Two media outlets and a German research center have announced in a joint report that a German company is helping to censor the Internet in Iran.
According to these reports the Softqloud GmbH company in the city of Meerbusch, near Dusseldorf, is helping Iranian regime to run its intranet known as the national information network.
The research by Taz and Netzpolitik as well as Correctiv research center said that Softqloud GmbH is a branch of Arvancloud or Abr Arvan, an Iranian company which helps to disconnect the internet in Iran. It is not even clear if Softqloud has any other contracts in Germany or is simply a front company.
In an interview on Thursday, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock called the case “very surprising” and said security officials would investigate the matter.
The German foreign minister said that if the allegations are true, it could have punitive consequences.
According to this joint research, Softqloud GmbH is one of the four digital connection gates that connect Iran to the global Internet.
This company has set up several data centers in Europe which can guarantee the operation of the intranet in Iran in case of internet shutdown by Iran’s government.
In the past years, Abr Arvan was criticized by many people on social networks due to signing an agreement with the Iranian government to censor the Internet.
The reported project is about the Iran Cloud project, which is intended to help build the national Intranet and further isolate the country from the global network. That would mean that Abr Arvan is involved in setting up internet censorship and surveillance in Iran.
However, Arvancloud has rejected its involvement in the censorship saying that “A cloud service provider is not able to play a role in censorship of the Internet, neither in Iran nor in any other part of the world.”
It further said that the German company was an “international partner”, and this contract was terminated by Softqloud on September 30, 2022.
Arvancloud did not provide any further information on the reasons of termination and the German company Softqloud is yet to respond.
If these accusations are true, it could mean that European firms have facilitated the oppression of Iranian citizens.
While this report could have wide repercussions around the world, the Iranian regime keeps using the Internet to launch disruptive acts to hack information.
The FBI on Thursday announced it has obtained information that an Iranian cyber group called Emennet Pasargad has conducted hack-and-leak cyber operations.
The FBI says since at least 2020, Emennet targeted entities primarily in Israel with cyber-enabled information operations that included an initial intrusion, theft and subsequent leak of data, followed by amplification through social media and online forums, and in some cases the deployment of destructive encryption malware.
Although Emennet’s latest attacks have primarily targeted Israel, the FBI warns the company could attack US entities like in 2020 when Emennet targeted the US Presidential election.
In another development, The US Department of State released a statement on Thursday condemning Iran’s restrictions to internet access during nationwide protests over the death of Mahsa Amini last month.
“The United States is pleased to join the Freedom Online Coalition’s consensus Joint Statement on Internet Shutdowns in Iran,” reads the statement.
The Freedom Online Coalition is made up of 34 governments that collaborate to advance internet freedom worldwide.