|Mohammad-Ali Movahedi Kermani: not liking the Internet
In the latest desperate attempt to subvert the freedom of Iranian expression, the regime wants to enforce permits for foreign social network applications, such as Telegram and Instagram, with membership of 5000 or more users. The desire for such control also extends to other domestic platforms including Salam Up, Soroush, BisPhone, Cloob and Syna, along with advertising, news and entertainment channels on social media networks.
The cleric Mohammad-Ali Movahedi Kermani thinks that the Internet is a threat to Islam, because the Internet is full of rampant “tele-sex” and in his eyes is ultimately “immoral”. So concerned is Movahedi Kermani, that he puts the importance of subverting such “evil” as being above electoral issues or other pressing concerns, such as use of the Hijab.
|Mahmoud Vaezi: deluded
Telecommunications Minister Mahmoud Vaezi thinks that channels with 5000 or more members should require permits so that the poor naive Iranian population can be assured such channels will not be fooling them with false information. Vaezi has been involved in Iran’s “filternet”, after Ahmadinejad‘s attempts in 2007 to “control” the Internet, and now the replacement “national-Internet” or Shoma, is vainly trying to do the same thing. Badly.
The Deputy Culture Minister for Communications Technology and Digital Media, Ali-Akbar Shirkavand, also wants a website that will soon be launched for administrators of such “channels” to register and continue their activities after authentication. The fear is, such controls by the regime could affect the opinions of journalists, artists and celebrities.
Cyber Police (FATA): Losing the plot
FATA chief, Brigadier General Kamal Hadianfar said that Telegram is the main platform for cybercrimes among mobile social networks. “The platform for 66% of the crimes is Telegram, while Instagram accounts for 20% and less than 2% is observed on WhatsApp,” he said, without clarifying what “cybercrimes” were being committed via such applications… perhaps they include (according to Shirkavand anyway) copyright infringement and the sale of “immoral” goods on such channels.
|Kamal Hadianfar: battling the “evils” of social networks
A reality check: discord and feasibility
The regime’s desire to crack-down on Internet freedoms is at odds with an overtly more liberal stance on such technology by Hassan Rouhani; Rouhani calls for more freedom of expression, but everyone else wants to suppress it #awkward. For example, Attorney General Hojjatoleslam Mohammad-Jafar Montazeri wants to shut down what he calls “anti-religion” networks and said of them: “Down with the freedom that is destroying everything…this is absolute enslavement”.
There is also the minor issue (conveniently overlooked by the regime) of Iran’s inability to see the encrypted communications of platforms such as Telegram, and vain requests to get access to servers that must be placed in Iran are naive, at best. Also, what are the sentences to be expected by such “cybercriminals” who would dare to use such platforms? The whole thing is a joke and everyone knows it (even the regime).
The Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported on August 9 that the Cyber Police of Iran (FATA) have arrested some Telegram administrators.
According to FATA’s legal and international deputy, Hossein Ramazani, “Recently, the cyber police were informed of four Telegram channels that published insulting materials against religious topics. After liaison with Judiciary officials, measures were taken immediately to identify and arrest these people”.
On August 9, Ramazani continued, “The cyber police detectives found out that the administrators of these channels were in Iran. The four channels were immediately blocked, and the main administrator of the channels and one of his aides were arrested yesterday”.
Colonel Hossein Ramazani stated that three people were responsible for updating the Telegram channels and that the arrested administrators were from a city in Northern Iran.
FATA say that the administrators had published “blasphemous” pictures and materials against religious sacred things and leaders by using Photoshop or other editing softwares.
Cyber Police corruption
While it is possible that such blasphemy was committed, it is equally (and perhaps more so) likely that FATA had been monitoring accounts it previous gained access to (see my previous article here)and perhaps planted such blasphemy themselves to then use as evidence in the arrests? It would not be beyond them as they try in vain to control the youth of Iran.
It is thankful that Telegram do not host their servers in Iran and my fellow Iranians can still use Telegram, much to FATA’s frustration. It is best to enable 2FA (Two factor authentication) for Telegram, and to have private, not public channels where possible which will help defeat FATA. Also, do not always trust who you are speaking with in channels: they may well be FATA…
Following on from my article here about the Iranian Cyber Police asking Iranians to stop using Telegram, it appears that the Iranian hacking group known as Rocket Kitten is behind a compromise of 15 million Telegram accounts used by Iranians.
Telegram is a very popular messaging app in Iran and almost 25% of the Iranian population are using the app every day.
Iranian authorities have previously demanded that Telegram provide them with “spying and censorship tools”. Telegram ignored the request and was blocked in Iran for around two hours on October 20 2015. Telegram does not have any servers in Iran, making the Iranian regime’s job harder to try and censor Telegram. This compares to the regime “banning” Twitter and Facebook, even though Iranians can use Tor or anonymous VPNs to get around the Iranian Internet filters…
Rocket Kitten refers to a cyber threat group that has been attacking various organizations, such as members of the Saudi royal family, Israeli nuclear scientists, NATO officials and Iranian dissidents.
Rocket Kitten has launched two known campaigns: a malware campaign that uses the GHOLE malware, and a targeted attack called “Operation Woolen-GoldFish” which is probably run by the Iranian regime. Rocket Kitten’s attacks were similar to ones attributed to the Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC). You can read more about Rocket Kitten here
Rocket Kitten managed to obtain public information and phone numbers from 15 million Iranian users of the Telegram messaging app, as well as the associated Telegram user IDs. They compromised over 12 Telegram accounts and jeopardized the communications of people including activists and journalists in sensitive positions within Iran.
Telegram responded by saying, “Certain people checked whether some Iranian numbers were registered on Telegram and were able to confirm this for 15 million accounts. As a result, only publicly available data was collected and the accounts themselves were not accessed.”
Importantly, Telegram have since changed their API so that similar mass checks on accounts should no longer be possible: Telegram 1, Iranian Regime 0!
The Telegram vulnerability involved sending authorization codes via SMS text messages to activate new devices and these could be intercepted by the phone company. So, this means a Man In The Middle (MITM) attack capability by a country that has access to telecommunications networks. This further implicates Rocket Kitten as being part of the Iranian regime.
A word from the Iranian Cyber Police
The Cyber Police of Iran (FATA) have transparently tried to un-link the association between Rocket Kitten and the Iranian government by blaming Telegram’s “weakness”. No one believes them…
The legal and international deputy of the Cyber Police, Colonel Hossein Ramazani, said that the hackers did not get access to personal details of victims and that, “What is clear to us is the vulnerability and weakness which always existed in the service because of its text message confirmation system, through which [hackers] have gained access to the users’ phone numbers. Then contents of people’s chats and personal details, however, have not been compromised” Well, he obviously is not going to admit the regime did it, is he?
Telegram supports the use of Two-Factor Authentication (2FA), but is not enabled by default. That means users of Telegram should setup 2FA if they have not already done so, to prevent interception of SMS-verification codes via cellular networks (even if Telegram claim the mass lookup interception loophole is fixed). Perhaps Telegram should start enabling 2FA by default!
The leader of Iran’s Cyber Police (FATA) , Brigadier-General Kamal Hadianfar has asked Iranian citizens to stop using the secure messaging application Telegram immediately!
Hadianfar says Iranians should stop using Telegram due to “security” reasons; what he really means is that FATA cannot control Telegram because servers are not hosted in Iran! Hadianfar said that, “People expressed concern over the usage presence of Telegram messaging app“. Presumably he means that FATA and the wider Iranian regime are more concerned! As an Iranian ex-patriate or as a citizen still living in Iran, I doubt I would find any Iranian citizen who would agree with Hadianfar.
Citizens may be perhaps more concerned that Telegram was written and is supported by the Russian Durov brothers and one may say (if paranoid) that perhaps the Russian state could be behind Telegram? Russia is *allegedly* helping Iranian cyber efforts anyway, so perhaps this is a disinformation campaign by FATA to actually encourage Iranians to keep using Telegram?! Perhaps I am giving too much credence to FATA; in reality they cannot control Iranians from using Telegram any more that Iran’s filternet stopped Iranians from accessing certain content on the Internet.
|Brigadier-General Kamal Hadianfar looking concerned
The Brigadier-General, the man with the finger on the pulse of all things Iranian cyber in nature, went on to say that, “Foreigners take advantage of the information uploaded on this server. In fact, the main Telegram admin does not have a serious determination to confront social, cultural and moral crimes”.
Perhaps this says it all: FATA are having real problems trying to control the digital youth of Iran.
Iranian press has reported that the country’s cyber police arrested 70 hackers.
According to Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA), the deputy commander of cyber police for legal and international affairs Colonel Hoseyn Ramezani, said that the cyber police carried out an operation from 10 August to 8 September 2015 to identify hackers and individuals who manage websites which provide hacking training and software.
Colonel Ramezani added that cyber police monitored more than 15000 websites and identified 104 violations. Additionally more than 70 hackers were identified and referred to the Judiciary.
It is possible that the cyber police exaggerates claims in an effort to use such propaganda to frighten the Iranian hacking community but time will tell.
Original ISNA Source