Insomni’hack is one of Switzerland’s largest information security events. The CyberPeace Builders team explain why they participated and the difference that volunteers can make.
Over 50% of NGOs report being targeted by cybercriminals, which poses a major threat to humanitarian action carried out across the world. The threat has become more acute over the last couple of years because the COVID-19 pandemic forced more NGOs to take their operations online. That has compelled organizations to address cybersecurity. For an NGO staffed by a handful of people, it can be impossible to know where to start.
We created the CyberPeace Builders as part of the solution to NGOs being targeted by cyberattacks. Launched in October last year, the CyberPeace Builders brings together volunteers from the world of cybersecurity with humanitarian organizations. Since then we have been spreading the word about the program, which has already won awards, including first prize for Innovation in Global Security from the Geneva Center for Security Policy (GCSP).
Ethical hacking contest
One of the reasons for our recent participation in the Insomni’hack event in Geneva was to engage with cybersecurity experts. Insomni’hack is one of Switzerland’s largest information security events and has been running for almost 15 years. The two-day event provides talks and workshops from information security experts from major vendors as well as from academia and the public sector.
Our purpose at the conference was to introduce the CyberPeace Builders to potential volunteers. We spoke to lots of people, many of whom had heard of the CyberPeace Builders and some who were new to our work. It was great to attend Insomni’hack and inspiring to meet so many people who are interested in putting their cyber expertise forward to support humanity.
Bringing in volunteers
There was plenty of interest in volunteering, which was encouraging. Volunteers for the CyberPeace Builders commit at least 20 hours of their time every year to helping NGOs. We have around 70 volunteers at the moment and we are working with more than 40 NGOs in Europe, Africa and the USA. We are continuing to expand those numbers every day and adapting to where our assistance is needed most, for example, we are currently working with NGOs helping refugees from Ukraine. We have a presence in Kenya to outreach across East Africa and are planning to develop a similar approach for South America.
On a practical level, CyberPeace Builders have access to a “jobs board”, which shows the help required by the NGOs we work with, and volunteers can choose the opportunity that fits their expertise and the time they are able to commit.
For the NGOs, the process begins with a general security assessment, which sets a benchmark for their level of cybersecurity and gives us a framework for how we will proceed. Many of our NGOs say this process is the most clear and insightful interaction they have had on cybersecurity, so that alone is worth being part of the program. Once they get the opportunity to work with our volunteers too, they find they have access to the best industry expertise.
That isn’t the only benefit that NGOs get from joining the CyberPeace Builders program. They also get access to the CyberPeace Cafe, where they can share ideas and resources with other NGOs. Often it can be beneficial simply to find that the problems faced by the NGO are not unique and that others have taken steps to solve them already.
Our mission is to ensure that humanitarian NGOs can carry out their vital work in a secure digital environment. We want them to be able to take the trust they have built up through their work offline into their work online. Visiting Insomni’hack, it was inspiring to meet so many industry experts who share that goal – and who are willing to help.