The Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) has weaponized Western cyber-technology to target its own people. That is the nub of news emanating out of sources in Tehran, and is the latest affront to individuals' freedom of speech in the 39-year old regime. This recent initiative is in response to anti-regime demonstrations in cities across the country late last year and in early January this year that rocked the regime.
Tehran’s raising the spying ante on their own citizens comes on the heels of a recent blunder chronicled here weeks ago . This latest abuse of personal privacy and freedom is even more odious than its crackdown on dissidents by throttling Telegram. That article focused on the stupidity and myopia of the regime, which hampered its economic lifeline - small businesses - in its quest to censor citizens’ communication.
With the difficulty of getting a true picture of what is happening in the country due to censorship, news about this most recent round of communication repression is courtesy of the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and its sources within the government. The IRGC is reportedly mass-surveilling citizens by employing a network of state-produced mobile phone apps to help do the dirty work.
The 48 million of Iran’s 80 million citizens who are estimated to own smartphones are a thorn in the side of the regime. The devices have been effective in helping dissidents and protestors to organize, and not only exchange information among themselves and myriad communities, but also to the outside world.
The ears of intelligence agencies around the world have pricked up in reaction to this latest news because, if true, the phones apps being mass distributed beyond the country’s borders have grave implications for millions outside Iran to be exposed to the social media spyware. “IRGC front companies are developing spyware-enabled apps for cyber-surveillance and repression,” the NCRI report said.
Because the apps have apparently penetrated platforms operated by Google and Apple, and are even tied to the aforementioned Telegram, millions of users worldwide are potentially exposed to the IRGC’s spyware and resulting surveillance efforts. The Deputy Director of NCRI’s Washington bureau, Alireza Jafarzardeh, asserted that:
“What the regime is doing is testing the success of these apps on the people of Iran first. If not confronted, the next victims will be the people of other nations, and that’s why it’s so important to react and do something.”
Since these actions by the IRGC represent an escalation of Iran’s activities against the United States, he admonished the US government for not putting demands on American companies, such as Google and Apple, to cease making things easier for Tehran by making apps tied to the IRGC available on their platforms.
In order to press forward with its nefarious surveillance campaign, the IRGC is crafty. It sent front companies onto university campuses to recruit unwitting students to the cause, aided and abetted by professors who are actually IRGC stooges. Fortunately, according to the NCRI, “many of these recruits leave once they discover the companies’ links to the IRGC.”
“All governments in the world must be aware of the dangers of cyber-wiretapping and the manipulations of the Iranian regime,” Jafarzadeh said, urging them to consider this issue as significant and should be addressed. Given the stepped-up surveillance activities of the repressive regime, it would seem that countries who fail to follow this advice do so at their own grave and unnecessary risk.