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'Anonymous' Hackers Help Iranian Activists Fight The Regime

The logo of the group known as Anonymous
The logo of the group known as Anonymous
By Kristin Deasy and 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." In a video, the group explains itself:



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.
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Comment Sorting
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by: Anonymous from: teh interwebz
February 18, 2011 16:56
Regarding Anonymous' funding: Anonops is so kind to tolerate Anonymous gathering at their IRC network.
Anonymous uses free tools that are available, like IRC networks, I2P, Twitter and many other social networking tools, and has nor needs funding.

If the authorities challenge us to go deeper underground, we will. But they need to consider that the tools down deep do not adhere to the ethics which Anonymous, the people, hold so dear.

by: Daruis from: London
February 18, 2011 22:21
Well done. An original and interesting piece. Keep up the good work.

by: patti from: oregon
February 19, 2011 05:18
Glad to read that you do not need funding. I tried to figure out how to donate to no avail. Keep working and know that even us old non-techie folks support you.

by: jovialau from: perth
February 19, 2011 06:59
I am concerned that America could be using the time that they have,to observe various groups and their methods.So that when their turn comes,they will be better prepared to suppress.I just hope that some cards are remaining up sleeves!Know your enemy as you know yourself!
In Response

by: Bill Webb from: Phoenix AZ
February 19, 2011 16:52
As hard as WikiLeaks tried to dig up dirt on the US State Department, Department of Defense etc, the general consensus I've discovered is that although democracy is messy, the people that make up our government are honest and hardworking, and have the best interests of the people at heart. The US Constitution, the Supreme Court and the Bill of Rights are the cards that we all have up our sleeves, which make a movement to undermine the government unnecessary. We are the government. The people of the world still look to us as a beacon of liberty.
In Response

by: A. Nardi from: NY
February 23, 2011 14:51
Well Said B.W.

by: binuta from: switzerland
February 19, 2011 10:45
Mesmerized and a bit scarred by shadowy ops such as this one, but I guess what matters is that, at the end of the day, groups like Anonymous and Wikileaks rely on secrecy to uncover truth, stay underground but impact the surface..

by: Jay
February 19, 2011 13:42
Simplistic and disturbing piece. Is Radio Free Europe supporting hackers with taxpayers money?
In Response

by: Sophia
February 19, 2011 17:42
They are HACKTIVISTS not hackers....

by: JforPeace
February 19, 2011 17:44
we say thankyou Anonymous!!!! the people need you!!!! stay the course!! Unknown Global Heroes!!!

by: arash
February 19, 2011 21:28
ANYONE who wants to donate can come to irc.anonops.in #donate

Anonymous would love your donations

by: Secret from: USA
February 20, 2011 07:56
Anonymous' Operation Iran.

Thank you for your efforts to assist the people of Iran.

Here is a suggestion of how one might further assist the people of Iran in their struggle for freedom.

Perhaps a sports allegory might be helpful- in some sports (Soccer, Boxing, and others) a good offense can also serve as a good form of defense too.

To provide enhanced safety for the Iranian public to communicate without endangering their lives, in addition to provide secure channels, it might also be helpful to have two other objectives:

1 - Try to provide a strategy to create "denial of service" for the the new "cyberpolice" unit that the Iranian Government has just announced.

2 - Whenever there are demonstrations, or government sponsored shut down of cell phones, and internet; also try to create a "denial of service" for all the offices and operations of the Iranian Government. Slow down or hamper their violent offensive against the peaceful demonstrators by slowing down or hurting their tools in attacking the people of Iran.

by: Jake from: Melbourne
February 21, 2011 02:11
Thank you Anonymous for your postings, all freedom loving people Including courageous Iranian people need your help.
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