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NCRI Staff

NCRI - When the Iranian Regime restricted civilian internet usage in an attempt to quell the widespread protests across the country, it didn’t stop the Iranian people from accessing the net, just how they did it.

Software that evades governmental internet censorship, like virtual private networks (VPNs), is being readily used by ordinary Iranians so that they can still access sites like Instagram and Telegram to communicate amongst themselves and to the outside world.

VPNs mask the online IP address that can be used to identify a user and allow them to access sites that are unavailable in their country.

One such programme is TunnelBear, which has been recently used to evade censorship in countries including Turkey, Venezuela and Uganda, according to its co-founder and chief executive Ryan Dochuk.

He said: "TunnelBear is an application that people are downloading today en masse in Iran. We would estimate that just over the last week … over 100,000 extra users have come from Iran and downloaded TunnelBear to ensure they can continue to get access to social media and the outside world and stay connected during the protests."

While TunnelBear typically charges for usage over 500MBs of data, Dochuk said that this fee will be suspended during the protests.

He said: "In general, it's our policy not to generate revenue from countries experiencing censorship events. We provide this service because it aligns with TunnelBear's belief that the internet is better when it's open and uncensored. We have added additional network capacity to handle the demand."

Another application that is now being widely used in Iran is Psiphon’s circumvention tool, which also allows the user to access websites that are blocked in their country.

Alexis Gantous, who handles business development and analytics at Psiphon, describes it as tunnelling software rather than a VPN because it uses many different network protocols to disguise a person's traffic and make it difficult for anyone to track their movements.

He said that Psiphon typically sees 35,000 to 40,000 worldwide installs a day across all its apps, but this increased to over 700,000 a day between December 31 and January 3. He attributes that increase to the Iran protests, which were in their first week during that time, as data from Iran increased fivefold during the same period.

He said: "Our daily users from Iran increased almost tenfold for mobile platforms and even doubled on Windows, when comparing to typical user numbers. We don't have complete information yet, but it looks like between eight to 10 million unique daily users."

The protests began in Mashhad on December 28 over a sharp rise in the cost of living but quickly turned into an anti-regime protest that spread across the whole country, from the big cities to the small towns.