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Big Tech Could Help Iranian Protesters Using An Ancient Tool

But these solutions are not enough. Although the first Starlink satellites have been smuggled into Iran, restoring the Internet will likely require several thousand more. Signal tells MIT Technology Review which has been hassled by “Iranian telecom providers preventing some SMS validation codes from being delivered”. And Iran has already detected and shut down Google VPN, which is what happens when a single VPN becomes too popular (plus, unlike most VPNs, Outline costs money).

What’s more, “there is no reliable mechanism for Iranian users to find these proxies,” says Nima Fatemi, director of global cybersecurity at nonprofit Kandoo. They are being promoted on social media which is banned in Iran. “While I appreciate your effort,” she adds, “it feels half-hearted and half-hearted.”

There’s something else Big Tech could do, according to some pro-democracy activists and digital freedom experts. But it has received little attention, despite the fact that it is something that was offered by several major service providers until a few years ago.

“One thing people don’t talk about is the façade of dominance,” says Mahsa Alimardani, an Internet researcher at the University of Oxford and Article19, a human rights organization focused on freedom of expression and information. It’s a technique that developers have used for years to bypass internet restrictions like the ones that have made it incredibly difficult for Iranians to communicate securely. In essence, the domain façade allows applications to disguise traffic directed at them; for example, when someone types a site in a web browser, this technique intervenes in that browser-to-site communication and can encrypt what the computer sees on the back end to disguise the true identity of the final site.

In the days of the domain front, “cloud platforms were used for circumvention,” Alimardani explains. From 2016 to 2018, secure messaging apps like Telegram and Signal used the cloud hosting infrastructure of Google, Amazon, and Microsoft, on which most of the web runs, to disguise user traffic and frustrate users. successful bans and surveillance in Russia and throughout the Middle East. .

But Google and Amazon discontinued the practice in 2018, after pushback from the Russian government and citing security concerns about how hackers could abuse it. Now, activists working at the intersection of human rights and technology say resetting the technique, with a few tweaks, is a tool Big Tech could use to get Iranians back online quickly.

The domain facade “is a good place to start” if the tech giants really want to help, Alimardani says. “They need to invest to help with circumvention technology, and having domain fronting removed is really not a good idea.”

Domain façade could be a critical tool to help protesters and activists stay in touch for planning and security purposes, and to update concerned family and friends during a dangerous period. “We recognize the possibility that we may not come home every time we go out,” says Elmira, an Iranian woman in her 30s who asked to be identified only by her first name for security reasons.