The Iranian president’s blog and devious intent

When Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadenijad started a blog last week, it didn’t get an awful lot of meaningful attention in the English-speaking blogosphere.

Perhaps it should have, if only to say that here we have the first blog in the world where the blogger is a country’s leader, assuming that Mr Ahmadenijad is writing his own posts.

Much of the commentary I saw about it seem to be polarized views with words including terrorism, propaganda and devious plans against Israel. Many people say the blog’s a hoax.

Hoax or not, the site which hosts the blog does seem to have devious intent according to Caitlyn Martin writing in O’Reilly Linux DevCenter Blog:

[...] Several Israeli bloggers, including Yael K.’s Step By Step, which I read regularly, report that if you access the Ahmadenijad blog from an Israeli IP address the site sends you a little gift, a cyberattack in the form of a virus or trojan (reports vary) designed to exploit an Internet Explorer vulnerability.

It’s the kind of thing you’d expect to read in a Tom Clancy novel: the notion of a country or government using the net as a weapon of disruption if not war. Much of the tech stuff you read about in Clancy’s novels, if not the scenarios themselves, have credible factual bases (cue the conspiracy theorists…).

But before the blog detractors stand up and shout “See, I told you blogs are risky!”, let’s clarify something.

If there is some kind of cyberattack being perpetrated, it’s to do with Internet Explorer and a vulnerability in that browser – something that’s not uncommon and for which Microsoft regularly publishes patches and security fixes.

It also looks as though there’s some clever tweaking of the addressing system on the internet if it’s only visitors with IP addresses in Israel who would be affected.

It’s not the blog itself. That’s just a website which sits on a server and which acts as a trigger when a visitor with a vulnerable browser arrives. Don’t blame the blog as the cyberattacker.

On a slightly lighter note, I did like one of the comments to Caitlyn’s post:

[...] Ahmadinejad is not a criminal but rather an overzealous linux activist. Clearly he’s focusing on Israelis because their history of communal living makes them more receptive to being early adopters of any open source operating system. He’s a smart one, that Mahmoud.

Nicely tongue in cheek. I think.

I’ve taken a look at the blog. It’s on a very slow server or network connection with pages taking ages to load. Nicely done, though, with versions in Farsi, English, Arabic and French, and particularly the seamlessness of switching between languages that read left-to-right and right-to-left. RSS feeds and commenting capability as well. Feedback forms, too.

Looking at the page source code, it’s hard to tell which blog platform this site is based on, if any. Lots of JavaScript. Reference to Microsoft Visual Studio and Visual Basic .NET 7.1. (Nice to see that the President’s techies like using tech tools from the country which they regard as an evil empire. Wonder how they got hold of those tools with Iran being on the US government’s list of restricted countries for such software exports.)

Oh, and naturally my visit to the blog was with Firefox. Just in case.