The geopolitics behind the routes data travels: a case study of Iran

by   Loqman Salamatian, et al.

The global expansion of the Internet has brought many challenges to geopolitics. Cyberspace is a space of strategic priority for many states. Understanding and representing its geography remains an ongoing challenge. Nevertheless, we need to comprehend Cyberspace as a space organized by humans to analyse the strategies of the actors. This geography requires a multidisciplinary dialogue associating geopolitics, computer science and mathematics. Cyberspace is represented as three superposed and interacting layers: the physical, logical, and informational layers. This paper focuses on the logical layer through an analysis of the structure of connectivity and the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP). This protocol determines the routes taken by the data. It has been leveraged by countries to control the flow of information, and to block the access to contents (going up to full disruption of the internet) or for active strategic purposes such as hijacking traffic or attacking infrastructures. Several countries have opted for a BGP strategy. The goal of this study is to characterize these strategies, to link them to current architectures and to understand their resilience in times of crisis. Our hypothesis is that there are connections between the network architecture shaped through BGP, and strategy of stakeholders at a national level. We chose to focus on the case of Iran because, Iran presents an interesting BGP architecture and holds a central position in the connectivity of the Middle East. Moreover, Iran is at the center of several ongoing geopolitical rifts. Our observations make it possible to infer three ways in which Iran could have used BGP to achieve its strategic goals: the pursuit of a self-sustaining national Internet with controlled borders; the will to set up an Iranian Intranet to facilitate censorship; and the leverage of connectivity as a tool of regional influence.



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