For the past six days, citizens have taken to the streets across Iran, protesting government oppression and the rising cost of goods. Video broadcasts from the country have shown increasingly intense clashes between protesters and riot police, with as many as 21 people estimated to have died since the protests began. But a complex fight is also raging online, as protesters look for secure channels where they can organize free of government interference.
Even before the protest, Iran’s government blocked large portions of the internet, including YouTube, Facebook, and any VPN services that might be used to circumvent the block. The government enforced the block through a combination of centralized censorship by the country’s Supreme Cybercouncil and local ISP interference to enforce more specific orders. The end result is a sometimes haphazard system that can still have devastating effects on any service the regime sees as a threat.
For years, Iran’s most popular encrypted messenger has been Telegram. While some cryptographers have criticized Telegram’s homebrew cryptography, local Iranian users have cared more about the app’s independence from the United States. (The app’s core development team is based in Russia, making it less vulnerable to US government requests.) The app’s massive group chats proved popular, and the government was content to target individual users, occasionally hacking accounts by intercepting account reset messages sent to the user’s phone number.
As protests intensified, Telegram has become both a tool for…