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Iran : Websites affiliated with Ministry of Culture and Isalmic Guidance taken down

On Monday morning, the Resistance Units, a network affiliated with the main Iranian opposition movement, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (PMOI/MEK), succeeded in taking down several websites and computer systems belonging to Iran’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. The story was first reported by news channels on Telegram, a secure instant messaging service that is highly popular in the Islamic Republic, where the internet is heavily restricted and most social media is officially banned.

Reports indicate that between 9:30 and 11:00 AM local time, 77 servers and more than 280 individual computers were taken offline, including domain controller servers that play a role in monitoring internet users. More than 30 terabytes of data were also reported to have been destroyed, though it was not immediately clear whether this comprised the Ministry’s internal data, the results of online monitoring, or both.

In any case, the general operations of the Culture Ministry were completely disrupted, with some reports indicating that all staff were sent home pending the restoration of vital systems. Sources added that if this could not be accomplished by the following day, the Ministry would most likely not resume normal operations until after the Iranian New Year holiday, Nowruz, on March 20.

Apart from online censorship, the disruptions threaten to interfere with the regime’s process of censoring traditional media including books, films, and television series, all of which require specific government licenses.

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Additional reports indicated that immediately after the attack, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance sent a status report to the Ministers of Intelligence, and Interior, the Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, the IRGC Commander in Chief, the Revolutionary Guards Intelligence Organization, as well as 10 other ministers and 30 other senior regime officials via the internal automation network.

The role of the activists in Monday’s takedown was made evident by the fact that images of opposition leaders, Massoud and Maryam Rajavi appeared on the homepages of various websites and portals that were made inaccessible that morning.

At least 62 sites belonging to the Culture Ministry were affected, and images of the Resistance leaders were accompanied by the message “Long live Rajavi.” Elsewhere, the phrase “Down with Khamenei” was displayed alongside a crossed-out image of the theocratic regime’s supreme leader.

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All of this is highly reminiscent of a similar incident in January, this one targeting Iranian state media outlets directly. The activists were able to briefly hijack broadcast signals on some 25 television and radio networks, so as to display similar crossed-out images of Khamenei accompanied by anti-government slogans and a partial recording of a speech by Massoud Rajavi.

The initial disruption reportedly affected several satellite television networks and perhaps hundreds of local affiliates throughout the country. It also had lasting effects which left those outlets struggling to fully resume their normal operations for several days after they regained control of the broadcast signal.

Since then, there have been several reports of activists taking control of public address systems at a number of highly trafficked locations in order to broadcast messages condemning the theocratic regime, praising the Resistance and calling for the continuation of popular protest in favor of regime change.

In January 2018, Supreme Leader Khamenei credited the MEK with helping facilitate a nationwide uprising that was then ongoing in well over 100 cities and towns. Less than two years later, the organization played a similar role in an even larger uprising that spread to 200 cities, during which regime security forces killed 1,500 people. Nevertheless, unrest has continued to the present day, and the MEK’s parent coalition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), has referred to at least six other protests as nationwide uprisings.

The Resistance gives credit to MEK-affiliated “Resistance Units” for motivating that continual activism. Prior to their recent advancements in cyberspace, those dissident collectives were primarily known for posting slogans and images of Mr. and Mrs. Rajavi in public places, as well as destroying preexisting propaganda billboards and, in early January, setting fire to a newly unveiled statue of the eliminated commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ terrorist Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani.

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