Iran Cyber Front: Iran’s “national information network” to come online by the end of September

In an interview with the Iranian Student News Agency (ISNA), telecommunications minister Reza Taghipour declared that by the end of September phase one of the “national information network” would be complete. The national information network is the latest name for the Islamic Republic of Iran’s project to create a national intranet that is largely isolated from the world wide web. In the past this project has also been labelled the “national” or “clean” Internet project.

Taghipour stated that in phase one Iran’s domestic networks would be separated from the world wide web. According to him, after the implementation of phase one “…we will be able to one hundred percent prevent cyber attacks and malware will not enter [our systems], unless some evil plots do this from inside of the country.”

Explaining the rationale behind the national information network, Taghipour continued that:

“…security is one of the main and important issues which has been taken into account in designing the national information network.”

The telecom minister also tried to play up Iran’s technical prowess, asserting that the national information project’s software and management are completely indigenous. He predicted that in future phases Iran would be introducing an indigenous operating system, search engine, and email, among other things.

Editor’s note: Given the prevalence of cyberattacks against Iran in the last several years, there are no doubt sound cybersecurity reasons for creating the national information network. However, the ambitious scale of the project and comments from Iran’s senior leadership all suggest other reasons alongside cybersecurity as motivating factors.

The regime began emphasizing the need for a national intranet two years ago after the controversy and demonstrations surrounding the 2009 Iranian presidential election. Just last year, Taghipour highlighted the need for Iran to have a “clean” Internet, lamenting that the world wide web was designed along the lines of “liberal” and “humanist” (i.e. Western) values, making it unclean and corrosive to Iranian families and traditional values.

The Islamic Republic’s cyber security rhetoric therefore masks a much more grim reality: The regime is trying to isolate its people from the rest of the world. However, like many of the Iranian government’s projects there are often problems with implementation. As phase one goes online, it will become clearer how realistic the regime’s dream of a “clean” Internet for Iranians truly is.