Despite attempts to consolidate Internet traffic, the Iranian government has so far been unwilling to shut down its entire Internet infrastructure, according to analysis from security vendor Arbor Networks.
Looking at data culled from Arbor's ATLAS 2.0 Internet monitoring system, Arbor chief scientist Craig Labovitz suggests that the Iranian government is trying to enact a "piecemeal migration of traffic flows" to better filter and censor traffic coming in and out of the country. However, Labovitz notes that so far the government has not completely shut down its entire network as the Burmese government did back in 2007.
"Unlike Burma, Iran has significant commercial and technological relationships with the rest of the world," he says. "In other words, the government cannot turn off the Internet without impacting business and perhaps generating further social unrest."Labovitz says that before this week, Iranian networks would process Internet traffic at a rate of roughly 5Gbps. For a short time after the Iranian election finished last Friday, Iran's networks went completely dark. Since then, however, Labovitz says that Iranian networks have start process Web traffic again at a greatly reduced rate, typically between 1 and 2Gbps. At 6:30 a.m. GMT on June 16, Arbor reports that Iranian traffic levels "returned to roughly 70% of normal."
Labovitz says that Iran's inability so far to shut down Web communications shows the difficulty that modern governments face in trying to censor information in the age of camera phones, YouTube and low-bandwidth mass communications systems such as Twitter. He says that Iran likely does not have the same kinds of sophisticated censorship tools as China, thus making it more difficult for them to quiet dissent without shutting down their entire network.
"This is a fascinating age, as countries are trying to walk the line between economic development and maintaining specific social and political policies," he says. "Even so, you never know what will happen. I don't know if this situation in Iran is indeed at a tipping point."
For the past week Iran has been rocked by protests sparked by what Iranian reformists and several Middle Eastern reporters and analysts believe to be widespread fraud committed during last week's Iranian presidential election that saw controversial incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad allegedly win 63% of the vote. Despite the government's attempts to censor cut down on its citizens' bandwidth and access to the Internet, several Iranian dissidents are still communicating on a frequent basis via websites such as Facebook and Twitter.
Arbor recently upgraded its ATLAS system to monitor and collect real-time data for global Internet traffic, routing and application performance. Previously, the system had been used mostly to collect data on security-related traffic such as distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack traffic. The system is a collaborative effort that culls data from more than 100 ISPs, including British Telecom, Australian provider Netgen Networks and Indian provider Tata Communications. As part of their agreement with Arbor, all ISPs participating in the ATLAS system must share anonymous traffic data with one another on an hourly basis.