Is Iran's Internet Down? Country Faces Fresh Web Outages During Protests Over Downed Plane

Fresh internet outages appeared to impact users in Iran over the weekend as President Donald Trump demanded on Twitter that the country maintain access for its citizens.

Internet mapping tools and security analysts indicate downtime aligned with Iran's admission that its military shot down Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752, causing the deaths of 176 innocent people and sparking large protests in Tehran's Azadi Square.

Data from the Oracle Internet Intelligence Map, which tracks web connections, shows traffic shifts hit Iranian internet providers on Saturday and Sunday.

"There are some reports of mild outages over the weekend. [They] appear linked to protests against the PS752 downing," Adrian Shahbaz, of web watchdog Freedom House, told Newsweek via email.

Internet providers named in the Oracle analysis include the Telecommunication Company of Iran (TCI), the Telecommunication Infrastructure Company (TIC) and Respina Networks & Beyond.

Citing the Oracle data, security researcher Collin Anderson said on Twitter the timing of the outages is notable. "Apparent cuts to Iran's international internet connections this morning timed with #PS752 announcement and protests," Anderson wrote Saturday.

Apparent cuts to Iran's international internet connections this morning timed with #PS752 announcement and protests (from @internetintel).

— Collin Anderson (@CDA) January 11, 2020

Based on the real-time tracking tool, services were later restored. However, analysis published this morning by web monitoring firm NetBlocks suggests connection issues are ongoing.

NetBlocks tweeted today: "Drop in internet connectivity registered at Sharif University, Tehran... where students are protesting for colleagues and alumni killed on flight #PS752; national connectivity remains stable despite sporadic disruptions on third day of Iran protests."

Despite a police presence, demonstrations and vigils have been happening at universities in Iran, including Sharif University of Technology and Amirkabir University in Tehran. More than a dozen of the Ukraine-bound flight's victims were Sharif students, The Washington Post reported.

Confirmed: Drop in internet connectivity registered at #Sharif University, Tehran from 11:50 UTC where students are protesting for colleagues and alumni killed on flight #PS752; national connectivity remains stable despite sporadic disruptions on third day of #Iran protests📉

— (@netblocks) January 13, 2020

Amir Rashidi, an internet security and digital rights researcher, noted over the weekend that WhatsApp and Instagram service appeared to have been impacted by outages.

"This is not everywhere but it seems [to be] growing," Rashidi tweeted, later noting that reports suggested mobile data was being restricted for demonstrators in Azadi Square. Rashidi added today: "In some parts of Tehran there is no mobile data."

In some parts of Tehran there is no mobile data.

— AmiR Rashidi (@Ammir) January 13, 2020

Protests in the area broke out in the wake of the plane disaster last Wednesday, which Iran's President Hassan Rouhani blamed on "human error."

New footage allegedly taken at one recent demonstration appeared to show Iran's security forces using live ammunition and tear gas on crowds, the Associated Press (AP) reported today. It follows the U.S.-led assassination of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.

Iran's foreign minister Javad Zarif tweeted Saturday to claim the downing was "human error at time of crisis caused by U.S. adventurism." AP reported Iran's forces were accused of shooting demonstrators during protests about rising gas prices in the country last November.

During that period, NetBlocks confirmed Iran's internet had been disrupted by a "government-imposed" shutdown intended to target the protests that lingered for over a week. Another outage, this time targeting mobile networks, was recorded on December 25.

In a blog post on the blackout last November, Doug Madory, director of internet analysis at Oracle's Internet Intelligence, wrote the outages were potentially unprecedented for the country, which is described as having "highly restricted" web access by Freedom House.

The government has previously blocked the internet by pressurizing internet and mobile providers, Wired reported at the time of the outages relating to the gas-pricing protests.

"It is our understanding some internet disruption is currently affecting Iran, though we believe this to be quite different than what we had seen back in November," a representative of the Open Observatory of Network Interference, a censorship monitor, told Newsweek today.

"We have mixed reports from members of the OONI community saying that in some regions there is an outage, while in other regions there isn't. According to the intel data from Oracle, some traces towards some networks in Iran have failed starting from January 11."

Look at this big dip on TIC.
Source: @InternetIntel

— AmiR Rashidi (@Ammir) January 12, 2020

Trump has made multiple references to Iran's internet situation in recent days. "There can not be another massacre of peaceful protesters, nor an internet shutdown," he tweeted on Saturday.

"To the leaders of Iran - DO NOT KILL YOUR PROTESTERS. Thousands have already been killed or imprisoned by you, and the World is watching. More importantly, the USA is watching. Turn your internet back on and let reporters roam free!" Trump added on Twitter yesterday.

Iran Protests
Iranian students demonstrate following a tribute for the victims of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 in front of the Amirkabir University in the capital Tehran, on January 11, 2020. ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty