A series of reports from international watchdogs have indicated that the government of Uganda is heightening the clampdown on human rights agencies with cyberattacks.
Authorities are reportedly intensifying their effort to obtain spyware and surveillance equipment to enable them track the flow of information between Human Rights Defenders (HRD), including activists, lawyers, journalists among others as a way of defusing damning exposes.
According to Unwanted Witness, a civic society group engaged in dialogue on decisions and policies that affect internet users in Uganda, HRDs themselves are ill equipped to deal with the rampant digital threats and online percussion from both the state and non-state actors.
The organization in its 2017 report titled: State of Human Rights Defenders In a Digital Era says HRDs across all regions of Uganda lack of technical competency, skills and tools to secure their online communication.
This lack of digital security exposes valuable work and vulnerable communities to immense risk.
Tips for HRDs to avoid digital security threats
Creating complex passwords through use of password managers. This will help you to secure your personal and vulnerable groups’ information from hacks. Remember that crack-in on your information database can reveal thousands of other accessible information. Also note that spywares can take leaked data from one attack and use it to access other accounts. Using a password manager to help you store and create strong passwords for all of your accounts.
Opt for online accounts which offer multi-factor authentication. This is where two different factors are required to verify your identity. So, to log into an account you may need to enter a code that is sent to your phone, as well as your password or passphrase.
Make sure you are on a safer and secure connection. Make sure you use password protected routers that encrypt your data to protect the information you pass on the network. Avoid free public Wi-Fi. Public networks are often unsecured, making it easy for a smart hacker to access information on your device.
Try premium Virtual Private Network (VPN). Paid for VPN services help to build user confidence because of the dedicated and full time connection security over the internet. This means that you can safely connect anywhere.
Use a Firewall. A Firewall is a software or hardware which barricade unauthorized access to computer or network system. Using a firewall ensures that all of the devices connected to your network are secured.
Watch out what you click on. Do not trust your emails and notification popups asking you to click anywhere. Check and check again before clicking on anything. This will protect you from falling prey to Phishing.
Keep up to date. Keep all your software updated so you have the latest security patches. Turn on automatic updates so you don’t have to think about it, and make sure that your security software is set to run regular scans.
Keep your guard up. Always be cautious about what you do online, which sites you visit, and what you share. Use comprehensive security software, and make sure to backup your data on a regular basis in case something goes wrong. By taking preventative measures, you can save yourself from headaches later on.
Why Human Rights Defenders should tighten digital security
Sensitive Data protection
For human rights defenders, data is everything! Without it, there is no evidence to back up exposes and to help victims of abuse. We have seen lately how rights watch dogs, law firms, media houses have lost valuable information due to office break-in and some times computer storage devices taken. Your pursuers are sometimes interested in having access to the information on your computer.
End-to-end encrypted online data storage tools can help you escape such attacks and can guard you against hackers who are constantly active and working hard to find lines of weakness in your security system.
Secure digital communication and information systems come tailor made with operational efficiency. Information is stored, and can be channeled through multiple channels to different users. This improves work productivity and hopefully organizational and community safety.
Cybersecurity skills helps you in Malware protection, and how to protect devices and data from malware. It helps to identify which practices to adopt to lessen exposure. Cybersecurity skills inform safer browsing practices online and how to remain anonymous in case of sensitive messages and information.
In summary secure cyber intelligence helps human rights defenders to enhance compliance, detect threats faster, reduce data leakage and simplify operations both as an individual and organization.
Beware that cyber persecution is increasing steadily and that could prove to be a major threat to human rights activism. Therefore, we need to adopt strict cyber security measures to protect ourselves and vulnerable communities.