Siemens AG and Nokia Corp. should be so proud as they watch the news. Look, Ma. Look what I’ve helped to create. A joint venture between the two companies helped lead to the massive spying technology being used by the Iranian government. They’re using a practice called deep packet inspection. This practice is one that is even more invasive than anything China is doing. With deep packet inspection, it allows the government to block communications, monitor information, and alter it for disinformation purposes. And this capability was provided by Siemens/Nokia in the later part of 2008 according to Ben Roome, a spokesman for the joint venture.
There was a “monitoring center” installed within the government’s telecom monopoly, which was part of a bigger contract with Iran that was part of a mobile-phone network technology, Roome confirmed.
“If you sell networks, you also, intrinsically, sell the capability to intercept any communication that runs over them,” said Mr. Roome.
It was known even last year that the technology was there, just not how much the government could do with it. “We didn’t know they could do this much,” said a network engineer in Tehran. “Now we know they have powerful things that allow them to do very complex tracking on the network.”
How it works is that equipment is inserted into a flow of online data, whether from internet phone calls or emails or images and messages from sites like Twitter or Facebook. Then, every single packet of data is deconstructed and carefully analyzed for keywords. It is then reconstructed again within just milliseconds.
In Iran, this is all done at just one hub. Whereas in China, where it is done to a lesser extent all over the place through several ISPs. Here, every piece is analyzed through one single choke point.
Users in Iran have been complaining of the horrifically slow internet speeds. This deep packet inspection would obviously explain that. Unless there is a massive increase in processing power, deep packet inspection will delay transmission of online data.
This may also explain why the government has been allowing the ‘Net to work instead of totally knocking it offline like they did briefly recently. They want to see what is being said and readjust it accordingly as well. Bradley Anstis, director of technical strategy with Marshal8e6 Inc, says that Iran is “now drilling into what the population is trying to say”.
Obviously, human-rights groups have not had very nice things to say about selling this kind of equipment to Iran, or other regimes considered to be repressive. When asked about it, Mr. Roome of Nokia Siemens Networks said the company “does have a choice about whether to do business in any country. We believe providing people, wherever they are, with the ability to communicate is preferable to leaving them without the choice to be heard.”
Ummm…ok Mr. Roome. So, you’re saying, yeah, it’s probably better to let them talk, but hey, business is business and we’ll give you the means to do the opposite anyway? That’s what I like to see – strong character.
They aren’t the only government with this kind of filtering technology by the way. Most start out nice and innocent. Spam, porn, that sort of thing. The Australian government is trying one out to protect its kids from online porn right now, Britain has blocked sites, and Germany is thinking about it. And the good ‘ole US has the capability as well since the whole “Terrorist Surveillance Program,” although White House Officials won’t comment on how or if it is currently being used under the Obama administration. If not, why aren’t they talking though?
Even in Iran, the justification they used for starting the whole censoring bit was blocking online porn (as well as other material “offensive” to the regime) according to people who studied the country’s censoring.
And it spiraled from there. In 2001, ISPs were required to install filtering systems, and all international connections had to link to a single gateway controlled by the country’s telecom monopoly. Over 5 million sites were then blocked in recent years, according to Reporters Without Borders, a press-freedom group. During the ’05 Presidential election, the internet was shut down for hours and it was blamed on a foreign cyberattack, a claim that was later proven false according to several Tehran engineers. A few years ago, OpenNet discovered the government was using filtering equipment from the US company, Secure Computing Corp. which is now owned by McAfeee Inc. They denied any knowledge of the use of its products in Iran at the time.
Internet experts say that building online content inspection on a national scale and coordinating it at a single location requires “hefty resources, including manpower, processing power and technical expertise” and they apparently have it. But watch out, because Iran isn’t the only country that does.