Iran’s Internal Conflict Plays Out On Social Media

The biggest anti-government protests in Iran for nearly a decade have been fuelled by rising discontent, in particular over the cost of living. Iran has been rocked by a wave of protests over economic hardship and lack of civil liberties in the past few weeks.

The streets are not the only battleground between the Islamic Republic and its critics. A cyber battle on several fronts is being fought between the two sides on social media platforms. 

In 2009, the last time Iran saw demonstrations of such scale, social media was dominated by pro-opposition users and reformists who used Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to share images of the Green Movement to the outside world. Today, mobile apps are used by a significantly higher percentage of the population and the government is better prepared to confront its opponents on digital media.

Many senior politicians and activists use a variety of platforms on a daily basis, despite some being officially blocked, and boast hundreds of thousands of followers sympathetic to their cause. After the Stuxnet computer worm hit Iran's nuclear facilities in 2010, the country invested heavily in cyber capabilities and set up a team of trained hackers known as the Iranian Cyber-Army.

In the absence of independent news outlets and state TV's typically one-sided coverage, citizens took to social media to share photos and videos of the demonstrations with the aim of disseminating their message and inviting more local residents to join the crowds.

Telegram, which has an estimated 40 million users in Iran, equivalent to almost half the population, has been the platform of choice for the protestors. In response, the officials "temporarily" blocked Telegram and Instagram. Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have been banned since 2009. 

'Nothing going on'

But proponents of the Islamic Republic did not leave the social media battleground to the critics this time. One of the notable tactics used was the creation of dozens of Twitter bots whose job ranged from calling widely shared videos of rallies fake to discouraging potential protesters from joining rallies.  

A social bot automatically generates content and followers, mostly to support a wider campaign. Most of these accounts have unusual profile names and pictures, and were created during the protests.The accounts have no more than a handful of followers, which happen to be similar bot accounts. "I just arrived here, there is nothing going on," posted one account in response to a video about an alleged protest in Rasht, Gilan province. "Why are you lying? No-one is here," said another. The exact same messages by the same accounts can be seen below many videos shared between 1 and 4 January. 

While clearly co-ordinated, there is no evidence that these accounts were created by official authorities or security services.

Bot-spotting tips

The Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRL) offers social-media users tips for spotting a bot:

Frequency: Bots are prolific posters. The more frequently they post, the more caution should be shown. The DFRL classifies 72 posts a day as suspicious, and more than 144 per day as highly suspicious. 

Anonymity: Bots often lack any personal information. The accounts often have generic profile pictures and political slogans as "bios".

Amplification: A bot's timeline will often consist of re-tweets and verbatim quotes, with few posts containing original wording.

Common content: Networks of bots can be identified if multiple profiles tweet the same content almost simultaneously.

Hashtag Wars                                                                                                                                                        

At the same time, hardline users began an initiative to enlarge and highlight the faces of protesters captured in videos and pictures, calling for the intelligence agencies to identify and arrest them. Tasnim news agency, affiliated to the powerful Revolutionary Guards, was among those joining the initiative on Twitter. The protesters hit back immediately. They set up a Twitter account sharing the alleged names and details of security personnel confronting the demonstrators. In addition, they identified the accounts highlighting individual protesters and repeatedly reported them to Twitter.

The hashtag mostly associated with the recent events in Iran, #nationwide_protests, has been used more than 470,000 times so far. 

But an analysis of the hashtag shows a large number of posts in favour of the demonstrations from Saudi Arabia.
Some supporters of the Islamic Republic and conservative agencies have been using their own hashtag, #nationwide_riots.
Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran are regional rivals and have been involved in proxy wars in the Middle East, notably in Syria and Yemen. An Arabic hashtag, #happening_now_in_Iran, has been used more than 66,000 times since the first day of the protests.

BBC:

You Might Also Read:

Iran Turns Off The Internet:

Signal: The Snowden-Approved Crypto App Comes to Android:

Zello Protest App Blocked in Russia:

 

« Applying Blockchain to Cybersecurity
The Big Online Advertising Swindle »

CyberSecurity Jobsite
Perimeter 81

Directory of Suppliers

LockLizard

LockLizard

Locklizard provides PDF DRM software that protects PDF documents from unauthorized access and misuse. Share and sell documents securely - prevent document leakage, sharing and piracy.

Resecurity, Inc.

Resecurity, Inc.

Resecurity is a cybersecurity company that delivers a unified platform for endpoint protection, risk management, and cyber threat intelligence.

BackupVault

BackupVault

BackupVault is a leading provider of automatic cloud backup and critical data protection against ransomware, insider attacks and hackers for businesses and organisations worldwide.

ManageEngine

ManageEngine

As the IT management division of Zoho Corporation, ManageEngine prioritizes flexible solutions that work for all businesses, regardless of size or budget.

Syxsense

Syxsense

Syxsense brings together endpoint management and security for greater efficiency and collaboration between IT management and security teams.

CoSoSys Endpoint Protector

CoSoSys Endpoint Protector

Endpoint Protector by CoSoSys is an advanced all-in-one DLP solution for Windows, macOS, and Linux, that puts an end to unintentional data leaks and protects from malicious data theft.

PhishLabs

PhishLabs

PhishLabs provides 24/7 services that help organizations protect against the cyberattacks targeting their employees, their customers and their brands.

NAVEX Global

NAVEX Global

NAVEX Global’s compliance management system consolidates your entire GRC program onto a scalable cloud-based platform.

Kingsley Napley

Kingsley Napley

Cyber crime is an area of growing legal complexity. Our team of cyber crime lawyers have vast experience of the law in this area.

Recruit.net

Recruit.net

Recruit.net allows job seekers to instantly find millions of jobs from thousands of web sites with a single search.

Combined Selection Group (CSG)

Combined Selection Group (CSG)

CSG are Global Talent Experts, we operate across 7 specialist sectors, including Information Technology and Cybersecurity, and take a pro-active approach to executive search and headhunting.

Adzuna

Adzuna

Adzuna is a search engine for job ads used by over 10 million visitors per month that aims to list every job everywhere, including thousands of vacancies in Cybersecurity.

Port53 Technologies

Port53 Technologies

Port53 Technologies is focused on delivering enterprise-grade, cloud-delivered security solutions that are easy to deploy, simple to manage and extremely effective.

JM Search

JM Search

JM Search’s Information Technology Executives Practice sources the most sought-after technology roles including CIO, CTO, CISO, CDO and other senior posts.

Sygnia

Sygnia

Sygnia is a cyber technology and services company, providing high-end consulting and incident response support for organizations worldwide.

Charterhouse Voice & Data

Charterhouse Voice & Data

Charterhouse is your trusted technology partner - designing, provisioning and supporting the technology that underpins your operations including network security and data compliance.

ImpactQA

ImpactQA

ImpactQA is a global leading software testing & QA consulting company. Ten years of excellence. Delivering unmatched services & digital transformation to SMEs & Fortune 500 companies.

Guernsey

Guernsey

Guernsey provides a wide range of engineering, architecture and consulting services to multiple markets, including cybersecurity consulting and CMMC certification.

BLOCX

BLOCX

BLOCX is designed to address the ever-growing challenges of managing and securing digital devices, from personal computers to corporate networks.

Security Awareness Special Interest Group (SASIG)

Security Awareness Special Interest Group (SASIG)

The Security Awareness Special Interest Group (SASIG) addresses the human aspects of security and fraud prevention in an initiative to improve trust and confidence in the online environment.

AKIPS

AKIPS

AKIPS develops the world's most scalable network and infrastructure monitoring software, delivered as a turn-key software appliance.