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Iran's Own Internet

The 'summer' break has been and gone and as the winter rains become a thing of unrelenting omnipresence, the main story that caught my eye was that of Iran building it's own internal intranet.

The politics and propaganda behind such a move are far beyond the scope of an information security blog, but idea has some interesting concepts.

Firstly there a few basic drivers behind such a move.  Control and censorship is one.  Regardless of political motives, building a brand new network, allows the creator to have a lot more control over the number and types of the devices that are connected and the information and data those devices share.  In a lot of regions where the internet is freely available, control and censorship is a big agenda item.

Increased concerns over music and software piracy have lead to an increased number of legal cases in recent months, including that of the Pirate Bay co-founder earlier in September.  The arguments for and against piracy are long and plentiful, with the internet really only acting as a conduit.  It's like using a motorway if you're in a get away car.  The motorway per-se hasn't done anything wrong, but it pays to make sure all cars are registered and drivers have the correct license and insurance papers.

Is that the same as allowing ISP's to filter, analyse and control content to help identify and trace illegal sharers and downloaders?  I'm playing devils advocate, and whether there are privacy breaches being made by the ISP's too is another discussion, but it's clear that both a technical and governmental control agenda is being initiated in order to reduce items like piracy.

The area of control was brought up again during the UK riots of 2012, when social media sites such as Twitter where used to help proliferate meeting information for the alleged rioters.  The initial response from several (probably non digital-native politicians) was to use words like 'ban' and 'control' an individual's use of the internet or particular sites.

A second driver for Iran's own private network is that of national security.  Cybersecurity was sited as one of the main reasons for a separate air-gapped home grown network, probably since the aftermath of the 2010 Stuxnet worm attack on Iran's nuclear facilities.  But does having a separate network actually make you that secure?

As Stuxnet proved, many SCADA networks are indeed supposedly air-gapped from public or normal-use networks for that very reason.  Being physically separate does provide a very obvious level of protection from certain types of attacks, but what it will also do, is probably create a false sense of security, often resulting in a shallower security posture and an avoidance of the basic 'defence-in-depth' approach.

Whilst the practical and logistical steps will take place over the coming months, it will be interesting to see from an information management perspective, whether this networking experiment will lead to other nations or regions developing their own 'mini-internets' based on greenfield thinking.

The main power of the internet has always been, not the network itself, but the devices and information they provide.  If the device pool becomes too small, users will find the information they require from elsewhere.


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