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Nokia Siemens and the Iranian Government
June 22, 2009 9:46 PM   Subscribe

In 2008, Nokia Siemens’ Networks sold Iran a program called Monitoring Centre, which allows the government not only to monitor all mobile communications, but also to alter their contents, possibly for disinformation purposes. Implementation of the deep-packet inspection technology that the program uses may be to blame for the halt in mobile service that occurred after the June 12th election. According the BBC, Nokia Siemens markets the Monitoring Center product to 150 countries around the world.
posted by HylandErickson (34 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Big company does something any sane, thinking person would automatically know is immoral. Film at 11.
posted by Effigy2000 at 9:50 PM on June 22, 2009 [10 favorites]


Funny, but as a sysadmin I have this conversation at work all the time. "You mean, you can read our email?" Well, of course I can. What part of that infrastructure do I not control? So it comes as no surprise to me that countries with much more resources than my little shop can do that much more pervasively and effectively.

Part of that continues to be a fundamental problem with the medium, though; nobody encrypts anything. Remember 1999? "Don't email anything to anyone that you wouldn't write on the back of a postcard. In 2009: "HERE'S YOUR PASSWORD IN PLAINTEXT IN YOUR EMAIL AGAIN YAY!"
posted by mhoye at 9:53 PM on June 22, 2009 [5 favorites]


1989, I should say. Also, get off my e-lawn.
posted by mhoye at 9:54 PM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


The BBC article is here.
posted by HylandErickson at 9:57 PM on June 22, 2009


Nokia Siemens claims otherwise:

The restricted functionality monitoring center provided by Nokia Siemens Networks in Iran cannot provide data monitoring, internet monitoring, deep packet inspection, international call monitoring or speech recognition. Therefore, contrary to speculation in the media, the technology supplied by Nokia Siemens Networks cannot be used for the monitoring or censorship of internet traffic.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:58 PM on June 22, 2009 [3 favorites]


I recently read about a new "crowd-control" technology that essentially consists of a magnetron mounted on the back of a truck. It directs microwaves into an area to cause intense pain and discomfort to anyone in the area. My first thought was "what the hell kind of person would work on such a project -- wouldn't they realize that it's for use on their fellow countrymen?" But Orwell had it right, as usual: in the coming dystopia, the only technologies that will advance (and be funded) are those concerned with police espionage, torture, and the inexpensive termination of human life.

No matter how heinous the tool, there's always someone who will take the pay now to fuck over their neighbor later.
posted by Maximian at 10:00 PM on June 22, 2009 [4 favorites]


According the BBC, Nokia Siemens markets the Monitoring Center product to 150 countries around the world.

If 150 countries use the technology, why only highlight one? Oh right. It's the only one using it for really nefarious purposes; the most repressive one. But only a repressive country would even consider using such a technology right? It definitely doesn't sound consistent with American values of personal liberty and intellectual freedom--oh, wait.

Well, crap.
Countries with repressive governments aren't the only ones interested in such technology. Britain has a list of blocked sites, and the German government is considering similar measures. In the U.S., the National Security Agency has such capability, which was employed as part of the Bush administration's "Terrorist Surveillance Program."
posted by saulgoodman at 10:07 PM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


The goal of this story (it originally started circulating in April) was essentially -- "Western companies aid surveillance efforts in totalitarian states". This makes sense, since it worked so well in the past (see Yahoo ratting out dissidents to China, and Cisco gear being used to build the Great Firewall).

The problem is that it is difficult, if not impossible, to build a cellular phone infrastructure which cannot be used to spy on citizens. Mobile phones, by their very nature, broadcast the user's location (ok, they don't need to have E/911 mandated GPS chips, but triangulation via 3 cell towers does a pretty good job).

Deep Packet Inspection technology is, when used the wrong way, pretty damn evil. However, as I and others have written elsewhere, the solution is not to make DPI tech illegal (since a 1st year CS student can whip up a packet sniffer), but to encourage the large scale mass deployment of encryption technology.

Last week, Google (at the nudging of myself and 37 experts in privacy and security) announced that it would investigate the use of HTTPS encryption by default for GMail and Google Docs. If Yahoo, Twitter, Microsoft, Facebook and the other major Web 2.0 titans got their shit together and deployed the same encryption that your bank and credit card have offered to people checking their balance online for the last 15 years, much of this creepy DPI technology would be useless.

The State dept has already thrown its weight around a bit by getting Twitter to delay the upgrade of hardware until people in Iran were asleep. State could help the people of Iran even more by urging those in Silicon Valley to offer the Iranians effective and usable crypto technology -- tech that is already available, but which they haven't enabled in order to pinch a few pennies.

(Disclaimer: I am heavily involved in the public interest / privacy community as an activist and paranoid geek)
posted by genome4hire at 10:08 PM on June 22, 2009 [28 favorites]


State could help the people of Iran even more by urging those in Silicon Valley to offer the Iranians effective and usable crypto technology -- tech that is already available, but which they haven't enabled in order to pinch a few pennies.

First they would have to end the ban on exporting crypto to Iran in the first place.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:16 PM on June 22, 2009


There is a Persian version of Firefox, which (of course) supports HTTPS encryption.

Likewise, Iran-based users of Google Mail (at least when they aren't being blocked) can enable HTTPS, if they know the option exists.

As far as I know, US export rules do not prohibit western companies from offering HTTPS enabled services to people in Iran, as long as those services are provided for free. If money is charged, it gets much more complex.
posted by genome4hire at 10:28 PM on June 22, 2009


Big company does something any sane, thinking person would automatically know is immoral. Film at 11.

Repressive technology designed regularly used by Western governments pilloried when used by anyone else. Film fairly constantly.
posted by pompomtom at 11:03 PM on June 22, 2009 [6 favorites]


From the BBC article linked:
But Nokia Siemens says the product is only being used, in Iran, for the monitoring of local telephone calls on fixed and mobile lines.

Rather than just block traffic, it is understood that the monitoring system can also interrogate data to see what information is being passed back and forth.

A spokesman described the system as "a standard architecture that the world's governments use for lawful intercept".

He added: "Western governments, including the UK, don't allow you to build networks without having this functionality."
So, European firm, doing what is legally required by Western governments sells same equipment to Iran, is pretty much libelled in Wall Street Journal.
posted by sien at 11:21 PM on June 22, 2009 [3 favorites]


as a sysadmin I have this conversation at work all the time. "You mean, you can read our email?" Well, of course I can.

Well, one would hope you could also get fired for that. ("Capable of" is not the same as "allowed to". I can break into your house, after all. Of course I can. Etc.)

But in Iran? Who gets fired in this case?
posted by rokusan at 11:24 PM on June 22, 2009


Who gets fired when it happens over here?
posted by ryanrs at 12:16 AM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


I wonder whether blaming Nokia for government surveillance using their equipment would require that you also give Nokia credit for creating the phones protesters use to organize and report on events? I have the feeling that governments and their citizens will always be able to buy the equipment somewhere or find another way to effectively take the same actions. What encryption options do protesters have for countering government packet inspection?

Also: is this "Monitoring Centre" technology covered by anything like the Wassenaar Arrangement? Did Nokia violate any international agreements?
posted by pracowity at 12:57 AM on June 23, 2009


Well, one would hope you could also get fired for that.

Generally the sysadmins are not doing it as a hobby, but in the furtherance of someone else being fired.

(I've been on both sides of in-house forensics. Not fun in either case.)
posted by dhartung at 1:20 AM on June 23, 2009


Unlike the US government, which never monitors citizen communications for nefarious purposes, right?
posted by fourcheesemac at 1:25 AM on June 23, 2009 [5 favorites]


what the hell kind of person would work on such a project ?

I had a lobotomy in the end.

Lobotomy? Isn't that for loonies?

Not at all. Friend of mine had one. Designer of the neutron bomb. You ever hear of the neutron bomb? Destroys people - leaves buildings standing. Fits in a suitcase. It's so small, no one knows it's there until - BLAMMO. Eyes melt, skin explodes, everybody dead. So immoral, working on the thing can drive you mad. That's what happened to this friend of mine. So he had a lobotomy. Now he's well again.
posted by Clave at 1:26 AM on June 23, 2009 [5 favorites]


Who gets fired when it happens over here?

Hah! Nobody gets fired over here, of course.

We've had whistleblowers come forward, with documentary evidence, to make known that the entirety of data flowing through the facilities of both landline telephone/Internet providers and wireless providers is being diverted, either through lexical analyzers searching for data/conversations of interest, or simply through direct taps leading to the FBI's electronic surveillance operations in Quantico. We've also learned that the data from these wiretaps were combined with credit card records, that journalists were specifically targeted, and that the NSA's requests for domestic surveillance information began over half a year before 9/11. And in response? Congress passed a law to immunize the telecoms who knowingly violated surveillance laws and accepted huge amounts of money in exchange for their assistance, and neither Congress nor the DOJ seems at all interested in investigating, let alone prosecuting, anybody responsible for passing down the orders.

Greenwald nails the six-step cycle we've been carrying out for the past 8 years: Downplay the violations with euphemisms, assure everybody that they were unintentional and resulted from procedures that are being fixed, get a few Congresspeople to act concerned and pretend they're going to hold hearings and get serious, never ever actually hold anyone accountable, authorize even more expanded spying powers after intense pressure from the "omg terror" crowd, and then wait for the inevitable disclosure of even more illegal government spying!
posted by cobra_high_tigers at 1:30 AM on June 23, 2009 [12 favorites]


Nokia-Siemens should be shamed for producing such technology, unless they place on their website for free, encryption technology. Boycott Nokia phones. Boycott Siemens' everything, I say!

Both Nokia and Siemens have benefited from innovation that mostly happens in open societies. It is despicable that they should be enabling totalitarian regimes to violate individual privacy, be it warrantless in the US, or de rigeur in Iran, without providing encryption technology in easy-to-understand-and-download terms for us civilians.

Um, how do you encrypt? Anyone?
posted by Azaadistani at 2:05 AM on June 23, 2009


Of course governments and companies will use these tools.

Companies need to set the defaults on their software to encrypt all communications and even storage. Secure crypto, by default, makes everyone safer.
posted by xpermanentx at 2:58 AM on June 23, 2009


With the help of U.S. defense contractors, China is building the prototype for a high-tech police state. It is ready for export.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:46 AM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


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posted by Hovercraft Eel at 5:57 AM on June 23, 2009


Big company does something any sane, thinking person would automatically know is immoral. Film at 11.

The thing is, they develop all this technology for western countries (or China), and no one complains. In fact, according to Nokia it's illegal not to build this technology. That's probably correct.

So rather then Nokia developing a special monitoring program for Iran, they simply sent them a standard setup.

The question you should be asking isn't "why would Nokia sell this to Iran" (and they claim to have sold them a crippled version) but "Why is it illegal to develop phone technology without these features"
posted by delmoi at 6:10 AM on June 23, 2009


The State dept has already thrown its weight around a bit by getting Twitter to delay the upgrade of hardware until people in Iran were asleep. State could help the people of Iran even more by urging those in Silicon Valley to offer the Iranians effective and usable crypto technology

Er, you realize that Iran is one of the few countries that exporting crypto to is illegal right? The U.S. government has been trying to keep crypto out of that country for decades. If you release software with cryptographic capabilities, you have to filter out traffic from Iran (and north Korea) and not let people from those countries even download it. I guess that could change, and I don't know if that's well enforced these days (I doubt it)

Also, they need not only cryptographic software but also stenography, since it would be easy to use deep packet inspection to filter out messages with, say, PGP headers.
posted by delmoi at 6:16 AM on June 23, 2009


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawful_interception
posted by w.fugawe at 7:38 AM on June 23, 2009


This isn't really something to blame Nokia for... lawful access requirements in many countries require telecom providers to build into their systems the capability to allow for the interception of private communications (Canada, for example, proposed a new law just this week to do that).

Free societies (ideally) only allow interception in the case of judicial authorization (ie a wiretapping warrant or its equivalent). The blame here lies with the Iranian govt for mass interceptions, rather than Nokia for providing the technology, as it is required to do in basically every country it operates.
posted by modernnomad at 7:57 AM on June 23, 2009


"The U.S. government has been trying to keep crypto out of that country for decades."

Something that has been about as likely to succeed as trying to keep water from being wet for at least 25 years. In a useless gesture to try and prevent bad governments from having crypto the US is preventing the citizens of those governments from having crypto.
posted by Mitheral at 8:51 AM on June 23, 2009


Also, they need not only cryptographic software but also stenography

*burka- enclosed hottie sits on lap taking a letter*
posted by Hovercraft Eel at 8:51 AM on June 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


A while ago I was thinking that, if I were in charge, I would require all telecom equipment capable of intercepting communications to require a digitally signed electronic warrant in order to actually do the intercept, and that records would need to be kept about who authorized them and who actually requested them.

But then I figured that would be to complicated, and figured I would just mandate crypto on all phones turned on by default.

Then I realized that I would never be in charge so it hardly matters what I think :P
posted by delmoi at 9:40 AM on June 23, 2009


Azaadistani: Nokia-Siemens should be shamed for producing such technology, unless they place on their website for free, encryption technology. Boycott Nokia phones. Boycott Siemens' everything, I say!

I agree and the Green Wave should be as significant as the French revolution in identifying and dismantling repressive governmental technologies. I know that's a huge request, but I can hope can't I? How long as a freedom-loving people are we going to watch old ladies and college students get tasered and out every communication whether it be voice or data open to anyone with the proper clearance. I, too say, let the boycott on Nokia_Seimens begin, as well as any American company (for example I know IBM has close business ties to Seimens are extremely concerned with corp. responsibility and Green Technologies amongst many many others, like probably Motorola and the military companies) who has dealings with them. They need to be made an example of, as well as those that provide parts and services and deal with the grotesque Taser corp.
posted by Skygazer at 12:12 PM on June 23, 2009


Free Speech vs. Surveillance in the Digital Age
posted by homunculus at 2:48 PM on June 24, 2009


Deep-Packet Inspection in U.S. Scrutinized Following Iran Surveillance
posted by homunculus at 4:20 PM on June 29, 2009


Help Protesters in Iran: Run a Tor Bridge or a Tor Relay
posted by homunculus at 9:16 AM on June 30, 2009


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