June 11, 2013: For two years now Iran has been more energetically getting into Information War. This includes defense (a special Internet censorship unit) and offense (a Cyber War operation that is being detected more frequently on networks outside Iran). While the Cyber War attacks have the attention of thousands of Internet specialists world-wide, fighting the censorship campaign against Iranian Internet users depends on volunteers, especially Iranians living abroad. There are actually thousands of these, often just informally helping family and friends back in Iran. But there are some volunteers who are extremely annoying for the Iranian censors. The Revolutionary Guard in Iran has made it clear that it is very angry with these expatriate Iranians, and there is some fear that they might resort to assassination to eliminate the most troublesome of these expatriate Internet experts. Such killings are rare these days. But from 1980 to the late 1990s Iranian assassins killed over 110 Iranian exiles who had been marked for death by the new religious dictatorship in Iran. International outrage forced the Iranians to back off, and that pushback turned into more and more sanctions against the religious fanatics running Iran. After September 11, 2001, it became even more difficult for Iran to carry out these murders because Western nations were more alert to the presence of Iranian killers and Iranian agents in general. But these killing still take place, or at least they are planned. In the last few years several assassination operations have been discovered and shut down before anyone got killed. But the Iranians are still trying.
The Iranian government is having more success at cutting most Iranians off from the Internet. The primary effort is building an internal Internet just for those in Iran who cannot be trusted with the World Wide Web. That means most Iranians are finding it more and more difficult to reach the international Internet. Late in 2012, Iran introduced a heavily censored local version of YouTube, as YouTube itself is banned in Iran. China is helping Iran, as well as a lot of other countries, to censor use of the Internet.
China is leading a worldwide tendency for police state governments to tightly control how their subjects use the Internet. While China is considered the most vigorous and effective censor of the Internet, many other nations are using the same techniques and equipment, often obtained from China. These include Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam. None of these nations are democracies. All are police states or monarchies determined to keep their subjects from having free use of the Internet. In most cases, the real purpose is to prevent the people from overthrowing the rulers. But there are many other nations, most of them democracies, who are also striving to control the Internet to protect their citizens from unsavory material. These nations include Australia, Bahrain, Belarus, Eritrea, Malaysia, Russia, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. Most other nations are watching these efforts, as there are many people on the planet who see the Internet as more of a threat than an opportunity.
China leads the way in all this. But it isn't all about politics. Iran, for example, wants to block its citizens from seeing pornography, anything critical of Islam, and most Western entertainment. China, has made a major effort to "protect" adult Internet users from pornography and children on the Internet from, well, everything. The government does this via its Great Firewall of China (officially the "Golden Shield") system, that filters, and eavesdrops on, Internet traffic coming into, and leaving, China. In fact, Golden Shield is more about controlling what is said by Internet users inside China than in controlling what they have access to outside China.
The growing number of governments seeking to control Internet content is all concerned about how they have lost control of information flow because of the Internet. This control is a matter of life and death for a dictatorship but can be very annoying for leaders (honest or otherwise) in a democracy. No leader (elected or not) likes to have contrary opinions popping up. Something must be done.
Iran, like North Korea, is trying to create its own Internet and prevent most Iranians from having any access with the international Internet. This is only possible if your economy is not highly dependent on worldwide Internet access. That is the case in North Korea, but Iran has an economy that deals a lot with foreign suppliers and customers. That is changing, because of the growing list of international economic sanctions placed on Iran because of their nuclear weapons program and support for terrorism. Iran also wants more control over Internet use inside Iran because it fears that foreign spies, saboteurs, and assassins are using it to collect information about targets and to carry out operations.