By Noah Shachtman
While demonstrators gather in the streets to contest Iran's rigged election, online backers of the so-called "Green Revolution" are looking to strike back at the Tehran regime — by attacking the government's websites.
Pro-democracy activists on the web are asking supporters to use relatively simple hacking tools to flood the regime's propaganda sites with junk traffic. "NOTE to HACKERS - attack www.farhang.gov.ir - pls try to hack all iran gov wesites [sic]. very difficult for us," Tweets one activist. The impact of these distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks isn't clear. But official online outlets like leader.ir, ahmadinejad.ir, and iribnews.ir are currently inaccessible. "There are calls to use an even more sophisticated tool called BWraep, which seems to exhaust the target website out of bandwidth by creating bogus requests for serving images," notes Open Society Institute fellow Evgeny Morozov.
In both Iran and abroad, the cyberstrikes are being praised as a way to hit back against a regime that so blatantly engaged in voter fraud. But some observers warn that the network strikes could backfire — hurting the very protesters they're meant to assist. Michael Roston is concerned that "it helps to excuse the Iranian regime's own cyberwarfare." Text-messaging networks and key opposition websites mysteriously went dark just before the election. Morozov worries that it "gives [the] hard-line government another reason to suspect 'foreign intervention' — albeit via computer networks — into Iranian politics."
Iran has one of the world's most vibrant social media communities. That's helping those of us outside Iran follow along as this revolution is being YouTubed, blogged, and Tweeted. But Iran's network infrastructure there is relatively centralized. Which makes Internet access there inherently unstable. Programmer Robert Synott worries that if outside protesters pour too much DDOS traffic into Iran, carriers there "will simply pull the plug to protect the rest of their network."
For the moment, however, those connections are still live. And activists are using them to mobilize mass protests in Tehran. Opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi has just appeared. Tens of thousands of protesters are chanting "'No fear, No fear, we are with each other.'"