African journalists trained in how to communicate securely online

By APCNews and Toni Eliasz GRAHAMSTOWN, South Africa, 30 September 2004

Online security and privacy should be of concern to anyone who uses the internet. As media workers and human rights organisations around the world make increasing use of online technologies, there is a corresponding increase in the need for skills, knowledge, and tools to ensure that the use of technology is both effective and secure. This need is especially acute in the case of groups operating under repressive political conditions or in situations of conflict, where the challenge is to gather, protect and disseminate information effectively in a way which minimises risk to activists.

With this background in mind APC offered a three-day workshop on "Secure Computing and Online Communications" during the Highway Africa conference in September in Grahamstown, South Africa. Highway Africa is the world’s largest conference for African journalists and was attended by more than 350 journalists and media folk.

The workshop was intended as entry-level training primarily aimed at end users, but also accommodated people who were thinking about security in their organisations. During these three days participants with diverse backgrounds from media, non-governmental, academic, and private sectors representing mainly Southern African countries gained individual and organisational capacity in the area of information security.

"My first message to participants is ‘be aware not paranoid’. Nowadays information security has been given more and more media attention world widely, but terms like trojans, spyware, or encryption usually intimidate normal computer users," explained Toni Eliasz, coordinator of the workshop and executive director of South African ‘social techies’ Ungana-Afrika. "There’s no need to be paranoid. With a basic understanding and skills most of the challenges of keeping your computer and your information safe can be tackled efficiently."

The workshop was divided into three afternoons. The first two provided an introduction to secure online communications and an overview of viruses and malware, privacy, software vulnerabilities, access control, backing-up information, and planning for secure computing.

The last afternoon covered high-risk contexts and focused on interception legislation, encryption and digital signatures, and the Martus secure reporting tool.

Martus is an open source software whose name means “witness” in Greek. It enables human rights organisations to safely store their data in a secure, remote server, without the fear of falling prey to hackers and those who might want to spy on and/or sabotage their work. Using Martus, information can be shared and transmitted with greater security. Bobby Soriano, a technical specialist from the Philippines, gave participants a hands-on demonstration of the software and handed out copies on CD-rom.

The workshop is part of a two-phase initiative of the APC to address these needs piloting in the Southern African context. Currently as part of Phase 1, APC is developing a bank of reusable training materials for use by participants and other trainers on “Secure Online Communications (SOC) for civil society organisations in situations of repression and conflict” and which will be available online in the coming months.

APC is also laying the foundation for ongoing SOC-related training and support through needs analysis and the training of potential trainers/e-riders. APC thanks OSISA for their support of Phase 1.

Phase 2 will consist of a broader initiative to build the capacity of existing trusted ICT trainers and support providers to be able to train and support CSOs in communicating securely online throughout 2005.

"Secure Computing and Online Communications"-workshop presentations and exercises: Coming soon

More about APC training: Write to

Author: —- (APCNews and Toni Eliasz)
Source: APCNews and Toni Eliasz
Date: 09/30/2004
Location: GRAHAMSTOWN, South Africa
Category: Training and ICTs