In an interview with Canada’s International Development Research Centre and Canadian Geographic, Citizen Lab Director Ron Deibert explained the work of the Cyber Stewards Network (CSN), which aims to increases cybersecurity in the global south, and conducts advocacy campaigns surrounding the protection of human rights in the digital sphere.
Asked about the formation of the CSN, Delbert said “The development of the Internet is one of the most profound changes in communications in human history. We need people around the world working locally but thinking globally about how to protect it, so in partnership with the International Development Research Centre, Citizen Lab formed the network, which combines research and advocacy. A lot of the groups in the network want to do more than just research — they want to push for change. We help them with the research and they do the advocacy.”
He went to to discuss the work the network has done in protecting vulnerable groups, such as exiled Tibetans who were the target of cyberattacks by the Chinese government. Citizen Lab partnered with the Tibet Action Institute to develop messaging understandable by and relatable to Tibetans that would encourage them to follow cybersecurity best practices. Deibert also touched on the need for civil society to protect themselves as they increasingly become the target of advanced spyware technologies, given that they frequently express political dissent. He concluded: “Governments — whether in Nigeria, Latin America or the Middle East — are putting in draconian restrictions such as mass surveillance programs and curtailing the activities of journalists, all under the rubric of cybersecurity. Securing cyberspace involves more than technical solutions because however valuable those may be, they’re not going to solve the problem in its entirety because technologies are always changing. We also need to approach the problems as an issue that arises from government and private-sector behavior, which will require wholesale legal and policy changes. Otherwise, these restriction and surveillance activities will ultimately result in a crisis of democracy.”
Read the full interview with IDRC.
Cyber Stewards Network partner Tibet Action Institute (TAI) has launched a new program aimed at getting ordinary users of mobile and online technology in Tibet to adopt safe habits to prevent malware and viral attacks. The Cyber Superhero website contains information that is particularly relevant for Tibetans living in exile, whose online and mobile communications with friends and family in Tibet are often the subject of security intrusions and malware attacks by Chinese government officials. A video summarizing the Cyber Super Hero campaign’s initiatives can be viewed here.
The website launched by TAI features simple tips such as updating computer software, using strong, unique passwords, and HTTPS and 2-step verification for online services. It warns against using chat software WeChat, known to store communications records that are then accessed by the Chinese government. Other mobile security tips include using prepaid SIM cards in order to avoid identification of the user, as well as removing the battery of the phone when not in use.
China has allegedly hacked several activist websites, as well as that of the Dalai Lama and others expressing nationalist opinions, all in an effort to obtain the information of readers accessing the sites. The information that is obtained is often used to make arrests for sharing communications considered subversive to the Chinese government. The Citizen Lab’s Information Warfare Monitor project’s report, titled “Shadows in the Cloud: Investigating Cyber Espionage 2.0,” documented a complex ecosystem of cyber espionage that systematically targeted and compromised computer systems in India, the Offices of the Dalai Lama, the United Nations, and several other countries.
In addition, the Citizen Lab published reports titled “Permission to Spy: An Analysis of Android Malware Targeting Tibetans” and “Surtr: Malware Family Targeting the Tibetan Community,” which is part of a series documenting the use of information operations against Tibetans and others who advocate for Tibetan rights and freedoms. An analysis of mobile messaging applications privacy standards was also conducted by the Citizen Lab in a report titled “Asia Chats: Analyzing Information Controls and Privacy in Asian Messaging Applications.”