‘Hacktivists’ take up Iran fight as streets quiet
SHAYA TAYEFE
MOHAJER,Associated Press Writer

EDITOR’S NOTE: Iranian authorities have barred
journalists for international news organizations from reporting on the streets
and ordered them to stay in their offices. This report is based on the accounts
of witnesses reached in Iran and official statements carried on Iranian media.

___

A sharp clampdown by Iranian authorities may have
quelled street protests, but the fight goes on in cyberspace.

Groups of “hacktivists” — Web hackers demanding Internet freedom — say they
are targeting Web pages of Iran’s leadership in response to the regime’s
muzzling of blogs, news outlets and other sites.

It’s unclear how much the wired warriors have disrupted official Iranian sites. Attempts by The Associated Press to access sites
for state news organizations, including the Islamic Republic News Agency and
Fars, were unsuccessful — with a message saying the links were “broken.”

Other Iranian Web sites, including the official site
for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, were able to be viewed.

It’s the latest in a widening front of attempts at cyber attacks by activists
and others. Earlier this week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates ordered the
creation of a new military cyber command that will coordinate the Pentagon’s
efforts to defend its networks and conduct cyberwarfare.

In the Iranian showdown, the co-founder of the Open
Source Movement, Eric S. Raymond, has launched a site called NedaNet, after
27-year-old Neda Agha Soltan, who became a global symbol of the postelection
protest movement after videos of her death by gunfire was posted on Web
sites.

Raymond described his site as a place for hackers and Iranian protest movement sympathizers from around the world to
team up in developing a system of proxy sites that cloak the location of users
in Iran from the Iranian government.

Iranian authorities have launched a wide-ranging
clampdown on many Web sites, including blogs, independent news outlets and sites
linked to opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, who claims the June 12
presidential election was rigged to hand victory to President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad.

On Saturday, Raymond reported the group would be forced to change some of its
tactics because the Iranian government had “upped the level of Internet censorship it’s
engaging in.” Iranian government
monitors were inspecting traffic more closely to see if users were accessing
blocked web sites, he said.

“We’re trying to provide a covert communication channel for dissenters and
revolutionaries to organize through,” said Raymond in a telephone interview with
The Associated Press.

Raymond said a team of six hackers spend their days writing software to help
Iranian Web users bypass state controls. More than 1,000
other people have offered bandwidth on servers to host proxy sites.

A Web page titled “Freedom Sucker” shows eight Iranian government sites, including
Ahmadinejad’s blog, that are under a constant, automated attack by the page’s
anonymous creator. Every second, the page attempts to reboot the pages in an
attempt to overload them.

Other groups are also working to create Internet havens for Iranians, including a group called Project Hydra and the Free
Net project. Raymond said that many of the groups are wary of allowing media
interviews because hackers tend to operate in anonymity.

Meanwhile, the average Web surfer can simulate an attack on an Iranian state news organization of their choice. A Web site
“War, war, until victory” allows visitors to engage in symbolic hacktivism and
was developed by an Iranian blogger from Isfahan.

With the click of a button, an attack is simulated on the Web sites,
including IRNA and other state news organizations.

“These buttons are only a way for the frustrations of young people to be
settled and in reality are only an attack on their sorrows,” the site’s
administrator wrote in an e-mail to the AP. The administrator commented on
condition of anonymity because of fears of government
reprisals.

Cyber attacks have been around for years, but have gained increasing
attention from governments and security services since
Russian hackers waged a high-profile blitz on Estonia’s government and private sector Web sites in May 2007. In
response, NATO set up an Estonia-based cyber defense center and plans to include
cyber defense in NATO exercises.

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