About

Internet freedom has been on the decline in Azerbaijan in recent years.

Unlike countries like China or North Korea, authorities in Azerbaijan chose to keep access to the Internet open while resorting to alternative measures to curb the rights of individual freedoms. For years, users in Azerbaijan continuously faced limitations in accessing opposition and independent news sites; while anti-government sentiments expressed on social media platforms became a cause for temporary detentions, questioning at police stations or further intimidation.

But offline measures to tackle dissent were soon combined with smarter techniques. From blocking access to news websites and publicly admitting it; authorities have from time to time, blocked access to online social media platforms and applications such as Skype, Viber and WhatsApp. The presence and use of surveillance technologies since 2013 (Hacking Team’s Remote Control System; locally developed malware [2017], Verint [NSO Group]); the monopoly over communication infrastructure and the absence of rule of law continue to keep the ruling government unaccountable for its actions.

The talk of keeping the Internet free has been coated with a range of controls including but not limited to website blocking, spear phishing, DDoS attacks, hacking of personal social mind accounts of public figures, content takedown requests, and the use of Deep Packet Inspection tools (DPI).

Over the years, I have been documenting at detail this digital crackdown and how it took an unprecedented turn especially in the course of the last three years. This is also how Azerbaijan Internet Watch (AIW) was created. AIW is an online resource platform tracking and mapping internet censorship and surveillance in real-time in Azerbaijan. The project has been possible with the support of the Open Technology Fund and project partners Qurium and OONI.

There are three categories where information can be found on this platform:

News: industry news, related to internet censorship; legal amendments; and other relevant stories;

Technical analysis: features updates based on network measurements carried out in Azerbaijan, in partnership with OONI. Here you may find, types of digital attacks and their sources;

Incident reports: features specific cases related to internet disruption, online censorships, and digital attacks.

For additional research, visit:

 

Chronology of information controls and internet development in azerbaijan

1994

First internet connection established; Two years later the internet becomes accessible to all citizens

2007

Government starts implementing policies to reduce internet costs

2009

SMS messages are monitored during Eurovision contest; 3G license issued

2011

Spreading misinformation considered cybercrime and while Skype and Wikipedia are targeted both remain accessible (to this day)

2012

Investigations reveal Swedish Telecom giant, TeliaSonera was selling surveillance technology to Azerbaijan – black boxes installed in TeliaSonera’s operation centers allowed the government to monitor all forms of communication, internet traffic, phone calls, and location data; Defamation and insult extended online;

Investigations reveal Swedish Telecom giant, TeliaSonera was selling surveillance technology to Azerbaijan – black boxes installed in TeliaSonera’s operation centers allowed the government to monitor all forms of communication, internet traffic, phone calls, and location data; Defamation and insult extended online;

2014

Authorities launch a mass crackdown against independent civil society groups; Citizen Lab report reveals that Azerbaijan is one of 21 countries that use Remote Control System (RCS) which was active in the pre and post 2013 election period;

2016

Virtual Road documents how authorities generate artificial internet network congestion within Azerbaijan to prevent access to RFERL Azerbaijan Service; VoA; and Meydan TV; Spear phishing attack targets prominent rights defender Rasul Jafar

2017

Amnesty International reveals the government of Azerbaijan was relying on homemade malware to spy on the digital activities of dissidents since November 2015; Virtual Road reports distributed denial of service attacks (DDoS); it also reports of a dedicated equipment monitoring all incoming and outgoing traffic at delta Telecom (government internet backbone); the same equipment also keeps track of each of the TCP sessions independently of port number, tracking both HTTP and HTTPS sessions associated with azadliq.info, azadliq.org, and meydan.tv news sites; Azadliq.info blocked using deep packet inspection (DPI) technology; Access to five independent and opposition websites is blocked; Users complain of difficulties accessing VoP services including Skype, Vibes and WhatsApp during Islamic Solidarity Games. Once the games are over, the Ministry of Technologies, Communications and High Technologies of Azerbaijan confirms temporary restrictions were introduced as part of security measures; Organizers and participants report internet accessibility issues during September and October opposition rallies; The first case of facial recognition cameras being used during an anti-corruption rally on September 23, 2017, are reported; Lawmakers introduce new legal restrictions and fines for the dissemination of banned information online

2018

Azerbaijan experienced its worst blackouts in decades after a fire broke out at the country’s largest power plant Qurium’s IP space is blocked by all Azerbaijani upstream providers; AzInTelekom (internet service provider) launches a WordPress pen-testing against Azadliq.info – an opposition online news media. The IP address was traced to a network that was only accessible by the Azerbaijan government personnel; Authorities block access to criminalaz.com; fia.az; bastainfo.az; topxeber.az; az24saat.org; monitortv.info; xural.com; Qurium reported DDoS attacks against two online news websites Gununsesi.info and azadliq.info

2019

Internet and phone connectivity is down in January during a political rally organized by the opposition In October, participants of the rally in the capital report connectivity issues; businesses and cafes reportedly experienced difficulties connecting to the internet; Arqument.az was reportedly blocked; Meydan TV continued receiving DDoS attacks even though the website is already blocked in Azerbaijan Several journalists, political activists and online news media managers and editors reported their facebook pages getting hacked; websites places on blocked list of Facebook thus unable to share content on the platform

1994

First internet connection established; Two years later the internet becomes accessible to all citizens

2007

Government starts implementing policies to reduce internet costs

2009

SMS messages are monitored during Eurovision contest; 3G license issued

2011

Spreading misinformation considered cybercrime and while Skype and Wikipedia are targeted both remain accessible (to this day)

2012

Investigations reveal Swedish Telecom giant, TeliaSonera was selling surveillance technology to Azerbaijan – black boxes installed in TeliaSonera’s operation centers allowed the government to monitor all forms of communication, internet traffic, phone calls, and location data; Defamation and insult extended online;

Investigations reveal Swedish Telecom giant, TeliaSonera was selling surveillance technology to Azerbaijan – black boxes installed in TeliaSonera’s operation centers allowed the government to monitor all forms of communication, internet traffic, phone calls, and location data; Defamation and insult extended online;

2014

Authorities launch a mass crackdown against independent civil society groups; Citizen Lab report reveals that Azerbaijan is one of 21 countries that use Remote Control System (RCS) which was active in the pre and post 2013 election period;

2016

Virtual Road documents how authorities generate artificial internet network congestion within Azerbaijan to prevent access to RFERL Azerbaijan Service; VoA; and Meydan TV; Spear phishing attack targets prominent rights defender Rasul Jafar

2017

Amnesty International reveals the government of Azerbaijan was relying on homemade malware to spy on the digital activities of dissidents since November 2015; Virtual Road reports distributed denial of service attacks (DDoS); it also reports of a dedicated equipment monitoring all incoming and outgoing traffic at delta Telecom (government internet backbone); the same equipment also keeps track of each of the TCP sessions independently of port number, tracking both HTTP and HTTPS sessions associated with azadliq.info, azadliq.org, and meydan.tv news sites; Azadliq.info blocked using deep packet inspection (DPI) technology; Access to five independent and opposition websites is blocked; Users complain of difficulties accessing VoP services including Skype, Vibes and WhatsApp during Islamic Solidarity Games. Once the games are over, the Ministry of Technologies, Communications and High Technologies of Azerbaijan confirms temporary restrictions were introduced as part of security measures; Organizers and participants report internet accessibility issues during September and October opposition rallies; The first case of facial recognition cameras being used during an anti-corruption rally on September 23, 2017, are reported; Lawmakers introduce new legal restrictions and fines for the dissemination of banned information online

2018

Azerbaijan experienced its worst blackouts in decades after a fire broke out at the country’s largest power plant Qurium’s IP space is blocked by all Azerbaijani upstream providers; AzInTelekom (internet service provider) launches a WordPress pen-testing against Azadliq.info – an opposition online news media. The IP address was traced to a network that was only accessible by the Azerbaijan government personnel; Authorities block access to criminalaz.com; fia.az; bastainfo.az; topxeber.az; az24saat.org; monitortv.info; xural.com; Qurium reported DDoS attacks against two online news websites Gununsesi.info and azadliq.info

2019

Internet and phone connectivity is down in January during a political rally organized by the opposition In October, participants of the rally in the capital report connectivity issues; businesses and cafes reportedly experienced difficulties connecting to the internet; Arqument.az was reportedly blocked; Meydan TV continued receiving DDoS attacks even though the website is already blocked in Azerbaijan Several journalists, political activists and online news media managers and editors reported their facebook pages getting hacked; websites places on blocked list of Facebook thus unable to share content on the platform