TEHRAN - Agence France-Presse
In this picture taken on Monday, Feb. 13, 2012, an Iranian woman uses a computer in an internet cafe in central Tehran, Iran. AP photo
Iran's cyber police force is poised to launch a new crackdown on software that lets many Iranians circumvent the regime's Internet censorship, media reported on Sunday.
The operation will target VPNs, or Virtual Private Networks, which use a secure protocol to encrypt users' data, foiling online blocks put in place by Iran's authorities, according to the head of the specialised police unit, Kamal Hadianfar.
"It has been agreed that a commission (within the cyber police) be formed to block illegal VPNs," he was quoted as saying in a report originally published by the Mehr news agency.
"About 20 to 30 percent of (Iranian internet) users use VPN," or more than seven million people out of the country's 36 million web users, he added.
Legal VPNs would only be used by "the likes of airlines, ministries, (state) organisations and banks," he said -- and even they would be monitored by the commission.
Iran has long tried to stop its population accessing millions of foreign websites authorities see as undermining the Islamic regime, including Facebook, Twitter, the online pages of the BBC and CNN, many torrent sites, blogs, and pornographic hubs.
"Some websites are obscene and others are officially hostile towards the Islamic republic's system. (Thus), in the interest of the people and in order to prevent the collapse of families... there is blocking of the Internet," Hadianfar said.
The Islamic republic's suppressing of the Internet has intensified since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was returned to office in a disputed 2009 election that sparked a wave of anti-government protests, mostly organised online.