Protests in Iran trigger wider adoption of anti-censorship tools


Iranian citizens are flocking to tools designed to help citizens of blocked countries connect to the internet as their government attempts to quell protests.

Driving the news: “Daily demand for virtual private network (VPN) services in Iran has increased by more than 3,000% compared to before the protests,” Simon Migliano, head of research at, told Axios via email. mail.

  • “This is a massive spike, given that demand was already healthy before the social media shutdown.”

To note : Google says its subsidiary Jigsaw’s open-source Outline tool has seen a surge in demand from Iran this week, according to data shared exclusively with Axios.

  • Outline allows third parties to set up secure VPNs that resist disruption and censorship efforts.
  • One such third party, Nthlink, reports that its VPN has seen a massive increase in usage, from 40,000 users per day to almost a million at peak times and continues to be used at ten times a typical level.

The big picture: Protests erupted in dozens of Iranian cities in early September following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody for violating the compulsory headscarf law.

  • Internet disruptions began with government blockages of social messaging platforms like Whatsapp and Instagram, then spread to shutdowns of wireless access and other basic online services in some areas, by context.
  • The Iranian government already blocks access to most other popular social platforms.
  • As the protests spread, the United States revised sanction rules to allow American technology providers to help efforts to connect Iranians to the internet.

Between the lines: VPNs and related tools can bypass government blocks of specific services, but cannot help users when the government has simply shut down basic internet access.

Details: Google/Jigsaw’s Outline was already serving Iranians since it is a tool for others to build and operate VPNs.

  • Jigsaw says there are around 39,000 Outline-based networks in operation around the world and says it is “working to expand access to Outline in the country” in Iran.
  • “As an Iranian, I am proud to work on tools that allow people to access the open web, wherever they are,” Yasmin Green, CEO of Jigsaw, said in a statement.

The plot: As protests in Iran grow, Elon Musk suggested that its satellite Internet service provider Starlink could help, as it did in Ukraine.

  • But, as Intercept and others have pointed out, Starlink service requires its own proprietary hardware receivers, and the Iranian government is unlikely to allow such dishes to be shipped beyond its borders.

Rollback: Recent waves of protests in Iran began with a movement against what was widely believed to be a rigged election in 2009 and continued with more recent episodes in 2018 and intermittently since then.

  • The government has worked to prevent protesters from using the internet to organize, share information and document acts of violence.
  • Since 2009, Iran has launched a project to build its own, more controllable, national internet known as the National Information Network.

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