By Jon Matonis
Tuesday, October 9, 2012
Hyperinflation has hit Iran hard. The government has stepped up censorship of currency exchange websites such as Mesghal.com and Mazanex.com, which had rates blanked out for the rial’s value against other nations’ currencies on Tuesday. Several major foreign airlines announced that they were discontinuing service into Tehran due to the volatility of the Iranian rial and shipping giant Maersk halted all port calls to Iran.
If severe currency devaluation and disruptive Internet cyber-attacks
were not enough, the regular people of Iran have had access blocked to
certain open source software sites for downloading applications such as
Bitcoin. The 20-month-old blockade hasn’t been instigated by Iran’s
mullahs but by the U.S.-led embargo which prohibits certain persons from
receiving services via open source hosting sites.
The original and ‘reference’ Bitcoin client is hosted in the United
States on GeekNet’s SourceForge.net who explained their denial of site
access policy on their blog:
“The specific list of sanctions that affect our users
concern the transfer and export of certain technology to foreign persons
and governments on the sanctions list. This means users residing in
countries on the United States Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC)
sanction list, including Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria, may
not post content to, or access content available through,
SourceForge.net. Last week, SourceForge.net began automatic blocking of
certain IP addresses to enforce those conditions of use.”
Then, after an angry reaction from project administrators and
developers, SourceForge removed the blanket blocking and modified their
policy to put the power of determining a block trigger in the hands of
each project’s leadership, as announced in their February 2010 blog posting:
“Beginning now, every project admin can click on Develop
-> Project Admin -> Project Settings to find a new section called
Export Control. By default, we’ve ticked the more restrictive setting.
If you conclude that your project is *not* subject to export
regulations, or any other related prohibitions, you may now tick the
other check mark and click Update. After that, all users will be able to
download your project files as they did before last month’s change.”
Therefore, the export control determination has to be
made by the project’s registered administrator on SourceForge, which for
Bitcoin is lead developer Gavin Andresen after assuming the role from
Bitcoin creator, Satoshi Nakamoto.
Export of software from the U.S., including software that deploys encryption functions, is controlled by the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) in accordance with the Export Administration Regulations (EAR).
Andresen, who is also Chief Scientist for Bitcoin Foundation, stated
that Bitcoin compiles against the full OpenSSL library and the wallet
encryption feature uses AES-256 which is what places Bitcoin in the
above category. The SourceForge option that Bitcoin.org selects to
remain in compliance with U.S. law states, “This project incorporates,
accesses, calls upon or otherwise uses encryption software with a
symmetric key length greater than 64 bits (“encryption”). This review
does not include products that use encryption for authentication only.”
Forget about the mere difficulties of obtaining and trading bitcoin
for national fiat currency in Iran — without the client software, they
are not even there yet. Other Bitcoin “experts” have alluded to alternative methods
of downloading the Bitcoin client such as using non-U.S. independent
mirrored sites, Virtual Private Network (VPN) for IP address masking,
Tor if your country has an exit node, or BitTorrent file sharing.
Aside from the inherent weaknesses within the entire SSL
infrastructure, other download channels, and even SourceForge itself,
present challenges. The initial install code would need to be verified
for authenticity and the only way to accomplish that is to have the core
developer sign the code personally or have a neutral third-party like
the Bitcoin Foundation sign downloadable code with their certificate as a
In extreme circumstances the verified source code can be compiled
directly by the user so that downloading binaries is not necessary.
Source code can also be distributed in text-based form like a PDF or
scanable book which is what MIT did for Phil Zimmermann and later what 70 international volunteers did for the PGPi Scanning Project
in 1997. More and more, the Bitcoin Project is starting to look like
the Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) secure email program with each passing
AT THE INTERSECTION OF FREE BANKING, CRYPTOGRAPHY, AND DIGITAL CURRENCY
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