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Iran is Losing More than USD $1M GDP Daily from Blocking Internet and VPN Services

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Senior Communication and Technology Advisor, Internet Society
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May 15, 2024

Last Sunday marked the 600th day of ongoing mobile Internet outages and service-blocking events, resulting in more than USD $720 million in Gross Domestic Product losses and 10,000 jobs, according to the Pulse NetLoss Calculator (Figure 1).

Screenshot of NetLoss data, showing loss of GDP and FDI, and increase in unemployment and shutdown risk
Figure 1 — The Internet Society Pulse NetLoss Calculator uses an economic framework to estimate the impact of Internet shutdowns on a range of economic, social, and other outcomes and uses econometric tools to provide a rigorous and precise estimate of the economic impact of a given shutdown. Source: Pulse.

Iranian authorities began systematically blocking international DNS, social media, and messaging services on 20 September 2022 in response to widespread protests following the death of a woman detained by the morality police.

As reported via the Pulse shutdown event page and other reports published on the Pulse Blog, this shutdown and blocking event has been multidimensional, involving a combination of DNS-based tampering, TCP/IP blocking, TLS-level interference, and mobile network interference. All services are still affected.

Time series chart showing the detection of censorship events per known censorship signatures in Iran from 13 to 29 September 2022.
Figure 2 — Passive detection of the start of the censorship event in Iran in September 2022, showing how different tampering efforts were initially used. Learn more.

This has required most Internet users in Iran to use expensive circumvention tools or elaborate techniques to continue to use these services to do their work, keep their businesses going, apply for scholarships, and report on what’s happening in Iran to the outside world.

“The income of laborers in Iran is roughly about 8 million Tomans!” explained X user @Angellwarrior20. “Out of this 8 million, 1 million must be set aside for Internet expenses and bypass filtering issues! Filtering and Internet censorship are damaging our connection with the outside world.”

According to other sources, authorities are also proactively reviewing and blocking previously reported circumvention tools and protocols, such as Tor Snowflake, Reality, SSH, VMESS, and VLESS.

Time series column chart showing the number of anomalies and failed tests for Tor Snowflake accessibility in Iran.
Figure 3 — The OONI Probe Tor Snowflake test provides an automated way of measuring whether the Tor Snowflake pluggable transport works on a tested network. Source: OONI.

One source told Pulse they could connect via SSH or VMESS, but the server they connect via would be filtered within a day; VLESS would be blocked after one week to a month. 

“Other ways of [circumventing] the restriction are creating a tunnel using a server from Iran, but it has its own problems as [you] need to provide a lot of personal information to rent [a] server,” they explained. “The way things are going now, we will see much worse restrictions in the future.”

Pulse researchers validated anomalies connecting to Iran via SSH (port 22) from Sydney, Australia, and Mumbai, India, with more than half of the probes unable to connect (Figure 4a,b).

Plot showing the number of hops from RIPE Atlas Probe in Iran to a server in Sydney, Australia
Figure 4a — Plot showing tests from a RIPE Atlas Probe in Iran to a server ( in Sydney, Australia. Source: RIPE Atlas.
Plot showing the number of hops from RIPE Atlas Probe in Iran to a server in Mumbai, India
Figure 4b — Plot showing tests from a RIPE Atlas Probe in Iran to a server ( in Mumbai, India. Source: RIPE Atlas.

Another Step Towards Centralized Control 

Earlier this year, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei approved measures to forbid top state entities from using “refinement-breaking tools” unless the user has obtained a legal permit and encourage local content creators to host their content on local platforms.

The latter aligns with Iran’s National Information Network and Protection Bill, which collectively seeks to reallocate all Iranian websites to domestic hosts, have international services create points of presence in Iran that align with Iranian laws, limit government services to local platforms, and make local Internet traffic cost less than international traffic.

Further, these strategies allow the government to keep crucial networking functions under its control and ensure that critical national infrastructure remains online in the event of cyberattacks or Internet shutdowns. This was the case during the seven-day national Internet shutdown in November 2019, during which domestic Internet services and critical infrastructures, such as government services and banking, remained online while access to ‘foreign’ Internet services and websites was cut off.

These measures have been widely criticized nationally and internationally due to their fragmentation qualities and impact on Internet freedom and access to information. Iran’s attempts to insulate itself from the global Internet, akin to China’s Great Fire Wall, are a step towards splintering the Internet.

Advocate to resist Internet fragmentation, and uphold the open, global Internet.