* Tehran says move is for cyber security
* Many Iranians see new crackdown on Internet freedom
* Google, Gmail blocked
DUBAI, Sept 23 Iran plans to switch its citizens
onto a domestic Internet network in what officials say is a bid
to improve cyber security but which many Iranians fear is the
latest way to control their access to the web.
The announcement, made by a government deputy minister on
Sunday, came as state television announced Google Inc's
search engine and its email service would be blocked "within a
"Google and Gmail will be filtered throughout the country
until further notice," an official identified only by his last
name, Khoramabadi, said, without giving further details.
The Iranian Students' News Agency (ISNA) said Google ban was
connected to the anti-Islamic film posted on the company's
YouTube site which has caused outrage throughout the Muslim
world. There was no official confirmation.
Iran has one of the biggest Internet filters of any country
in the world, preventing normal Iranians from accessing
countless sites on the official grounds they are offensive or
But many Iranians believe the block on sites such as
Facebook and YouTube is due to their use in anti-government
protests after the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud
Ahamdinejad in 2009.
Sites expressing views considered anti-government are also
Iranians commonly overcome the government filter by using
virtual private network (VPN) software that makes the computer
appear as if it is based in another country.
But officials have long spoken of creating an Iranian
Internet system which would be largely isolated from the World
"In recent days, all governmental agencies and offices ...
have been connected to the national information network," deputy
communications and technology minister Ali Hakim-Javadi was
quoted as saying by the Mehr news agency.
The second phase of the plan would be to connect ordinary
Iranians to the national network, he said.
According to Iranian media, the domestic system would be
fully implemented by March 2013 but it was not clear whether
access to the global Internet would be cut once the Iranian
system is rolled out.
Even using VPNs, many Iranians suffered serious problems
accessing email and social networking sites in February, ahead
of parliamentary elections.
The Islamic Republic tightened cyber security after its
nuclear programme was attacked in 2010 by the Stuxnet computer
worm, which caused centrifuges to fail at its main uranium
Tehran, whose nuclear programme is suspected by the West of
being aimed at developing a bomb, accused the United States and
Israel of deploying the worm.
Authorities said in April a computer virus was detected
inside the control systems of Kharg Island - which handles the
vast majority of Iran's crude oil exports - but the terminal
Communications and Technology Minister Reza Taqipour said
last month Iran needed to develop its own network to ensure the
safety of the country's information.
"Control over the Internet should not be in the hands of one
or two countries," he said. "Especially on major issues and
during crises, one cannot trust this network at all."
Iran threatened in May to take legal action against Google
over its decision to drop the term "Persian Gulf" from its
Google Maps and leaving the waterway between Iran and the
Arabian peninsula nameless.
Many Arab states refer to the sea as the "Arabian Gulf", a
term Iran considers unacceptable.