|Operating system||Windows, Mac OS X, Linux|
Haystack was a never-completed program intended for network traffic obfuscation and encryption. It was promoted as a tool to circumvent internet censorship in Iran. Shortly after the release of the first test version, reviewers concluded the software didn't live up to promises made about its functionality and security, and would leave its users' computers more vulnerable.
Haystack was announced in the context of the perceived wave of Internet activism during 2009 Iranian election protests. There was a great deal of hype surrounding the Haystack project. The BBC's Virtual Revolution television series featured the software in the context of attempts to bypass network blocking software in Iran. The project was composed of a single programmer, and spokesperson, Austin Heap, who claimed to be a software developer based in San Francisco, California, but in fact Austin Heap was never a software developer, he was an unemployed marketing trainee . Austin named themselves as the Censorship Research Center. Early on in the project, Heap claims to have received a manual describing Iran's filtering software, written in Persian, from an Iranian official.
First person to raise the alarms was the Iranian blogger, Potkin Azarmehr, who claimed Haystack, much like the "emperor's clothes" never existed and no one was using such a software inside Iran to circumvent the internet censorship. Azarmehr also says the US State Department was so embarrassed after having given export exemption for technology to Iran for Haystack that they tried a damage limitation exercise by saying it had "security issues", whereas it never existed.
Azarmehr finally reported the matter to Evgeny Morozov, a technology journalist, and passed him a Beta version of the product, after he had enough of media hype about something that never existed. Morozov's article then led to the wind down of the project and its board members resigned in embarrassment. Haystack 'anti-censorship' software withdrawn over security concerns
Amidst criticism from technologists, including Jacob Appelbaum and Danny O'Brien, on September 13, 2010, the Washington Post reported that security concerns had led to suspension of testing of Haystack. A message on the front page of the Haystack web site posted the same day confirmed the report, saying "We have halted ongoing testing of Haystack in Iran pending a security review. If you have a copy of the test program, please refrain from using it." The following day the BBC reported the same news and quoted Austin Heap of the CRC as stating that source code to the application would be released.
The resignation of the only programmer on the project, Daniel Colascione, effectively ended development of the Haystack project. The project web site is now defunct.
- "haystack: a project for iran". Retrieved 2010-02-08.
- "The web makes the personal political". BBC News. 2010-02-05. Retrieved 2010-02-09.
- "Needles in a Haystack". Newsweek. 2010-08-06. Retrieved 2010-08-06.
- "What's monitored online?". Tehran Bureau. 2010-01-18. Retrieved 2010-02-08.
- The Virtual Revolution. BBC. 2010-02-08. Retrieved 2010-02-08.
- William J. Dobson (2010-08-06). "Needles in a Haystack". Newsweek. Retrieved 2010-08-07.
- Washington Post reports suspension of testing, retrieved September 13, 2010
- "Anti-censorship program Haystack withdrawn". BBC News (BBC). 14 September 2010. Retrieved 15 September 2010.
- Award-Winning Haystack Security System Could Risk Iranian Lives, retrieved 2010-09-17.
- Haystack website defunct
- Haystack on Twitter defunct
- Censorship Research Center defunct
- Cryptography, Iran and America: Worse than useless