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Iranian regime uses internet throttling as powerful form of censorship

This graph zooms in on traffic at the time of the outage following Iran’s elections. Credit: Arbor Networks

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

INU – The Iranian regime has been using internet throttling to prevent the spread of information during periods of public protest in Iran, Internet security expert reported. Instead of shutting down internet access, the Iranian regime has been pioneering a more insidious but just as powerful form of censorship.

So-called internet throttling has numerous advantages over a complete shutdown since it constrains protests while allowing vital communications to continue. It is also difficult to distinguish from ordinary disruptions. The result is that throttling is much less likely to lead to widespread condemnation.

According to a report by MIT Techonolgy Review, internet security experts have shown that how publicly-available data clearly reveals suspicious periods of internet slowing in Iran and how this can be distinguished from ordinary slowing caused by high traffic, equipment failure and so on.

The data that makes this possible comes from the Measurement Lab, a non-partisan organization that distributes open software for measuring internet performance. M-Lab has developed a widely used network diagnostic tool that measures performance by sending a ten second burst of data as fast as possible through a newly opened connection.

Labovitz found that on June 13, the day after elections, Iranian traffic fell off almost completely. Traffic came back a few hours later, he writes, though just a little. 

According to Internet security expert Collin Anderson the results clearly show evidence of internet slowing on several occasions. “We find two significant and extended periods of potential throttling within our dataset, occurring November 30 2011- August 15 2012 and October 4 – November 22 2012,” he says. During the first of these periods, download throughput dropped by 77 per cent and in the second it dropped by 69 per cent.

Both of these occasions coincide with periods of unrest in Iran.