Russia has provided Iran with advanced digital-surveillance capabilities, the Wall Street Journal reported on March 27, as the two countries seek to bolster cooperation in the field of security and defense.
The US newspaper quoted people familiar with the matter as saying that since Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Moscow has provided Tehran with “communication-surveillance capabilities as well as eavesdropping devices, advanced photography devices and lie detectors.”
The sources said that Russia “has likely already shared with Iran more advanced software that would allow it to hack the phones and systems of dissidents and adversaries.”
The WSJ report comes after Iran supplied drones and reportedly other weapons to Russia for use in Ukraine. The European Union, the United States and other countries have issued several rounds of sanctions against the Islamic Republic in recent months over the supply of drones used by Russian armed forces to target Ukrainian civilians and civilian infrastructure.
According to leaked documents analyzed by The Citizen Lab, a University of Toronto-based research center, the Russian company PROTEI has begun providing internet-censorship software to Iranian mobile-services provider Ariantel.
The Citizen Lab said in January that there is evidence that the PROTEI tools are part of a developing mobile-phone system that would “enable state authorities to directly monitor, intercept, redirect, degrade or deny all Iranians’ mobile communications, including those who are presently challenging the regime.”
The Iranian authorities, known for their harsh internet censorship which includes banning thousands of websites, responded to widespread anti-government protests sparked by the September 2022 death of a young woman in police custody by imposing shutdowns and by slowing down web traffic to stop the spread of videos and communications among protesters. The authorities have also used digital surveillance tools to track and arrest demonstrators.
Over the past years, hackers and groups aligned with the Islamic Republic have conducted disinformation campaigns and hit infrastructure in the United States, Saudi Arabia and other rival nations.