Nothing2Hide has created thanks to Digital Defenders Partnership support an emergency digital assistance service for activists and journalists: Tech4Press. In order to help journalists and activists to face the challenges of this surveillance era, Tech4Press provides a panel of digital safety services.
Activists and journalists were able to reach Nothing2Hide digital safety experts 24 hours a day 7 days a week through a dedicated email an a dedicated Signal secured number. However most of the requests we received were not forwarded to us through these channels, but through our own network. In total, over 13 months, 63 people and 5 organizations have benefited from N2H’s expert advice. Most of the time, the hotline call has been followed by a remote training.
Main topics requested during the hot line calls:
- File security (8),
- Malware analysis (12),
- Secure communication (16),
- VPN (10).
N2H offers a capacity building program with a series of training courses in the use of secure communication tools. The vast majority of the training courses we have given as part of this project have been tailored to the needs of the beneficiaries. Before each training session, we discussed with the participants to better understand their needs and adapt the program to their requirements. 237 people and 16 organizations were able to follow a digital security program in the scope off this project.
Main topics requested for the training:
- file security (5),
- malware analysis (9),
- phishing (4),
- secure communication (7),
- securing online account (3).
We have distributed free VPN access to secure Internet connections on smartphones and computers. Between March 2022 and April 2023 we have distributed 136 VPN accounts.
Two people were in charge of answering hotline calls or implementing training courses. All cases monitored were recorded in our internal tool (NextCloud Deck application).
Most of the training session were carried out remotely, but for some specific cases, we were able to carry out the training on site, either because the requesters were living or visiting France, or because we were able to visit them (this was the case for Kyrgyzstan).
Finally, many hotline calls asked us to analyze cell phones, which we were able to do on a few occasions when we could arrange a physical meeting (mainly with journalists in France). For some urgent cases, we have been able to launch remote analyses, thanks to a technical contact on site who helped us to able to extract the data from the phone. For the analyses we used Amnesty’s Mobile Verification toolkit and Apple’s sysdiagnose tool. We launched around 15 analysis and we did not find any traces of famous spyware (such as Pegasus) however we did encounter some common viruses (TrojanClicker for instance).
We have successfully reached 310 activist and journalists. Of the 310 people helped, 148 are women and 162 are men. The training activity remains preponderant on our project since 247 people have benefited from a training and 63 from an emergency response via our hotline. It should be noted that many calls to the hotline lead to the organization of a training.
Most of the beneficiaries are located in Europe and sub-Saharan Africa. This is due to Nothing2Hide’s network in France and also in Western and Eastern Africa. In third place comes Central Asia with 20 beneficiaries. This is explained by the fact that Nothing2Hide has been working closely with ISOC Kirghistan since the beginning of 2022.
The typologies of the beneficiaries are quite eclectic. Indeed, if N2H is more used to work with a public of journalists (hence the name of the Tech4Press project) through meetings and our network we have managed to broaden the audience of this project to civil society in general and to associations fighting for LGBTQI rights in particular, mainly in Sub-Saharan Africa, where homosexuality is criminalized in some countries.
Finally, in April, we have run a live conference on Twitter (using Twitter Space) on smartphone and digital safety for protesters. The Twitter Space has been run in collaboration with StreetPress, a French Media investigating on police brutality and has been listened more than 2100 times.
We underestimated requests for training and overestimated hotline calls. We remedied this problem by dedicating days planned for the second activity to the first. But overall, the project’s results exceeded our expectations. Indeed, in the first edition of Tech4Press in 2021, we managed to reach 183 journalists and activists. This year, we increased this figure to 310. This is due to three factors:
- The foundations of the project were already laid, enabling us to invest more time in direct support for beneficiaries (hotline and training) rather than in implementation.
- We were able to expand our network thanks to our meeting with an LGBTQI+ association (Solidarité Action) which put us in touch with its partners in West Africa.
- We benefited from the momentum of the first edition: our emergency digital security helpline was already in place and known by some of our partners.
Most requests for assistance or training have come to us not via the Tech4Press website or its dedicated channels, but through our existing network. Indeed, our activities lead us to intervene regularly with activists or journalists, and during these interventions we regularly promote our help line. Similarly, our regular collaborations as Nothing2Hide with other organizations (Rory Peck Trust, Cenozo, Africans Rising, Access, Reporters Without Borders) have enabled us to reach a wider number of beneficiaries. As a result, the “Tech4Press” project remains little known. When we’re asked for assistance, we are contacted as Nothing2Hide and not as Tech4Press. This is why we now advertise our hotline service as Nothing2Hide Digital security helpline.
We are actively looking to renew fund for our digital security helpline but did not manage to fund yet a donor to fund this activity yet. However we launched a donation campaign in December 2022 which allows us to raise 6500 € which will be invested in our Digital Security Helpline.