Bloomberg News

Internet Trouble Brewing in Iran Before Presidential Election

June 13, 2013

Ex-President Rafsanjani Joins Khatami to Back Rohani in Iran

People hold campaign posters of Iranian presidential candidate Hassan Rohani in the streets during a presidential election rally in Tehran, Iran on June 11, 2013. Photographer: Majid Saeedi/Getty Images

As Iranians prepare to vote for their next president tomorrow, they might notice some strange things happening online.

Google said Iranian hackers have been attempting to compromise tens of thousands of citizens' Gmail accounts over the past several weeks, and that there's been a "significant jump" in the volume of "phishing" campaigns originating from the country. Phishing e-mails are designed to trick users into disclosing sensitive information such as passwords.

"The timing and targeting of the campaigns suggest that the attacks are politically motivated in connection with the Iranian presidential election on Friday," Eric Grosse, Google's vice president of security engineering, wrote on a company blog. "We notify targets of state-sponsored attacks and other suspicious activity, and we take other appropriate actions to limit the impact of these attacks on our users."

But the cyberattacks may pose little threat to citizens if they're unable to log on in the first place. The Iranian government has been disrupting the Internet connections of some people since at least last month, Patrick Ventrell, a U.S. State Department spokesman, wrote in an e-mail to Bloomberg's Inal Ersan.

"The lack of transparency makes it unlikely that the slate of candidates represents the will of the Iranian people," Ventrell wrote. "We also see troubling signs that the Iranian government is taking steps like slowing or cutting off Internet access."

The unusual occurrences in Iranian cyberspace are becoming the new normal during the country's election seasons. Iran blocked Facebook and Twitter before the presidential elections in 2009. Candidates opposing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and their supporters had been using the sites as part of their campaigns.

After getting re-elected then, President Ahmadinejad won't be on the ballot this week. The country's constitution bars him from seeking a third consecutive term.

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