Recap: Crisis Code — Humanitarian Protection in the Digital Age

Crisis Code: Humanitarian Protection in the Digital Age was a 2-day conference hosted by swissnex San Francisco and the Consulate General of Switzerland in San Francisco that consisted of private workshops and public panels. I had the privilege of attending both. The private workshops included pitches from experts that were followed by smaller working groups that dove deeper into the themes of the day. To get everyone off their feet and involved, the “lead” in the group incorporated design thinking into the brainstorming session. Although the group I joined focused on nation state actors spying on vulnerable populations, the question around the room was familiar:

How can we leverage digital tools to assist vulnerable populations?

The room was full of thought leaders who put their minds together to think through this complex question.

Crisis Code: Humanitarian Protection in the Digital Age (Co-Produced by the Consulate General of Switzerland in SF and swissnex SF): from left to right; Jeff Moss, DEF CON Founder; Paul Nicholas, Global Security Strategy and Diplomacy at Microsoft; Eva Galperin, Director of Cybersecurity at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Photo Myleen Hollero.

Following the workshops were the panels. The first panel, Humanitarian Threats in the Age of Cyberwar, moderated by Joseph Guay, included:

  • Paul Nicholas, Microsoft
  • Eva Galperin, Electronic Frontier Foundation
  • Nathaniel A. Raymond, Harvard University
  • Sanjana Hattotuwa, ICT4Peace
  • Jeff Moss, DEF CON

What a conversation… from Eva’s quick wit to Jeff’s ominous stories on security, this panel had a lot of knowledge and caution to share. Paul from Microsoft began with a quote from Hellen Keller, “Security is mostly superstition, does not exist in nature nor did the children of men as a whole experience it.” The quote set the tone for the evening since concerns and problems that arise out of lack of cyber security do not have an easy fix and it is false to assume that our digital lives are inherently secure.

The panel discussed the ways in which cybersecurity intersects with humanitarian work, international and domestic laws, and global conflict. To provide a pathway to potential solutions, Paul emphasized the importance of cross communication among private enterprises, governments, and humanitarian responders. He also stressed the need for improving overall international cybersecurity in a sustainable and meaningful way.

To add more realism to the stage, Nathaniel labeled this current moment in time as a pivot point in human history as this is the start of the third world war on trust and institutions.

Although some real truths and an uncertain cyber future were laid out that night, I was still very excited to be in front of an accomplished and distinguished panel. An important takeaway for me was a message from Eva: if you don’t have two factor authentication set, go do it now.

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