I have read about how VPNs are a big industry in Iran with the Iran Communication State mentioning it as a lucrative industry. However, the state is also big on internet censorship and it seems strange that such a government would be ok with proxy servers and VPNs. So how are these services still available in a country so intent on controlling internet access among its people?
The VPN in Iran is just a ridiculous business. You should know that there is a significant difference between Islamic Republic dictatorship and any other totalitarian regime that history remembers like Soviet Union, China, North Korea, etc., and that is Islamic Republic is truly an unique example of Machiavellistic government. I mean you can barely call it a government. I'm Iranian and it's quite common that people consider this Islamic Republic regime as just a group of thieves. That's it. So get back to the VPN business... OK, I describe it so simple. Islamic Republic leaders are just a bunch of thieves. So, they filter the internet but at the same time they sell VPN to people. It's like you need to pay twice. First you need to pay for your internet subscription and then you need to pay for your VPN subscription if you want to truly access the internet besides some junk websites created by the government. It's a nice business right? So, just money...
You don't see it in North Korea, Cuba, China, or any other totalitarian regimes cause at least those people have some ideology that truly believe in even if that ideology is just simply stupid. But, Islamic Republic leaders just believe in money and nothing else.
in order to know why it is a big business , you need to know how it works and why.
filtering and blocking is based on two ideas.
when you access a service on the internet (like visiting a website or using a service like Skype for example) a connection is established between your device and the server providing the website or the service
those servers have known IP addresses ( Think of it as phone number ) so you can block a website or service by blocking access to their IP address
second method is by filtering , you actually look inside the data being transmuted and if you see keywords that you do not like them being shown, you prevent the content from being delivered
A VPN is more than a proxy that just redirect your traffic , it actually encrypt it (you can not look inside it to filter it), users volatile IP addresses (changes regularly so you cant block those IP address)
thus it is hard to track and block VPNs and it is very popular in all countries that has massive internet censorship like China, Saudi Arabia and north Korea to mention a few