Secure computing, online communications workshop for Asia
By Nina Somera
MANILA, PHILIPPINES, 20 June 2005
Fourteen development organizations and groups from South and Southeast Asia participated in the first ever Train the Trainers Workshop on Secure Computing and Online Communications for NGOs, held from May 20-24, 2005 at the Legend Villas in Pasig City, MetroManila, Philippines.
Organized by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) with the support of the Open Society Institute, the workshop proceeded from the premise that as civil society organizations (CSOs) increasingly use personal computers and online communication tools, they are becoming more prone to ever-advancing threats ranging from malware (viruses, spyware or adware, Wikipedia ">spam, phishing), to digital surveillance and interception, and even the seizure of equipment.
(Malware -- which comes from the words "malicious software" -- refers to any software program developed for the purpose of causing harm to a computer system, similar to a virus or trojan horse. In computing, phishing refers to is the act of attempting to fraudulently acquire sensitive information, such as passwords and credit card details, by masquerading as a trustworthy person or business with a real need for such information.)
Participants came from development workers from nine Asian countries -- Cambodia, Korea, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Myanmar, Nepal, Thailand, and the Philippines —- who work with ICTs (information and communication technologies).
This four-day workshop was intended to strengthen their capacities, by raising awareness on the vulnerabilities of available means of digital communication. It also sought to introduce simple, low-cost tools to promote privacy and security in their organizations, and help them design strategic and appropriate training activities for their constituencies.
Participants first got an orientation on the general issues and solutions for secure computing and online communications. Basic encryption tools as well as tools for maintaining anonymity in instant messaging and chat, electronic mail, and mobile telephony were focussed on.
Special sessions on Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) security, malware, and data protection were held, and an applied secure tool for reporting human rights violations -- Martus -- was also presented.
(Martus is a software tool that allows users to document incidents of abuse by creating bulletins, uploading them at the earliest opportunity, and storing them on redundant servers located around the world. See http://www.martus.org/)
Break-out sessions were also organized to further enhance the participants' knowledge of the tools and skills for technology planning and training design.
Effective learning approaches and technologies were likewise imparted to the participants who were expected to be trainers in their own countries.
Both trainers and participants also vowed to form a "community of practice" that continues an exchange on online security, while sharing experiences and learnings from conducting similar workshops in their home countries.
The workshop was coordinated by Ann Tothill (APC), and Robert Guerra (Privaterra), with support from Brenda Burell (Kubatana Trust of Zimbabwe) and Bobby Soriano (Institute of Popular Democracy), Al Alegre (FMA) and Bombim Cadiz (FMA/Philippine Network Foundation).
APC local members Womens Hub and Foundation for Media Alternatives (FMA) helped co-organize the regional training, with the former heading the Workshop Secretariat while the latter helping out in the Training Team.
Most of tools introduced were taken from "Secure NGO in a Box" (http://www.tacticaltech.org/ngoinabox) -- a compilation of NGO-friendly applications, produced by Privaterra (http://www.privaterra.org), Tactical Tech (http://www.tacticaltech.org) and Front Line (http://www.frontlinedefenders.org).