News / Middle East

    Iran's Next Step in Building a 'Halal' Internet

    Technicians monitor data flow in the control room of an internet service provider in Tehran, Iran, Feb. 15, 2011.
    Technicians monitor data flow in the control room of an internet service provider in Tehran, Iran, Feb. 15, 2011.

    For years now, Iranian officials have talked about building a “Halal Internet” – essentially a giant Intranet for all of Iran that would seal off Iranian cyberspace from the rest of the world. Whether or not they are actually doing so, or even can, continues to be a matter of debate.

    That said, the government there recently unveiled its next step in their effort to continue where its citizens can go and what they can say online: an Iran-only search engine called “Yooz.”

    Meaning “Cheetah” in Persian, Yooz was officially unveiled in Tehran in mid-February by a host of Iranian officials, including the Mahmoud Vaezi, the Minister for Information and Communications Technology, or ICT.  

    Despite heavy government censorship and monitoring of the web, Iranians – especially youth – are voracious Internet users, and Western-based search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo are very popular.

    Yooz is specifically designed as a counter to those sites. Officials say Yooz will perform vast searches of Iran-based and Persian language websites and catalogue that information for users, supposedly making searches faster and “more secure”, according to Medhi Naghavi who oversees Yooz. Additionally, as quoted in the International Business Times, Naghavi said Yooz will “help Iranians circumvent the U.S.-led economic sanctions” – how is unclear – and “ grant the academic world the access to the Persian cyberspace.”

    What Naghavi didn’t say is that Yooz is just the latest tool for Iranian telecommunications authorities to filter out material and websites the government finds objectionable. Internet traffic into and out of Iran is monitored closely, and officials are constantly blocking new websites as free speech activists figure out new ways around those blocks in a ceaseless game of cat-and-mouse.

    Additionally, during especially sensitive times, such as national elections, authorities slow Internet traffic to a trickle, leaving most users frustrated or simply unable to accomplish even the simplest tasks.

    Increasingly, a number of analysts are raising doubts about Iranian claims of building a completely separate national Intranet, instead characterizing their efforts more like building a “Filternet” – no different from the global web, but heavily censored and filtered.

    A recent report from the British Small Media web analysis firm demonstrates that Iran is investing heavily in its filternet, doubling the budget of the ICT in just a few years. The report also details a growing number of popular websites and apps in Iran – such as Instagram and WhatsApp – that are more aggressively being blocked.

    But this pervasive filtering has had an unintended consequence: large numbers of Iranians who use the web have become adept at using various circumvention technologies such as Tor, VPNs or Psiphon to conceal their activities and work around these blocks.

    And there’s the larger question of whether it’s even possible for a nation, once it’s connected to the Internet, to ever turn back. States like Egypt or Syria that have tried to shut off the web during times of instability found the effects of erasing themselves from the Internet even more damaging than any civil strife. North Korea arguably has next to no connection to the larger World Wide Web, but they never did, making it easier to simply keep the door barred.

    Even China’s “Great Firewall”, undoubtedly the largest and most sophisticated web filtering and censorship operation in the world, is less a wall and more a series of traps and blocks, designed to keep objectionable speech restricted while allowing for the free flow of international commerce.

    While it’s true that Iran’s Internet activities and strategies such as Yooz remain somewhat opaque, one thing is clear as crystal: anyone in Iran wanting to search the full contents of the global Internet should not use Yooz. 

    Doug Bernard

    Doug Bernard covers cyber-issues for VOA, focusing on Internet privacy, security and censorship circumvention. Previously he edited VOA’s “Digital Frontiers” blog, produced the “Daily Download” webcast and hosted “Talk to America”, for which he won the International Presenter of the Year award from the Association for International Broadcasting. He began his career at Michigan Public Radio, and has contributed to "The New York Times," the "Christian Science Monitor," SPIN and NPR, among others. You can follow him @dfrontiers.

    You May Like

    Former US Envoys Urge Obama to Delay Troop Cuts in Afghanistan

    Keeping troop levels up during conflict with both Taliban and Islamic State is necessary to support Kabul government, they say

    First Lady to Visit Africa to Promote Girls' Education

    Michele Obama will be joined by daughters and actresses Meryl Streep and Freida Pinto

    Video NYSE Analyst: Brexit Will Continue to Place Pressure on Markets

    Despite orderly pricing and execution strategy at the New York Stock Exchange, analyst explains added pressure on world financial markets is likely

    This forum has been closed.
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territoryi
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora