Cryptoparties Teach Brooklyn Residents to Stay Safe Online

Internet security –and insecurity—was big news in 2016. Think Hillary Clinton’s email server, WikiLeaks, Russian hackers. It’s all making some people think more about their own cybersecurity. On a recent Saturday in Brooklyn, people gathered to learn tips to stay safe online. Josie Albertson Grove has the story.

 

A large conference room at Eyebeam, an arts and tech nonprofit, became a classroom for 50 people learning about online privacy strategies.

 

I came with my recorder, but organizers were leery about letting me record the group. After all, it was a privacy seminar.

 

For many at the free, afternoon class, learning internet security is like learning a new language with new words like ‘threat model.’ ‘Signal.’ ‘Riseup.’ ‘End to end.’
It was a lot to take in.

 

EDDIE: I, I am very new. (0:02)

 

That’s Eddie. Like a lot of people here, he didn’t want to use his last name to protect his privacy. He says the new technologies are a little intimidating. But, learning to use them is important.

 

EDDIE: I think that the election kind of galvanized me, realized there were things that I should have been doing for a while that I hadn’t been. (0:11)

 

Eddie and the others came to learn how to stay safer and more private online. This kind of training event is called a cryptoparty.

 

The cryptopartiers, mostly white, mostly in their thirties, weren’t really a tech crowd. One man carried a camera, like the kind with film. A woman in her sixties took notes in cursive on a legal pad. Most were just casual laptop and smartphone users.

 

BORGONJON 1: The internet has become less secure rather than more secure, essentially. (0:03)

 

David Borgonjon (BORE-hon-yon) works at Eyebeam. He helped organize the event.

 

BORGONJON 2: And that’s something that people kind of know instinctively, but has, uh, come to seem much more important in the wake of the election. (0:08)

 

He says a key part of the cryptoparty is helping people figure out what level of security is best for them. For example, Borgonjon says he doesn’t need a lot of security.

 

BORGONJON 3: I don’t use encryption for most of my communications because they tend to be pretty banal. (0:05)

 

But he says encryption might provide needed security to people who feel at risk for surveillance.

 

BORGONJON 4: I think the case of queer or trans or Muslim people in the United States is a particularly obvious example. Those people may find tools that we’re offering here kind of useful. (0:09)

 

Lauren Gardner helped organize today’s event, and she says it’s not just marginalized groups who worry about security. At the beginning of the cryptoparty, people were asked to raise their hands to show what privacy issues worried them most.

 

GARDNER 2: There were a lot of people, I would say most of the people raised their hand because they were concerned about what would happen to my phone or my devices if I was at a protest. How do I stay safe? How do I keep my information safe? (0:12)

 

It’s not just about keeping information from the government, or from WikiLeaks. Gardner says your browsing history might tell a private company something about you, something you might want to keep confidential .

 

GARDNER 3: So let’s say I read a lot of psychology information, they might group me into somebody who’s like a depressed user group. But then what do they do with that information? (0:09)

 

Gardner actually used to make ad servers, so she knows how very specific targeting can be.

 

GARDNER 4: I used to send targeted messages to my mother through the ad server. I say this because I know what these tools are capable of. And it’s nothing to necessarily be scary about, it’s something to be aware. (0:16)

 

Christine is a cartoonist and was also at the cryptoparty. She wants to see more people learn about internet privacy.

 

CHRISTINE 1: I feel like there’s still a general public that’s still to trusting about technology. (0:04)

 

She’s already using some privacy tools, but she’s here to sharpen her skills.

 

CHRISTINE 2: I’m just here to find out if there’s anything I missed, anything else I could learn, and I guess meet other people who kind of feel the same way. (0:06)

 

Christine was about to start a lesson in the secure messaging app Signal, led by a trainer named Candice Walker. Walker has worked in tech, and really knows her way around privacy tools. She says she hopes the cryptoparty is just the beginning.

 

WALKER 1: It’s baby steps. And we just want people to take one concrete step. Because they’re more likely to take more steps in the future. (0:07)

 

By the end of the cryptoparty, several dozen people had taken those first steps toward cybersecurity.

 

Josie Albertson Grove, Columbia Radio News.

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