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Iran steps up web censorship by blocking more VPNs

Iranians face a decent amount of governmental censorship when they attempt to log into the Internet from their country. However, for even the most not-so-savvy of tech folk, receiving unfettered access to the web at large is as easy as firing up a VPN application and tunneling your way past governmental blocks.

Or, at least, it was.

"Within the last few days illegal VPN ports in the country have been blocked," said Iranian official Ramezanali Sobhani-Fard in an interview with Reuters. "Only legal and registered VPNs can from now on be used."

So, those looking to tap into Facebook, YouTube, various news sites and, yes, even Google's search engine itself (among other banned websites) will have to find different methods for doing so – which do exist, according to an Iranian interviewed by Reuters who said he was using an unnamed software tool to bypass Iran's blocks.

Of course, it would be incorrect to say that Iran's banning VPNs in general. In actuality, the government is already supplying access to "official" and "legal" VPN services that Iranian businesses can tap into.

"We have started distributing official VPN services for Iranian users. Those need this service to open safe connections can apply in the program and we will review their cases one by one. If their request was approved, then we will introduce legal providers and licensed clients can buy their needed services," said Iran's Mehdi Akhavan Behabadi in a February interview with the Tehran Chronicle.

Of course, such a move also allows government officials to more directly monitor what users are attempting to access via said government-sanctioned VPNs.

"By launching this program, Iranian government can prosecute users who are violating state laws and Internet Filtering Committee will be able to take offenders to national courts under supervision of judiciary service," Behabadi said.

It remains to be seen just how Iran's latest crackdown on Internet access – or in this case, the means by which the country's industrious citizens bypass Iran's filters for the web – will play a role in the country's upcoming presidential election in June. Protesters during the 2009 Iranian elections made good use of social networking services like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube to receive news, organise, and post up-to-the-minute information about that was happening during their various demonstrations.