'Anonymous' Hackers Help Iranian Activists Fight The Regime
February 18, 2011
By Kristin Deasy, Hannah Kaviani
That's the inscrutable "voice" of international Internet collective Anonymous, a shadowy organization that has carried out a number of attacks on websites worldwide.
In recent days, with Iranians taking to the streets to protest against the government, the country's Islamic authorities have boosted their censorship efforts in a bid to crush opposition activity online.
Before and during the largest demonstrations seen in Iran since the unrest that followed President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's disputed reelection in June 2009, the authorities have tried to tamp down opposition activity by blocking opposition websites and other media, as well as disrupting mobile-phone connections.
This is where Anonymous and its "Operation: Iran" come in.
The collective is providing users with special advice forums and tools to fight the Iranian government's censorship. The group has also encouraged Iranian users to use distributed-denial-of-service attacks (DDOS) in order to take down key government websites like khamenei.ir, the website of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, as well as leader.ir and president.ir.
Arash is a hacker who works with Anonymous to fight government censorship and cybercontrol in his native Iran. It's hard to pin down what exactly Anonymous is. The organization has no leaders and no headquarters and grew out of image-sharing forums in the United States.
Arash describes the group as a "fluid movement."
While Arash and hackers like him have been targeting Iranian government websites and state media, the authorities are fighting back with high-tech monitoring and filtering equipment. Just weeks ago, the government announced the launch of a new cyberpolice unit.
Arash explained "Operation: Iran" to Radio Farda's Hannah Kaviani by way of the organization's media chat room in an interview on February 16. The group then recorded Arash's responses using their signature narration style for the following Q&A:
Radio Farda: What inspired Anonymous to start Operation Iran?
Arash: Recently, Anonymous has been assisting people in various countries where freedom of speech and freedom of information is restricted. In Iran, for instance, they have very few freedoms and very strong Internet censorship. This is why we initially became involved with Iran's protests. One of the main goals of Anonymous is to defend freedom of speech, and this is one of the biggest problems inside Iran.
Iran's government not only censors media inside Iran but also in other parts of the world. For example, in the last few days, even people in Europe have had problems watching BBC Persia and other Persian channels. This is because of the Iranian government jamming the satellites.
Radio Farda: Can you describe Operation Iran's strategy?
Arash: Anonymous's only rule strictly bans attacking the media. I personally do not believe that IRIB [Iran's state television and radio] count as media, however. They are state brainwashing systems, at best. The operation's official focus was on three government websites and the government's mail servers, which were all down yesterday.
Radio Farda: What other ways does Anonymous help Iran's online protest movement?
Arash: The Tor project is a project designed to give people a safe way to use the Internet anonymously and securely. But Iran is the first country to block that software. We know how powerful Iran's Islamic regime is, and we know it's hard fighting against them. But we have hope. And we are lucky because we are fighting on the side of the people of Iran. There are other anonymity tools, which the government has not yet blocked.
Arash says one such tool is the anonymizing network I2P.
In 2009, Anonymous -- a group Arash says is funded entirely from donations -- helped launch the opposition support website Anonymous Iran. The site was launched as a platform for exchanging information between Iran and the world and now claims over 15,000 users.
But Anonymous has a controversial past. The group was accused of being behind a spate of 2008 attacks on an epilepsy support forum, which triggered migraine headaches and seizures in photosensitive and pattern-sensitive epileptics.
The group drew criticism more recently for reportedly masterminding attacks against Amazon.com, PayPal, MasterCard, Visa, and others as part of "Operation: Payback," a campaign that came out in support of WikiLeaks after the companies cut services to the controversial group.
Authoritarian regimes are increasingly targeting hackers, online activists, and bloggers in an attempt to maintain control over the information narrative in their countries -- a narrative that, thanks to the rising availability of the Internet, is becoming ever more difficult to tame.
Copyright (c) 2011. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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