Iran's supreme leader dumps Telegram Messenger and plugs domestic rivals as ban fears grow

Iran's supreme leader dumps Telegram Messenger and plugs domestic rivals as ban fears grow
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has been busy endorsing Iran-made messaging apps as officials prepare to attempt a mortal blow against Telegram.
By bne IntelliNews April 18, 2018

Top Iranian officials including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stopped using the Telegram Messenger messaging application and started promoting domestic alternatives in advance of the April 18 announcement that all government bodies are now banned from using all foreign messaging apps, Iranian media outlets reported.

As concern mounted among the tens of millions of Iranian users of Dubai-based Telegram—created by the Durov brothers from Russia where the authorities this week blocked millions of IP addresses as they tried to shut down the service after its management refused to hand over encryption codes—that officials will follow through on a threat to entirely ban the app, Khamenei trumpted the security of homegrown messaging services and said he would be switching to three domestic rivals.

Officials are wary of Telegram as it can be used by protesters to quietly organise demonstrations, a matter that became that much more pressing during the nationwide street unrest seen at the end of December and early January. In seeking to blacklist Telegram, they claim that they are trying to protect the government from “fake news”. Meanwhile, Telegram’s recently launched Gram cryptocurrency has caused some senior officials to contend that Tehran may lose significant control of much trade.

In its last post on Telegram on April 18, the Khamenei.ir channel said the supreme leader would stop using the service to help break the “monopoly of non-Iranian messengers over Iran’s cyberspace”. The channel is one of the most popular Telegram channels among Iran's population of 80mn with some 1.3mn followers.

Mahmoud Vaezi, Iran’s former telecommunications minister, who is credited with enabling the country to access 4G standards, something which helped pave the way for Telegram in Iran, said he and other cabinet ministers would follow Khamenei's move.

Vice President Eshaq Jahangirihad had shut his account down by lunchtime on April 18.

However, President Hassan Rouhani has pushed for the government to cool off when it comes to its plan to sideline the Telegram service saying it would “disrupt the public mood” and cost jobs in trade that utilises the app, while on April 17, Hesam Ashena, one of Rouhani’s chief advisors, sent a message out on Twitter—which is blocked in Iran—reading “Iranian cyberspace > Telegram.”

In March, the chairman of Parliament’s National Security Commission Alaeddin Boroujerdi said a decision had been made “at the highest levels” to ban Telegram by April 20. He cited “national security” concerns.

However, alternative local application Soroush has been ridiculed and slammed by Iranians as insecure and liable to hacking by government agencies. There have been claims it was developed by Iranian intelligence operatives.

One Iranian hacker accessed details of the Iranian telecoms minister, including his mobile phone number, through his unsecured Soroush account and published them on Twitter back to the minister.

“Remove this useless, garbage, insecure, spyware, ugly-looking UI app from play store. Did they give you money, Google? Dear users don't install this app because it's insecure and it has been approved,” the hacker wrote.

Soroush is still available on the Google Play Store, but Apple has removed both it and another Iranian messenger service, Bale (“Yes” in Farsi), from its iOS store given several submitted complaints.

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