Amid Popular Protests – Iran Shuts Down Domestic Internet — A Digital Iron Curtain Descends; Revolutions…..Will Be Tweeted

Amid Popular Protests – Iran Shuts Down Domestic Internet — A Digital Iron Curtain Descends; Revolutions…..Will Be Tweeted
 
     There are numerous reports out this week that the Iranian government has shutdown the country’s Internet — as an attempt to quell domestic unrest and cripple social media. Lily Hay Newman posted a November 17, 2019 article to the technology and security blog, WIRED.com, “How The Iranian Government Shut Off The Internet,” noting that “after years of centralizing Internet control, Iran pulled the plug on connectivity for nearly all its citizens.”
     Ms. Newman describes how “amid widespread demonstrations over [rising] gasoline prices, Iranians began experiencing Internet slowdowns over the last few days that became a near total Internet and mobile data blackout [this past] Sunday.” The government is attempting to undermine the protesters and the anti-government movement by shuttling the Internet and cripling social media. My guess is that where the Internet and moible data is available, Iran is using denial, deception, and ‘fake news,’ to try and influence the undecided.
     “Though some countries, mainly China, architected their Internet infrastructure from the start – with government control in mind,” Ms. Newman wrote, “most [governments] do not have a central set of levers they can pull to influence country-wide access to content or connectivity. But, regimes around the world,” she adds, “including those in Russia and Iran, have increasingly begun retrofitting traditional and decentralized networks, with cooperation agreements, technical implants, or a combination, to give officials more influence [and control]. In countries like Ethiopia, Venezuela, and Iraq, along with disputed regions like Kashmir, government-led social media blocking and more extensive outages have become the norm.”
     “This is the most wide-scale Internet shutdown that we’ve seen in Iran,” said Adrian Shahbaz, Research Director at the pro-democracy group, Freedom House, which tracks Internet censorship and restriction worldwide. “It’s surprising to see the Iranian authorities block all Internet connections, rather than only international Internet connections, because the latter is a tactic they have used in the past. It could mean they are more fearful of their own people, and worry they cannot control the information space amidst these economic protests.”
     As you might guess, “the process to block an entire country’s Internet connectivity depends on the set-up,” Ms. Newman wrote. “Places like Ethiopia that have relatively limited Internet proliferation typically have just one government-controlled Internet service provider, perhaps alongside some smaller, private ISPs. But all usually gain access through a single undersea cable or international network node, creating “upstream” choke points that officials can use to essentially block a country’s connectivity at its source.” That also means however that an adversary can also ‘easily’ shutdown that same country’s Internet because of single point of failure/vulnerabilty.
     “The more extensive and diverse a country’s infrastructure though, the more involved the digital blackout process becomes,” Ms. Newman observes.  Alp Toker, the Director of the non-partisan connectivity tracking group, NetBlocks, says it took Iranian authorities about 24 hours to completely block the nations inbound and outbound traffic — leaving it hovering at about 5 to 7 percent of top connectivity levels. Top politicians, like the country’s supreme leader, Seyed Ali Khamenei, have still been using Twitter and other [online] platforms.”
     “In a country without one or two obvious digital bottlenecks, authorities must coordinate with multiple telecoms, including ISPs and multiple data providers to cut access,” Ms. Newman wrote.  “And they also need to overcome redundancies and algorithmic protections meant to make networks resilient in case of unintentional outages or bugs. For example,” she writes, “the Internet is designed with failsafe properties to allow it to sort of quarantine and route around areas of a network that are suffering iconnectivity issues or other nstability. NetBlocks’ Toker says that perhaps Iran’s Internet slowdowns in the lead-up to the full outage, were the result of telecoms working on behalf of the government to essentially defeat their own system reliability protections.”
     “To shut down a country’s Internet access, it takes a lot of preparation. We’re talking about hardware and software layers and also regulatory frameworks,” said Lukasz Olejnik, an independent security and privacy adviser and research associate at the Center for Technology and Global Affairs at Oxford University. “The more networks and connections a country has, the more difficult it is to cut access for good. And, the question is also whether you want to cut in-country network access to, in addition to flows between the country and the outside world as well.”
     “Increasingly over the past decade, the Iranian regime has focused on building out a national, centralized ‘Intranet,” Ms. Newman wrote.”That allows it to providecitizens with web services while policing all content on the network, and limtinginformation from external sources. Known as the “National Information network” or SHOMA, the effort has centered on the state-owned Telecommunication Company of Iran, which is run by a number of former government officials. In the process of establishing this internal web, the Iranian regime has taken more and morecontrol over both public and private connectivity – in the name of national security.”
     “That meansIran is also able to exert pressuree even ostensibly on independent Internet providers,” Ms. Newman wrote. “NetBlocks Toker points out, for example, his organizationsaw three Iranianmobile data centers shut off seemingly in unison on [last] Saturday. Still, he and other analysts emphasize that it’s difficult to know exactly what has happened, or why Iran’s neteworks are specifically designed the way they are.”
     “In Iran, convincing operatorsprobably isn’t the most challenging task, because all of this has beennormalized to a certain degree,” Mr. Toker said. “But, there’s no indicationof a national kill switch in this case. Around the world it seems like there is a sort of playbook that’s developing though. That playbook chiefly involves the ability, one way or another to send the command for ISPs to shut it all down,” Ms. Newman wrote. “It’s a more involved request than blocking a specific platform like Twitter, another popular approach among Iran and other oppressive governments. That takes selective filtering, rather that a near-total blackout.”
     Freedom House’s Shahbaz “points out that this creeptoward increasing Internet censorship is more complicated in practice than just flipping a switch.” He adds “that widespread Internet shutdowns don’t always have an oppressive regime’s desired effects. For better or worse, an Internet blackout limits a government’s ability to conduct digital surveillance on its citizens.And. it can foster commarerdieamong citizens that can turn intoeven more powerful protest movements.”
     “This is a very blunt attempt to control the information space in Iran by simply just denying individuals access to all information,” Shahbaz said. “And, it’s not going to work.Information is going to continue to spreadby other means.And, actually sometimes,shutting off the Internet just drives people into the streets.”
The Future Of The Internet: Emergence Of A Digital Iron Curtain, Divided, Intrusive, Anonymous, Full Of Fake News, Deceptive, Gated, Armored, Camouflaged, Deceitful, Dangerous, Wonderful – Revolutions Will Be Tweeted
     The freedom of, and the access to the Internet and the knowledge it holds, is a threat to regimes such as those in Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, and and elsewhere. others. One would have to guess that these dictatorial regimes will continue to find clever and devious ways to control their own Internet, and increase their ability to clandestinely surveil what their population, and the individual is accessing, or attempting to. In essence, the despotic regimes are in the process of building/erecting a Digital Iron Curtain.
     Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt upon returning from a trip to North Korea in 2014, penned an article — “The Dark Side Of The Digital Revolution,” “noting that North Korea is at the beginning of a cat and mouse game that is playing out all around the world, — between repressive regimes, and their people.” “While technology has great potential to bring about change, there is a dark side to the digital revolution that is too often ignored.” “There is a turbulent transition ahead for autocratic regimes as more of their citizens come online; but, technology doesn’t just help the good guys pushing for democratic reform, — it can also provide powerful new tools for dictators to suppress dissent,” said Mr. Schmidt.

     While non-democratic regimes will look to control the flow and content of the data on their ‘domestic’ Internets, and enhance surveillance of those who use it, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the entity that birthed the Internet — is working on a totally anonymous Internet. While such a development would likely have some nasty unintended consequences, an anonymous Internet could be a lifeline for those living in oppressive societies; and, a potential way around oppressive surveillance.

     Artificial intelligence (AI) enhanced malware is enabling and empowering those who practice denial and deception, and super-charging the ‘fake news’ practitioners. There are algorithms and software that is designed to ferret out fake or deceptive news and articles; but, my guess is that the darker digital angles of our nature will still have the upper hand for some time to come.
     The revolution will be tweeted. The power of the Internet combined with social media is indeed a powerful phenomena; and, at times seems unstoppable. The instant connectivity and availability of the worldwide web has and, is enabling the masses to challenge decades of autocratic rule — hastening a process — that in past history, took years or decades to accomplish. But, the darker angels of our nature in North Korea, Iran, Syria, etc., have had the upper hand in this domain and have used it for sinister means of control and ferreting out their ‘enemies.’ A new McCarthyism in the Internet age is sweeping up those who would oppose or overthrow those tyrants and despots who cling to power at the barrel of a machine-gun.
     Upon asking former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger what is lost when a time-table is accelerated/compress/(Arab Spring), Mr. Kissinger responded, “it is hard to imagine a De Gaulle or Churchill, appealing to the masses via FaceBook. “In the age of hyper-connectivity,” he said, “I don’t see people willing to stand by themselves and have the confidence to stand alone.” “Instead,” he says, “a kind of mad consensus will drive the world, — and few people will be willing to oppose it — even though that is precisely the kind of risk that a great leader must take.”
     “The empowered citizen,” Mr. Kissinger says, “knows the technique of getting people to the square, but they don’t know what to do when they get there. These people can easily get marginalized,” he explained, “because their strategies lose effectiveness over time. Dictators and autocrats, — in the years to come — will attempt to build all-encompassing surveillance states, and they will have unprecedented technologies with which to do so.” But he does add a glimmer of hope. “They can never succeed completely [all-encompassing surveillance states]. Dissidents will build tunnels out, and bridges across. Citizens will have more ways to fight back than ever before — some of them anonymous, some courageously public,” he concludes.
     So, it would seem that we have a burgeoning Digital Iron Curtain being conceived or constructed, as well as a totally anonymous Internet being developed. Add to that a burgeoning off-the-grid movement, denial and deception, fake news and digital mine fields galore, and who knows, maybe even a digital ‘Dr. No’ will emerge. I still believe on balance that the Internet has been a tremendous force for good; and, will continue to greatly enhance our lives. But, it will continue to be a rocky ride, as the darker digital angles of our nature will continue to seek clever and devious ways to disrupt our lives — or worse.
     Finally, will a cyber weapon of mass destruction, that is lethal and can cause significant loss of life — be developed?  RCP, fortunascorner.com

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