Iran’s national information network (ININ) – the country’s intranet – is 80 per cent complete, the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution announced Sunday 19 May, ironically to mark world telecommunications day (Friday 17 May).
With the ININ, Tehran hopes to cut the country's dependency on international cyberspace.
Saied Reza Ameli, professor of communications at Tehran university, and a mid-ranking cleric, said the government and the private sector have so far allocated nearly 120 trillion rials (approximately $285m), and 70 trillion rials ($166m) to create the national cyber platform.
President Hassan Rouhani's government said in August 2016 it aimed to create an isolated domestic intranet (halal internet) that can be used to promote “Islamic content” and raise digital awareness among the public.
The government’s official news agency, IRNA, said at the time that the initiative would offer “high quality, high speed” connections at “low costs”.
It was in 2010, however, that the plan for a national internet platform was first announced – it was then expected to be fully operational within five years.
Critics insist the real aim is to tighten censorship and the authorities’ control over people’s use of the internet.
Iran has already blocked access to tens of thousands of websites and to overseas-based social media services, including Twitter and Facebook, but many users still have access to them through proxy sites and virtual private networks (VPNs).
Initially hesitant about the project, President Rouhani has been lambasted by its conservative advocates, including Iran’s prosecutor-general, Mohammad Ja'far Montazeri.
Comparing internet to a “slaughterhouse”, Montazeri warned in February: “Blasphemy, anti-national security teachings, and destroying the identity of the youth are among issues we face in cyberspace.”
During the Sunday event the minister of information and communication technology (ICT), Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi boasted of 142 successful tests to “weigh the independence of Iran’s national intranet network, against a possible internet disconnection”.
Without elaborating on the nature of the tests, Azari Jahromi asserted that, based on his estimation, the Islamic Republic is capable of confronting cyberspace threats.
It was announced last February that Iran was set to hold an “internet disconnection drill”. A day later, however, Azari Jahromi said the plan was delayed.
International organizations have frequently blamed the Islamic Republic for censorship, suppressing social media users, and filtering websites and apps.
The latest global ranking on media freedom shows that out of 180 countries, Iran has dropped six points to 170th place.
Azari Jahromi told reporters on Sunday that the country has succeeded in developing its own firewall to counter cyberattacks.
“The indigenous firewall is currently installed on all industrial control systems operating under the Siemens brand,” Azari Jahromi said.
He stressed that the firewall will soon become compatible with all other industrial-control-system brands operating in Iran.
According to the state-run Mehr news agency, Azari Jahromi said the computer worm Stuxnet – “believed to be made by the U.S. and Israel” and used in the past to target the Islamic Republic's nuclear program – had infected computers that were connected to the country’s industrial facilities.
In an Instagram post on Thursday 15 May, the ICT minister said that the national firewall, Dezhfa, has been designed and developed by young Iranian scientists and successfully tested on industrial automation systems.
Azari Jahromi added that while 600,000 cyberattacks were dispelled last year, this year 33 million cyberattacks have been neutralized.
He said this confirmed the Islamic Republic has become 50 times more potent in defending itself against cyberattacks.