Nokia, Siemens Help Iran Spy on Internet Users
How do you say “Operation Pinwale” in Farsi?
According to a somewhat confusing Wall Street Journal story, Iran has adopted NSA-like techniques and installed equipment on its national telecommunication network last year that allows it to spy on the online activities and correspondence — including the content of e-mail and VoIP phone calls — of its internet users.
Nokia Siemens Networks, a joint venture between Germany’s Siemens and Finland’s Nokia, installed the monitoring equipment late last year in Iran’s government-controlled telecom network, Telecommunication Infrastructure Co., but authorities only recently engaged its full capabilities in response to recent protests that have broken out in the country over its presidential election.
The equipment allows the state to conduct deep-packet inspection, which sifts through data as it flows through a network searching for keywords in the content of e-mail and voice transmissions. According to the Journal, Iran seems to be doing this for the entire country from a single choke point. “Seems,” because although the Journal states that Nokia Siemens installed the equipment and that signs indicate the country is conducting deep-packet inspection, the paper also says “it couldn’t be determined whether the equipment from Nokia Siemens Networks is used specifically for deep packet inspection.”
Although the Journal has published questionable “spying” stories in the past, we’re willing to go with them on this one.
It’s previously been reported that Iran was blocking access to some web sites for people inside the country as protesters took to the streets and the internet to dispute the results of the country’s recent presidential election.
But sources told the Journal that the government’s activities have gone beyond censorship to massive spying. They say the deep-packet inspection, which deconstructs data in transit then reconstructs it, could be responsible for network activity in Iran having recently slowed to less than a tenth of its regular speed. The slowdown could be caused by the inspection at a single point, rather than at numerous network points, as China reportedly does it.
A brochure promoting the equipment sold to Iran says the technology allows for “the monitoring and interception of all types of voice and data communication on all networks.”
A spokesman for Nokia Siemens Networks defended the sale of the equipment to Iran suggesting that the company provided the technology with the idea that it would be used for “lawful intercept,” such as combating terrorism, child pornography, drug trafficking and other criminal activity. Equipment installed for law enforcement purposes, however, can easily be used for spying as well.
“If you sell networks, you also, intrinsically, sell the capability to intercept any communication that runs over them,” the spokesman told the Journal.
He added that the company “does have a choice about whether to do business in any country” but said, “We believe providing people, wherever they are, with the ability to communicate is preferable to leaving them without the choice to be heard.”
In March, the company sold off its monitoring technology to a German investment firm.
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