Iran blocks Gmail, secure Google searches

Google logoOn Sunday, Iranian officials announced the country would be blocking access to Google and Gmail in protest of the anti-Islamic film Innocence of Muslims, whose lengthy trailer was posted to YouTube earlier this month.

A government deputy minister made the announcement on Sunday, and it came as state television revealed Google Inc's search engine and its e-mail service would be blocked "within a few hours."

"Google and Gmail will be filtered throughout the country until further notice," said Abdolsamad Khoramabadi, an Iranian official with the state-run body in charge of online censorship and computer crimes (according to quotes from The Guardian, BBC, and a number of other media outlets). Many have speculated this is just the latest step in Iran’s pending launch of its so-called “halal Internet.”

Unsecure search remains open

After Ars contacted a few Iranian Internet users in the country as well as other experts who monitor the Iranian Internet from afar, it appears Iran has disrupted all secure (HTTPS/SSL) connections to Google. All Gmail users are required to use HTTPS—all login and traffic information is encrypted and therefore difficult to monitor—so access through this avenue is blocked entirely. Normal, unsecured Iranian Internet traffic (HTTP) remains unblocked, however. Iran already can filter that as needed, so users can access Google search but then have to live with potential monitoring.

Of course, upper-class and tech-savvy Iranians with access to a Virtual Private Network (VPN) remain unaffected by these changes.

Officially, YouTube has been blocked since 2009. Google’s Transparency Report has not yet been updated to reflect what (if any) effects the company has officially observed with respect to the Gmail block.

“We have received information that users cannot get access to Gmail and Google Search in Iran,” wrote Samantha Smith, a Google spokesperson, in an e-mail sent to Ars. “We have checked our networks and there is nothing wrong on our side.”

Iran appears to be pushing users toward a domestic answer to Google

Some Iran watchers have speculated that a ban on Gmail may not actually continue for very long. But predicting Iranian government policy and behavior is a constant guessing game.

“Certainly, I would not be surprised if it did not last, since it is an incredibly unpopular decision,” Collin Anderson told Ars via chat. Anderson is an independent security researcher based in Washington, DC. “However, it is somewhat of a warning to users that unless they switch to a national e-mail service, they could lose access at any time.”

Reporters Without Borders noted that in early September, Iranian mobile phone users received a text message inviting them to use the new government-run e-mail service, Citizens are required to give their name, address, phone number, and ID card number to authorities, which takes 24 hours to be approved. That site appears to be a government-run alternative to Google, which only searches a limited number of Persian-language sites.

Searches of the term “America,” as written in Persian, only yielded a short list of hits. The top one was for the Interests Section of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Embassy of Pakistan—the country’s official representative in Washington, DC since the suspension of diplomatic relations between Iran and the US in 1979. Unfortunately, searching for “Ars Technica” (as written in English) returned no results.

Source: Ars Technica

Tags: e-mail, Gmail, Google, search

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