SUMIT Keynote: Adventures in Securing At-Risk People

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The capstone of the 17th Security at University of Michigan IT (SUMIT) event series was a thought-provoking presentation and conversation on digital protection of the press and at-risk individuals. In Adventures in Securing At-Risk People, Runa Sandvik and Elodie Vialle talked about their passion for helping journalists do their work securely. 

Runa Sandvik, founder of Granitt, has been working on cybersecurity for reporters and at-risk people for over a decade.“ Her approach to protecting journalists involves figuring out their familiarity and comfort level with technology before mapping cybersecurity solutions to their situation and risk profile. She pursues the right balance between security and usability for each project, story, trip, and office. Journalists often have to take inherently risky actions to engage with the public. Finding ways to make these actions secure is what draws Sandvik to her work.

Journalism is inherently risky work, both online and offline. Journalists are physically assaulted, detained, arrested, in some cases killed, they’re targeted with spyware and private spies. These are things that we hear about every single day,” shared Sandvik.

Elodie Vialle, Fellow at the Institute for Rebooting Social Media at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, appreciates Sandvik’s holistic approach to journalistic safety and all she has done to set international standards for cybersecurity in newsrooms. Vialle’s own work has been focused on online harassment of journalists — she sees the emotional impact on her colleagues and recognizes the vital importance of staying safe in hostile environments. According to Vialle, there are many cases of journalists being attacked online, and who are traumatized and refrain from covering certain stories. “People tell us, you just have to disconnect from social media. Don’t use Facebook, don’t use Twitter, okay? But we cannot do that.”

Sandvik and Vialle agree that the cybersecurity issues at-risk people face today are complex and require safety teams representing broad perspectives. Vialle points out that security advisers and trainers who reflect the diversity of our society and of the newsrooms would bring more legitimacy to cybersecurity programs. When asked by an audience member how tech corporations can address at scale highly individualized journalistic protections, Sandvik and Vialle were ready with ideas. “Volunteer within your working hours.”, suggests Sandvik.” Vialle adds, “Be more inclusive — include civil society folks and journalists on red teams before launching any new products. This will be a way to build a safer Internet. And this will be a way to better support marginalized communities.”

The feedback on this year’s SUMIT keynote event has been overwhelmingly positive. Rachael Wojciechowski from ITS Communications said, “Great SUMIT keynote this year! Not super technical or difficult to understand. An engaging discussion that I could follow even while helping with live-tweeting the event.” 

Visit SUMIT Keynote: Adventures in Security At-Risk People to watch the recorded session, review the presentation slide deck, and access resources mentioned during the event.

Author: Jennifer Wilkerson, ITS Information Assurance

Jen is the lead performance support analyst with ITS Information Assurance. You can reach her at jmruk@umich.edu.