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How Iran’s efforts to censor porn led to Internet outage in distant Hong Kong

Iran’s attempt to block porn in Iran wound up hampering Internet thousands of miles away in Hong Kong

In a world’s interlinked through the Internet, a small problem can cascade into a full blow outage. According to a new report from The Verge, Iran’s recent attempt to block pornography websites in the country’s borders hampered access in Russia, Hong Kong and other nations in the region. Iran’s national telecom authority used a protocol called BGP to block the access of Iranian citizen’s to the porn sites. In reality, closing the BGP tap caused severe Internet issues in faraway Hong Kong and Russia.

The issue is an ancient, insecure and essential part of the internet called Border Gateway Protocol. It’s a method service providers use to exchange and distribute routing information — the instructions that point you to the web server you’re looking for.

Using the BGP incorrectly can cause widespread havoc as was seen during in 2008, when Pakistan accidentally blocked YouTube causing widespread Internet outage throughout the world. Similarly, Turkey once filtered the majority of traffic from Amazon, Microsoft, CNN and other sites through its own servers causing the Internet to go awry.

Iran also tried to ban porn using similar tactics. Iran’s premier Internet watchdog was apparently acting on the instructions of government to block porn access to Iranian citizen. However, in its zeal to spoof the DNS of porn websites caused mayhem across Hong Kong, Russia, and other Eastern European countries. Iran’s networks are a major routing center for the region, and it’s easy for malicious or false BGP data to spread from Iran’s sources.

Though the issue was pinpointed and resolved quickly, it once again points to the fragility of our Internet infrastructure and it’s inability to resurrect itself when such protocols are misused.

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