Some of the world’s biggest digital rights players have come together to create a toolbox for activists, human rights defenders, and journalists who might face attacks over the internet. The "Digital First Aid Kit" was released to the world today in beta form, and promises to help those in a cyber emergency, such as people being targeted by government malware or having their services knocked out by denial of service attacks.
Over recent months, online threats facing activists have become more and more apparent. Earlier this month, Motherboard reported that police-grade spyware was found in Saudi Arabia, masquerading as an Android mobile news app. Researchers speculated it was being used to target Shiite minority members’ computers, who had expressed concern over political marginalisation.
Also this month, Bahrain arrested a Twitter satirist nicknamed Takrooz, leading to claims the administration was trying to silence opposition voices online.
And in June, it was claimed Thailand’s military-run government had created a fake Facebook login page for those trying to visit prohibited websites, as it sought to gain more information on potential dissidents.
All this justifies the Digital First Aid Kit project, according to its organisers. The initiative came together back in December, when the Digital Defenders Partnership, based out of the Humanist Institute for Co-operation with Developing Countries in The Hague, brought together experts involved in cyber emergency response, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Global Voices. It was clear from the discussions that many activists weren’t getting the right advice or assistance they needed to protect their digital lives.
Fieke Jansen, programme manager at Digital Defenders Partnership, told me people either didn’t know who to turn to or were receiving help from people with no technical expertise. Some wouldn’t even know how to fix a basic account hijack. “So we started working on the questions one can ask to assess what is going on and find the appropriate solution,” she said.
“Our specific target group is journalists, activists and bloggers who are getting targeted online by state and non-state actors. Say you are a media org in Vietnam and you are getting DDoSed or you are a blogger in Central Asia and your account gets hacked. That is our target group.”
To begin with, the First Aid Kit will offer a guide with a set of diagnostic questions to determine if there is a problem. There will also be solutions for dealing with hijacked accounts, seized devices, malware, and denial of service attacks. It's basically a written guide, which you can navigate easily to find out whether you might be infected or if you need help after being targeted by various kinds of attack. It's really just comprehensive, simple-worded advice for those not in the know. That was sorely lacking before, especially for the kinds of attacks facing activists.
Later down the line a diagnostic tool will be included to take some of the stress away from those being targeted. That will help actually find things like Remote Access Trojans or other infections. The kit will be available on the DDP and EFF websites, as well as on all the project partner sites.
The hope is that the service spreads by word of mouth. The kit has been published under a Creative Commons Attribution license and is an open source project, meaning anyone can share it or improve it as they see fit.