Ahmadinejad - AP -
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gestures prior to delivering his speech in the city of Qazvin about 140 kilometers west of Tehran, Nov. 10, 2010 Photo by AP
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Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei ordered Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to head a new national council in charge of “safeguarding national and cultural values.”

Citing the reasons behind the formation of the High Council for Administration of Virtual Space, an official press release indicated that “every nation has its own preferences in terms of culture and privacy of individuals which must be respected and the Internet must not be given the authority to challenge national and ethical principles.”

According to the statement, published on Iranian official media outlets, such as Press TV and the IRNA news agency, the new council would be “responsible for safeguarding national and cultural values” and ensure “safety of the Internet," as well as taking "measures to deal with challenges facing the national security and cultural values.”

Aside from Ahmadinejad, who will be heading the newly formed council, the panel will also include the president of Iran’s parliament, the head of the country’s judiciary, the director of Iran’s broadcasting body, the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, along with other officials such as the minister of information and the commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

Last month, the Iranian government tightened its hold on internet access, ensuring that its citizens would not be able to access their email accounts on major websites such as Google.

According to an Iranian news agency, 30 million Iranians discovered this week that they could not access their accounts on Facebook, Gmail, Yahoo and Hotmail among other websites.

According to a report from the website Hacker News, Iran had blocked access to the sites on Thursday, in contravention with its official communications protocol.

The reports also suggest that the sites were censored due to the upcoming month-long anniversary celebration in honor of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, in order to suppress any attempt by the opposition to renew its protests against the regime during the celebrations.

Iranian became especially aware as to possible vulnerability in its cyber policy in the wake of a series of cyber attacks on sensitive nuclear facilities, which experts estimate were instigated by intelligence agencies such as those of Israel and the U.S.

Last year, Iranian officials confirmed that another cyber attack, the Stuxnet virus, hit staff computers at the Bushehr nuclear plant but said it had not affected major systems.

Reports have also surfaced that the computer worm was meant to sabotage the uranium enrichment facility at Natanz - where the centrifuge operational capacity has halved over the past year.

Last October, however, security software firm Symantec indicated that a new virus was alerted by a research lab with international connections to a malicious code that "appeared to be very similar to Stuxnet." It was named Duqu because it creates files with "DQ" in the prefix.

"Parts of Duqu are nearly identical to Stuxnet, but with a completely different purpose," Symantec said. "Duqu is essentially the precursor to a future Stuxnet-like attack."