Iran’s “Cyber Army” and other government attempts to control the Internet

April 16, 2012

Govt internet controlGovernments around the world are moving aggressively in response to the opportunities and challenges presented by the Internet. 

They continue to search for ways to control Internet content and use.

In general, governments are uncomfortable with the extent to which computing and communications technologies make information readily accessible to the public. 

They are always looking for ways to control online content and access.

Governments are also eager to find ways to use cyberspace to advance their interests. 

One of the more active national governments in the battle for cyberspace is the government of Iran.

Iranian authorities have publicized their efforts to control cyberspace. 

Those efforts provide a cautionary tale presenting a troubling picture of the Internet’s potential future.

The Iranian government recently established the “Supreme Council of Cyberspace.”

Comprised of representatives from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, the intelligence and security agencies, and the militia, the Council has the authority to enact and enforce laws affecting cyberspace.

It will likely focus on control of Internet content, access, and use.

Iranian authorities also recently moved to coordinate cyberspace activities in support of the government. 

The Revolutionary Guard launched a secure private computer network for use by a group described as, the “Cyber Army.”

It has been estimated that the Cyber Army currently consists of approximately 120,000 hackers, bloggers, and other online activists, trained and assisted by the government. 

The Cyber Army now uses the private network in support of government objectives.

It monitors web sites and social media to gather information for the government.

The Cyber Army is also reportedly involved in hacking activities directed against targeted online systems, including certain web sites and e-mail operations. 

The network used by the Cyber Army was built using only Iranian controlled equipment and is kept separate from the Iran’s national communications network in order to enhance the security of the system.

Iranian authorities contend that the Council of Cyberspace and the Cyber Army are necessary as Iran believes that it continues to be the target of cyberwarfare operations, including the 2010 Stuxnet computer virus that damaged the country’s nuclear centrifuge facilities.

By creating the Council and the Cyber Army, Iran underscored the significant influence the Internet asserts on all political, economic, and social institutions.

Iran is not the only nation dramatically expanding its efforts to control cyberspace. 

As governments extend their power on the Internet, they often justify those actions by arguing they are made necessary as a result of national security concerns.

Yet, as we consider the full implications of broader use of content controls and government militias in cyberspace, it becomes increasingly clear that, in reality, an Internet controlled by governments and patrolled by cyber armies makes no one safer or more secure.