During the uprising that began nationwide last December and continues, anti-government protesters chanted slogans indicative of a revolution. “Death to the dictator,” they shouted. Cries of, “Death to Khamenei”, “Death to Rouhani,” and “Reformer, Hardline, the Game Is Now Over,” were heard. Women told each other, “Don’t be afraid, we are all together.” Regarding Iran’s meddling in the region, “Forget about Syria, think about us,” as well as, “Not Gaza, nor Lebanon, my life for Iran.”
The protests quickly spread across Iran, to over 140 cities by some estimates. The regime was forced to employ cyber technology to slow down the spread of the protests, and arrests reportedly numbered in the thousands.
Experts view the uprising as somewhat of a landmark event. Mobile devices and social messaging platforms allowed the protesters to use game-changing cyber technology to organize, exchange information between different locales, and get their message out to the rest of the world.
This proved to be the regime’s weak spot. Despite its use of force, it could not stop the demonstrations. Even as regime cut off access to the Internet, and blocked key mobile apps such as Telegram, the protests continued to expand.
Following the nationwide protests, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), in collaboration with the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), is developing new domestic cyber warfare.
Malicious codes embedded in IRGC mobile apps that focus on mass surveillance has been discovered by the MEK, who say that Iran’s domestic cyber warfare shifts focus from access control to “stateful endpoint” surveillance.
In an article for The Hill by Raymond Tanter, former senior member on the Middle East Desk of the National Security Council staff, and Ivan Sascha Sheehan, director of the graduate programs in Global Affairs and Human Security and Negotiations and Conflict Management in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Baltimore, they say that with the recent uprising, “the Iranian regime is now complementing its network shadowing with ‘stateful endpoint,‘ (mobile device) monitoring of content, context, and contacts to counter the expansion of the uprising and avert more protests. Café Bazaar, modeled after Google Play, is supervised by the IRGC and is its platform of choice to promote and distribute spyware enabled mobile apps.”
According to the MEK, Iran’s universities are “a recruiting ground for IRGC cyber warfare personnel,” with recruits hired through front companies that “often engage in ‘research’ activities with a few of the IRGC’s ‘handpicked professors.’”
State-run Fars News Agency reported on September 4th, 2012, that the “signing of an agreement between Iran and North Korea to confront cyber-attacks has raised concerns in the west.”
Tanter and Sheehan write, “Access to free, safe and secure Internet is now a new battleground pitting the people against the regime.”
Nearly 48 million Iranians have smartphones and about 50 percent have access to the Internet. Implementation of measures to curb the regime’s cyberspace repression is an important way that the international community could assist the Iranian people in their call for freedom and regime change. This can be as easy as enforcing President Obama’s Executive Order 13606 from April 22nd, 2012, that prohibits any entity to facilitate the Iranian regime in its “computer and network disruption, monitoring, and tracking” and “or otherwise provided, directly or indirectly, goods, services, or technology” that can be used to “enable serious human rights abuses by or on behalf of the Government of Iran.”