Iran is concerned about the U.S. cutting off internet connection to the country and is mulling "drills" to make sure its banking and other vital services could work in such an environment
A "task force" has been set up to "combat U.S. cyber threats," Iran's Minister of Communication and Information Technology said on Monday, May 13.
"To neutralize those threats, we have set up a task force in the National Center of Virtual Space since a year ago, which has studied various scenarios, threats and sanctions, and the necessary approaches have been adopted," Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi maintained, without mentioning the nature of cyber threats posed the United States.
But the discourse about possible internet threats in the past, reveal that Iran is concerned about losing its cyber connection with the outside world and how it can impact its internal digital communications.
Meanwhile, without any elaboration, Azari Jahromi asserted that the necessary plans have been devised to address a possible need to disconnect the internet, saying his ministry's initiatives to combat the U.S. sanctions will be soon publicized.
On January 27, it was announced that Iran would perform an "internet disconnection exercise," but, a day later, Azari Jahromi said that the drill had been canceled.
Earlier, in October 2018, the head of Iran's Passive Defense Organization, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps Brigadier General Gholam Reza Jalali had also maintained that necessary arrangements were made to counter the U.S. hostile strategies and its potential move to block Iran's access to the Internet.
One point of concern for Iran is its internal banking operations, which completely depend on the internet. What would happen if it loses connection to the world-wide web? How that would impact its banking operations?
Jahromi’s allusions to “threats” and “drills” to disconnect the internet partly are meant to address this issue. Has Iran set up the necessary infrastructure to survive without being connected to the internet? Have they set up a viable intranet to maintain vital banking and other operations?
However, none of the promises to conduct internet disconnection drills have materialized so far.
However, the head of Iran information technology organization, Amir Nazemi claimed last November that none of the scenarios studied point to an imminent threat of Iran being denied internet connection with the outside world.
Nazemi referred to threats to “Iranian sites on foreign data centers," and possible denial for “Iranian users to access services rendered by different foreign sites and apps" as one of the scenarios the Islamic Republic should expect under U.S. sanctions or retaliatory moves.
Now that the sanctions are implemented, none of these speculations have materialized, so far.
While, admitting that U.S. sanctions have put pressures on Iranian online businesses, Azari Jahromi said on Monday, "The bulk of U.S. sanctions on Iran's cyber sector have been imposed over the past year, but the country's cyberspace has not been disturbed although all international cloud computing providers have ceased providing Internet service to Iranian companies."
The Islamic Republic government has been attempting for years to establish a local internet, separate from the global web system. In August 2016, Iran launched the first phase of its so-called "national data network" after a gap of eleven years.
In the meantime, many analysts believe that a local internet will have "low quality," and it will also tighten government control over Iranian internet users.