While Iranians struggle to access the Internet as civil protests continue to grow against the regime, TechCrunch has spoken to a tech entrepreneur inside the country to get a picture of how a small group of activists is working to get internet access working again inside the country after it was debilitated by the government, in order to spread information about the demonstrations.
He told me that getting access has become a “game of cat” and mouse with authorities, but that the Tor Project, which uses free and open-source software for enabling anonymous communication, has become a vital way around these problems. Indeed, Tor has released details regarding the use of Snowflake, which has also aided in internet access in Iran.
“VPN services provide a free service for Iranians. The TOR Project is adding bridges, but few of these will work,” he said.
“The government has blocked access to most non-Iranian IP addresses on residential connections (essentially a whitelist with throttled speed) and to all non-Iranian IP addresses on mobile 3G/4G data (and most people are connected to the internet through mobile data). All these services (VPNs/TOR/etc) have servers outside Iran, which is not useful. People cannot connect to them,” he told me.
However, he said, there is a way around this: “Servers within Iranian data centers have a full speed connection to the internet.”
Thus, he and a few others are now acquiring servers in these Iranian data centers, setting up a VPN server on them, and making sure that all the incoming traffic is ‘tunneled’ to another server outside Iran.
“Then the Iranian VPN server connection info is shared with the people who can connect to them from any device at any time of the day (the internet is almost shut down at nights when the protests are most intense, but connections to servers within Iran still works),” he told me via a secure communication method.
However, using this method is not scalable. Iranian tech companies themselves can’t buy many servers in the Iranian data centers as it raises too many red flags with the regime’s authorities.
“And we can’t share the connection information publicly because the connection info includes the server IP address which can be easily used by the government to identify the person who purchased it, and they can then come after us,” he explained.
Instead, Iranian engineers have been in contact with the Tor Project to help set up bridges inside Iran.
In order to achieve this, he and others have worked on a Github document titled “InternetForIran”.
This details how machines located inside Iranian data centers could be used to connect to websites and servers carrying information on the protests inside Iran, since the government has not yet blocked Internet access to these internal servers, and may not do so in fear of debilitating its own access.
The activists are now calling the tech industry outside Iran – especially the Iranian diaspora – to assist by legitimately purchasing a server inside Iran.
The document outlines how supporters could send activists the IP address and SSH credentials by emailing InternetForIran@proton.me: “We will set up the server and send the VPN details back to you to share with your friends and family inside Iran,” it says.
However, activists say anyone inside Iran should not follow this procedure as the action would be too risky. Furthermore, there are also details on how hacker groups can assist activists.
TechCrunch understands that some inside the Tor project consider the above procedure potentially unsafe. “I don’t know how safe it is to do this and what could happen if they are caught,” one source told me.
Plus, the issue is being discussed on Tor chat servers.
My contact told me that this method could be crucial to aiding the protests against the dictatorial regime: “People inside Iran are not seeing the videos and information about the protests. All they see is the government propaganda. We can give them access, but we need help.”