- Syria Updates
- Sudan Followups
- Cyber Warfare
- Blogger Arrests
- Cyber Surveillance
- Cyber Terrorism
- Internet Freedom
- Iran Telecommunication Updates
WikiLeaks releases over two million emails – On July 5, WikiLeaks announced that it would gradually release over two million emails from Syrian political figures, ministries, and associated companies, dating from August 2006 to March 2012. Julian Assange stated that “The material is embarrassing to Syria, but it is also embarrassing to Syria’s opponents. It helps us not merely to criticise one group or another, but to understand their interests, actions and thoughts. It is only through understanding this conflict that we can hope to resolve it.” The initial batch consisted of 25 emails documenting the ties between SELEX Communications, a subsidiary of an Italian industrial group Finmeccanica, and the Syrian government. SELEX previously sold TETRA, an encrypted communications system, to Syrian military and police forces. However, it has provided systems maintenance and training as late as February 2012, thus violating US and EU sanctions on the regime. It is expected that the remaining emails will be released over the coming months.
Syrian government websites must be hosted locally – Syrian Days and Al-Iqtisad reported that the Prime Minister’s office issued a communiqué which mandated that all ministries, organisations, companies, and public agencies undertake precautionary steps to ensure information security. These steps include transferring Syrian government organisations’ websites that are hosted elsewhere to servers located inside the Syrian Arab Republic, and a periodic (at least once a year) security review of those websites to be carried out by the Center for Information Security at the National Commission for Network Services.
Syrian Electronic Army hacks al-Jazeera’s social media – Pro-Assad Internet activists hacked the Twitter and Facebook accounts of al-Jazeera’s “The Stream” program on July 5. The Syrian Electronic Army claimed responsibility on its website and accused al-Jazeera of propagating lies and falsehood. Al-Jazeera reportedly resolved the issue by day’s end. The incident is just the latest of many online attacks and website defacements attributed to the Syrian Electronic Army.
Reporting in Syria – The Economist reported on the importance of information communication technologies and social media in reporting the civil conflict in Syria. Much of the news comes from citizen journalists, activists, and bloggers inside Syria using Skype, satellite phones, email updates, and handheld video cameras.The article noted that while the government is guilty of imposing a media blackout and actively disseminating false information, activists are equally guilty of manipulating information to suit their agendas.
Attacks on Media – Attacks on members of the media in Sudan continue unabated. Egyptian journalist Shaimaa Adel was arrested by the security forces in an Internet cafe this week along with Sudanese journalist Marwa el-Tejany. A post on Index on Censorship’s UNCUT blog detailed both the use of social media in anti-government protests and the government’s heavy-handed response, such as arresting bloggers and online activists. Allegations have surfaced that some Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have deliberately shut down services to curtail anti-government activities online.
Iran in defensive mode over cyber attacks – The Telecommunication Company of Iran (TCI) has been partially taken over by the country’s Ministry of Defence. TCI, which regulates various services and equipment such as digital switching centers, fibre optic cables, mobile phones, data networks, satellite services, and telephone services, will now be partially controlled by the Ministry. There is no clear indication as to the reason for this move; however, it could be speculated that this is a defensive measure against recent cyber attacks that have targeted Iran’s nuclear program.
Reza Taqipour, Iran’s Minister of Information and Communications Technology, stated that the Flame virus has not caused any notable damages to the country’s infrastructure. He also went on to say that no malware has been able to penetrate Iran’s networks to this date. Taqipour explained that Iran’s cyber defence is so strong, that it is able to filter hundreds of thousands of viruses that attempt to penetrate its network firewalls on a daily basis.
Anonymous hacked the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) government servers in order to highlight Internet censorship in the country. The group leaked a list of URLs filtered by UAE’s ISPs, which included websites with adult content, social media and dating sites, VPN providers, sites providing users with help to circumvent government controls, and sites promoting religious views other than Islam.
In Turkey, a local hacker group called RedHack targeted the official website of the Foreign Ministry. The group published the identities of foreign diplomats serving in Turkey and indicated that it plans to release more “sensitive information” soon. They also defaced the Ministry’s website with images of the Turkish Prime Minister embracing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and former Libyan president Muammar Gaddafi.
Mohammad Soleimani Nia, an Iranian journalist, translator, poet, and social networking expert, has been arrested again only two months after being released from jail. A CNN International report from July 4 stated that Nia had gone missing after returning to Tehran’s notorious Evin prison to retrieve some of his belongings, including a laptop, his passport, and driver’s license. According to Freedom House, Nia was summoned to Evin and detained without any charges being laid. The reasons behind this sudden detention are still unclear.
Arrests in Morocco – The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) released a statement condemning the upsurge of arrests of journalists and bloggers in Morocco. The most recent arrest occurred last month when Hasan Barhon, a journalist and blogger, was taken into custody for taking photos of a security crackdown of street vendors.
Libya’s transitional government reinstates some surveillance – The Wall Street Journal reported that Libyan authorities have redeployed some of the interception equipment once used by former president Muammar Gaddafi. The equipment has been used over the past few months to track phone calls and online communications between remaining Gaddafi loyalists, including Saadi Gaddafi. The caretaker government’s intelligence agencies have denied using Gaddafi-era surveillance gear, but other Libyan officials have stated otherwise. Some see the measure as a necessary means to protect the revolution from backsliding, while others argue that it is a violation of the principles of democracy and transparency that underpinned Gaddafi’s overthrow in the first place.
Guaranteed protection of Iranian email accounts – Director General of Iran’s government-controlled Information Technology Company, Esmail Radkani, has stated that emails on Iranian servers can be accessed by the government only through a court-issued warrant. If an instance should arise where a person’s email is compromised without a warrant, then that person can make a complaint to the judiciary. However, Radkani added that such assurances cannot be given to persons using non-Iranian email accounts. MENA Cyber Watch has reported on this issue before. This effort is a further push to encourage Iranians to use local email providers and therefore make the country’s cyberspace more self-sufficient.
Hijab for Iranians on the web – In a question and answer period, Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Ejei, Iran’s Prosecutor General, responded to questions about hijab, the veil worn by Muslim women to cover their hair, in cyberspace by explaining that Iranians are expected to follow Islamic dress code on the Internet. The police have the power to charge any offenders.
Dealing with unethical behaviour on Facebook in Iran – According to Mashregh News, several Facebook accounts with un-Islamic profiles and cover photos were hacked last week. Their profile photos were replaced with the logo of Iran’s judicial body and accompanied by the text: “By judicial order, the owner of this page has been placed under investigation”. A few friends in the hacked accounts were also tagged in the warning photographs.
TIME magazine reported that French counter-terror authorities have arrested a Tunisian man accused of being a “key enabler of communications between extremist groups allied to al-Qaeda around the globe”. As administrator of a website favored by Islamist radicals, the suspect’s web activities included facilitating secure communication for the groups, raising funds, recruiting volunteers, and providing information on potential targets.
The United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council adopted a resolution affirming that all human rights must be protected online as well as offline. The resolution was submitted by Turkey, Tunisia, plus three other countries, and co-sponsored by 85 countries – a number of them in the MENA region. Tunisia’s Ambassador to the UN, Moncef Baati, noted the particular importance of the resolution for his country, stating, “The most important result of the Tunisian revolution is this right to freedom of expression…(this) is very important at the moment (in Tunisia) and it is for this reason that there is a strong commitment in Tunisia to consolidate Internet rights.”
IRAN TELECOMMUNICATION UPDATES
Mashregh News reported that Google’s tutorial on effective search methods, Power Searching with Google, is no longer accessible in Iran. Google has cut access due to recent American sanctions on Iran. Access to Google Analytics was also terminated in June for the same reason.
Training on circumvention tools deemed illegal – Iran’s Cyber and Information Exchange Police in the province of North Khorasan stated that it is a criminal offence to sell, publish, provide unauthorised access to, or train people on the use of circumvention tools.
Read previous editions of the Middle East and North Africa CyberWatch.
Subscribe and receive the Middle East and North Africa CyberWatch in your inbox.