well as how quickly the Iranian government is shutting them down.

The blog calls for citizens of countries with uncertain political stability to prepare proxies ahead of time, so that, very dramatically, they don't lose the "proxy war" -- terminology a bit over the top for my taste.

Here's the summation from the Renesys blog:


Perhaps the strangest thing of all, given how diverse and active and vocal the proxy server farmers have been, is that by and large, it isn't working. The rate with which new proxies are being created has slumped over the last few days. It's getting harder and harder to propagate new proxies to the people who need them, as the government consolidates its hold on the filtering mechanisms. Any new proxy addresses that are posted to Twitter, or emailed, will be blocked very quickly.

People we talk to inside Iran say that almost no proxies are usable any more. Freegate, a Chinese anti-censorship application that makes use of networks of open proxies, has proven popular in Iran. But this week, it, too, has been experiencing problems. Many popular applications, like Yahoo! Messenger, have stopped working. The authorities are said to be using power interruptions as a cyberweapon, causing brief outages during rallies that cause computers to reboot, just as people are trying to upload images and video. The net result, as Arbor's excellent analysis shows, has been a drastic reduction in inbound traffic on filtered ports since the election.

If there's a lesson here for the rest of the world, perhaps it's this: Install a few proxy instances on machines you control. Learn how to lock them down properly. Swap them with your friends overseas who live in places where the Internet is fragile. Set up your tunnels and test them. And don't wait until the tanks are in the streets to figure this out, because by that point, you may have already lost the proxy war.

Tor, the anonymous communication network, has also released statistics on increasing usage from Iran. You can find its information here.

People will always find a way out. The Internet is not built for censorship. But the knowledge requirements to operate these ways out become greater the better the government becomes at filtering.

Follow Gadi Evron on Twitter: http://twitter.com/gadievron

Gadi Evron is an independent security strategist based in Israel. Special to Dark Reading.

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