Cyber Attacks

Cyber warfare in Syria – TIME Magazine recently reported that the US government has been providing Syrian rebels with “logistics aid” and “communication security”– euphemisms for training in electronic warfare as a defense against Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Allegedly, tactics like PC encryption, government firewall workarounds, and secure use of cellular phones have been taught through small nonprofit organizations and software developers. Instructors have also cautioned Syrian activists about the government’s use of online tracking technologies and malware attacks through compromised social media accounts.

Most recently, the Citizen Lab and Electronic Frontier Foundation uncovered a new trojan targeted at Syrian opposition activists. The malware is distributed via Skype as a “.pif” file and, once opened, covertly installs a remote access tool called BlackShades Remote Controller. The attacker can then survey the victim’s activities through keylogging, desktop viewing, webcam spying, data exfiltration, and more. Evidence suggests that the actors behind the BlackShades trojan are responsible for several earlier pro-government attacks.

US, Israel developed Flame – The Washington Post has reported that according to Western officials, the United States and Israel jointly developed the Flame virus, which was aimed at slowing Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons.

Iran launches Flame complaint – Mehr News Agency reported that Reza Taqipour, Iran’s Minister of Communications, announced that the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has submitted a formal complaint to the international community concerning cyber attacks. According to the Minister, this decision is in light of the fact that cyber attacks are no longer solely conducted by hackers, but also by governments.

Planned cyber attack against Iran averted – Heydar Moslehi, Director of the Ministry of Intelligence in Iran, has said that a major cyber attack was planned against Iran after the Moscow nuclear talks this week. He explained that “Iran is faced with and overcomes such attacks on a daily basis”. The BBC Farsi article continued to quote Moslehi as saying that “On three occasions, even President Obama has said  that he has been faced with problems in attacking Iran’s cyber space because of the country’s high capability to deal with attacks”.

Transfer to Iranian servers – In an interview with Mehr News Agency, Ali Hakim Javadi, Iran’s deputy Minister of Communications said that 96 percent of Iran’s official websites have been moved to internal domain hosts to prevent further cyber attacks. He continued that the remaining organizations have been informed of the vital importance of following suit as soon as possible.

Javadi told Mehr that all organizations wishing to continue their work with the government and those who may in the future wish to undertake government contracts are required to be subscribed to Iranian servers.


Transparency Project – Google released its fifth bi-annual Transparency Report this week, detailing requests from governments to remove content between July and December of 2011. Jordan became a first time entry on the list, while other countries in the region, such as Israel and Turkey, reappeared. Google complied with 67 percent of Turkey’s requests, which were primarily to remove YouTube videos about Atatürk. Israel requested 79 items to be removed, an increase from less than 10 requests in the previous reporting period. Also of note, while Libya has been a constant presence on the list since the beginning of 2012, all Google services were inaccessible in the country during the time period and Google therefore received no takedown requests.

Google’s newest sanction against Iran – According to IT Analyze, access to Google Analytic, a free tool allowing website operators to monitor when people visit and from where, is no longer accessible in Iran due to American sanctions. Attempts to access the site were met with a message from Google referring users to the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control. This past week, similar reports have also emerged from Cuba.

Social Media Policing

Letter to Facebook – Iran’s Mehr News Agency reported that the Association of IT and Digital Media Activists (FARA) have written a letter addressed to the management of Facebook. This letter comes after the publication of “blasphemous statements” on this social networking website. FARA has called on Facebook to label such posts as “criminal” and to prosecute offenders.

Israel and the Palestinian territories – The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, Frank La Rue, released a report criticizing the censorship and intimidation of journalists and activists by the government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The release of the report follows the arrests of four journalists and an anti-corruption activist in April for comments they made on Facebook that allegedly defamed President Mahmoud Abbas and other senior officials of the Palestinian Authority.

Bahrain – The European-Bahraini Organization for Human Rights (EBOHR) issued a statement criticizing the arrest of rights activist Nabeel Rajab on 5 June. Rajab, a Shia Muslim and head of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, was arrested on 5 May but then released on bail. It is believed his re-arrest was related to statements he had made on Twitter criticizing the Prime Minister of Bahrain. In their statement, EBOHR declared “human rights activist Mr. Nabeel Rajab a prisoner of conscience for only criticizing the government policies, suggesting reforms to be taken in the national institutions, as well as prosecuting those responsible for human rights violations in Bahrain” and urged for the rescinding of the charges against him by the authorities.

Blogging and Online Journalism in the MENA Region

Arrests of bloggers and the stifling of online journalism and opinion-making continued this week.  In response to the death of the Saudi Prince Nayef Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, Kuwaiti lawmakers have urged for strict legal action against bloggers posting offensive and abusive material against the late crown prince. Kuwaiti MPs have expressed their thanks to the late prince for his support of Kuwait during the country’s occupation by the Iraqi military and have urged action against insulting remarks seen as “attacking the dead.”

In Sudan, Egyptian Ahram Online journalist Salma El-Wardany was arrested in Khartoum as she covered an ongoing series of anti-austerity protests. She was reportedly arrested with blogger Maha El-Senussi. Ahram Online has called on the government to quickly release El-Wardany from custody.

Iran arrests for blasphemy in cyberspace – Gilan province’s Cyber and Information Exchange Police (FATA) has reported that through their investigative work, they have found a blog with offensive content on Islam and Shiite Imams. Following investigations by the police, numerous blogs with similar content have been identified. One individual has been arrested and his file has been sent to the judiciary for further charges. On its official website, FATA has warned that individuals posting blasphemous content on cyberspace will face heavy charges in court.

Iran Telecommunications Updates

Growing number of local email providers – Ali Hakim Javadi, Deputy Minister of Communications and Information Technology, in an interview with Mehr News Agency has welcomed a new trend among Iranian Internet users to register for local email accounts. He commented that in the past few months nearly 400,000 people in Iran have registered with Iranian email service providers. In the article, Javadi explains that it was previously estimated that nearly 17 million users had email accounts with providers like Yahoo, Google, Hotmail, and MSN. He continued that the number of active users has been reduced to five million as more turn to local service providers.

Uncertainty in measurement methods of Internet users – According to a report by Telna News Agency, the National Internet Development Agency of Iran (MATMA) has put the country’s Internet penetration rate at 43 percent for this past year. The report stated that over the last few years many studies have been conducted on Internet usage in Iran with varying results. However, MATMA is “certain” that its methods are accurate and scientific, and therefore reliable.

Rafsanjani’s website opened – Deutsche Welle Farsi has reported that the personal website of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, chairman of the Expediency Council, and former president of Iran, is no longer filtered. The site was filtered for five months, under the orders of authorities.

Righ-Tel coverage reaches the cities of Mashhad and Qom – IT Analyze has reported that Righ-Tel’s regulatory coverage of Mashhad and Qom has been verified by the Communications Regulatory Agency of Iran and the country’s 3G operator is ready to launch its service at these locations.


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