The Tech Herald

Iran takes down human rights websites – accuses them of espionage (Update)

by Steve Ragan - Mar 16 2010, 10:00

Iran takes down human rights websites – accuses them of espionage. (IMG: H.Saber /Flickr)

Update:

The Tech Herald recently got the opportunity to speak with Ahmad-Batbi, a spokesman for HRA-Iran.org, and hear his side of the story surrounding the events reported below.

According to Ahmad-Batbi, the recent takedown of 29 Iranian human rights related websites and arrest of 30 suspects, as reported by the IRGC, was not due to hacking, but torture.

His story and the full article can be found here.

Original Article:

The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) announced that its cyber teams hacked 29 websites linked to US espionage. In addition, 30 people were arrested on charges of waging a US-backed cyber war. Translation: These sites help dissidents so we took them down.

The official IRNA news agency reports that a number of organized “US-backed war networks” were broken, and 30 people were arrested in connection to the takedown.

The IRNA cited a statement from the Tehran Public and Revolutionary Prosecutor Office, which ties the sites to a CIA operation launched in 2006, operating on a budget of $400 million USD, designed to “destabilize Iran” by working with “elements of anti-revolutionary [groups] like MKO (Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization), monarchists and others…”

The statement from the Tehran Public and Revolutionary Prosecutor Office outlined the war network plans, noting that it was designed to gain access to Iran’s information banks, as well as penetrate and sabotage Iran’s Internet sites, fight against filtering in the country, create security for Internet users, and create a secure telephone and data communication ground for making interviews with Radio Farda, Radio Zamaneh, Voice of America and other western media.

Sadly, aside from a statement, there is no proof of the claims.

The FARS news agency backs the IRNA report and links to a statement from Gerdab, an organization linked to the IRGC’s Center for Combating Organized Crimes, that claims the “hacked websites acted against Iran's national security under the cover of human rights activities.”

Out of the 29 websites listed in the statement from the IRGC, two of them are parked on GoDaddy, and one site, hra-news.org, was listed twice. The duplicate domain shows some interesting statistics, which only account for Sunday and Monday. Seven of the domains are 404, including hra-iran.org, which has 16 of the listed domains pointing to it.

Two other domains, lc-hra.com and hrairan.org, are working normally, and appear unaffected by the “the destruction of organized networks of espionage and cyber-war” as reported by the IRGC in a translated statement. [Source] Looking at the results, it would appear that - hacked or not - the IRGC did manage to take a handful of sites offline.

The question remains, were the domains espionage related, or were they in place to help those who are against current policies in Iran? Would Iran’s government even differentiate between human rights organizations and espionage?

Based on the published rhetoric, the US and “the other arrogant powers” are spreading anti-Iran propaganda, going so far as to call the plan the Iranophobia project. [Source A & B]

“The US is seeking to create an atmosphere of Iranophobia in the region through stationing networks of anti-missile batteries in the Persian Gulf littoral states to secure interests of the United States the Zionist regime of Israel,” said Mohammad Karim Abedi, a member of the Iranian parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission.

So with those statements in mind, the actions taken by the IRGC seem like a political move and an attempt to silence protestors, more than an attack on foreign intelligence. After all, the sites show no links to the CIA or any other government agency. There is no evidence in the cached pages to show anything other than anti-censorship and human rights activism, and most of them link to a single domain.

Yet, to back all their recent claims to the world press, the Iranian government closes the sites and arrests the activists while calling them spies, essentially wrapping things up in a nice tidy package.

Also, there is no real proof that the sites were hacked. IX Webhosting, which until it was taken offline hosted hra-iran.org, would not respond to requests for comments on why the site was taken down. We were told by one IX employee that they could not discuss the domain at all.

The fact is, reading over the news postings from the last few days on FARS and IRNA, Iran sees little difference between those who support Internet freedoms or human rights, and those who are conducting intelligence operations. If you stand against their government policies, you’re a threat to the state.

[Header image from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/hamed]

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