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Iran's internet chokepoint caught fire, caused outages

Digital karma at its finest

A datacenter fire resulted in internet outages across Iran for around three hours last Friday, and it appears the cause was the nation's surveillance apparatus.

The fire took place at a building belonging to the Telecom Infrastructure Company (TIC) – the only reseller of connectivity to Iranian internet service providers. The TIC applies content filters so that ISPs receive a feed cleansed of anything Iran's rulers don't want citizens to see – which means religious or political content that disagrees in any way with the views of the revolutionary government.

According to Netblocks, the centralized gateway "allows Iranian authorities to control the flow of information to counter cyberthreats, but has also come under scrutiny for its use to limit the public's access to information and international services."

As the TIC is a bottleneck, it's also a risk.

Hamid Fattahi, CEO of TIC, confirmed the fire and outages, mainly in Tehran and Karaj, in local media which was reposted on the company website. A previous post had stated "a disruption in the center's electrification system" had "led to fire in UPS systems and electrification systems."

Fattahi said the incident created a disruption of domestic services in some parts of the country and, in some cases, international internet access was disrupted.

While the lack of redundancy in internet traffic gateways exacerbated the effects of the recent outage, there's no reason to think things will change. In late February, Iran's parliamentary committee approved a general outline of the Cyberspace Users Rights Protection and Regulation of Key Online Services bill – a proposed law that gives the Iranian government more control over the country's internet traffic. The bill was first proposed three years ago and was delayed amid backlash from the public.

One part of the bill would criminalize virtual private network (VPN) usage in Iran, complete with fines and jail terms. VPNs are commonly used in the country to access banned services such as YouTube, Twitter, Telegram, and Facebook.

Separately, Iran's Ministry of Communications announced it has tapped Moscow-headquartered Rostelecom for extra internet connections, to replace a previous link that routed through Ukraine.

Mehdi Salem, advisor to Iran's minister of communications and information technology said "we had anticipated this since the beginning of the Ukraine crisis," before stressing the need to diversify resources and routes for Iran's access to the internet. ®

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