Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Online Donation Service Hacked

Convio, one of the larger Internet donation service providers for charities, was recently hacked and a significant number of donor email addresses and passwords were compromised. Major NGOs using the company's services including CARE and the American Red Cross were among the victims. More commentary on the story is here.

This incident demonstrates the potential for data vulnerability when relying on outsourced IT services. It also shows that a large number of humanitarian organizations were negligent in not notifying donors after the information security breech occurred. While no credit card information was compromised, a risk still exists that stolen information could be used to access banking, retail and other online services. Management should have contingency plans in place to quickly notify donors of any data compromise. Transparency in situations like this is critical.



Over the past couple of years you may have heard about the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative. An effort to put low-cost computers in the hands of third world children. Instead of taking an existing laptop and loading it up with educational software, an entirely new type of computer was designed from the ground up. Rugged, simple to use, a long battery life, inexpensive (relatively speaking), networked-enabled, and able to be powered by alternate energy sources. Production of this innovative computer, called the XO, started earlier in the month. Originally it was only going to be available to governments in large quantities, but until the end of the year you can purchase one in a unique program. It works like this. For $399 (excluding shipping) you buy two XOs. You're sent one, and the other is donated to a child through the OLPC Foundation (the second one counts as a charitable donation on your taxes if you're in the U.S.). Full details on the program, and the laptop, are here or take a look at the video review below.

Why am I excited about a cute little, lime green computer that doesn't run Windows software? For starters, the technology is amazing as is the potential (check out a couple of videos of XOs in use in Peru, India, and Nigeria). I also like the fact this computer fits in more with the spirit of the humanitarian community compared to most other commercial IT products. And finally, from a security standpoint, this just might be the perfect laptop for taking out into the field. Stay tuned for more, when mine shows up.


Monday, November 26, 2007

Survival Stories

The November issue of Outside magazine has an interesting collection of twelve, survival-related stories with commentary (if you can't get the mag, they're also available online). I love real world case studies with lessons learned. Not NGO-specific, but still good reading.


Sunday, November 25, 2007

NGO Security Scenario #7

You are accompanying a senior staff member from your organization's headquarters to a project site in Sri Lanka. This is the visitor's first time in-country, and he asks to stop and take photos of local wildlife. Press the play button below to see what happens next.

What actions would you take after you reached safety? What recommendations would you make to reduce the chances of something like this happening again? Based on your organization's policies and procedures, what would happen after an incident like this? Share your thoughts by clicking on COMMENTS below.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

NGO Security Scenario #6

You are flying from New York to Senegal, connecting through Madrid on an Iberia Airlines 747. You are traveling alone and there are 385 other people on board. The pilot notices a fire warning light on the number two engine and returns to JFK for an emergency landing. The flight attendants tell passengers to prepare to evacuate. As the plane lands, the cabin lights go out and an alarm starts ringing. Press the play button below to see and hear what you encounter.

What factors seem to be slowing down the evacuation? Do you have anything with you that would be useful? What would your actions be during and after this incident? Share your thoughts by clicking on COMMENTS below.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Security Tidbits

Humanitarian security news from around the world...

In addition to rubber bullets, tear gas, and pepper spray, NGO security practitioners should be aware of a new, hi-tech crowd control device. Authorities in Georgia (the country, not the U.S. state) are now using non-lethal sound weapons against protesters. This technology has been recently used by ships against pirates, but this is one of the first wide scale, land deployments.

Tip of the hat to tbb for sending in a link to an article about the joint African Union/U.N. peacekeeping force in Darfur and how it's likely to fail. Good background reading for anyone doing work in the area.

And in legal news - Canadian charges against a U.S. aid worker were dropped for smuggling Haitian refugees into the country. The French NGO child kidnapping scandal in Chad continues, with essayist Jacques Attali saying it is the duty of NGOs to disobey laws. And today, the French government issued a travel advisory after anti-France demonstrations in Chad's capital.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Climate Change as a Security Risk

tbb writes in with a link to World in Transition - Climate Change as a Security Risk. This is a very comprehensive report released by the German Advisory Council on Climate Change. Recommended reading for humanitarian security types who like to be prepared for possible future events. A free PDF version in English (as well as German) is available.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

NGO Security Scenario #5

You are working in a conflict zone and are part of a small convoy of three vehicles heading to a project site one morning. Press the play button below to see what happens next.

What are your primary concerns immediately following the event? What actions would you take? Would it have been beneficial to have a trip plan filed prior to this incident? Do your organization's vehicles carry first aid kits? If so, would the contents typically found in the field be useful in a situation like this? Share your thoughts by clicking on COMMENTS below.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Free Blank Maps

If you need a country or region map for a presentation or report, you probably head over to Google and start searching. The Net has all sorts of cool maps, but most of them have copyrights and are pretty difficult to customize because of existing shading, colors and geographic features you might not care about. Next time you need a map, check out this great site that houses a large collection of blank maps from all over the world. All free and easy to modify with your favorite graphics program.


Sunday, November 04, 2007

NGO Security Scenario #4

You are attending a security management course somewhere in Asia at a beach hotel. You hear a commotion and venture outside to investigate. Press the play button below to see what you encounter.

Identify as many threats to personal safety shown in the video as you can (both during and after the actual event). Share your list by clicking on COMMENTS below.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Risk Aversion and Blackwater

R.J. Hillhouse is a respected academic who comments and writes on national security issues. She has an opinion piece in the latest issue of the Christian Science Monitor where she speculates that part of the blame for Blackwater's behavior in Iraq rests on the shoulders of the State Department because of its risk aversion. Since State has adopted a zero tolerance for employee casualties in Iraq, this essentially gives Blackwater carte blanche to act in whatever manner it deems necessary. An interesting theory.

Looking beyond the Blackwater situation, risk tolerance and its impacts are one of those topics that never seems to be discussed very often in the humanitarian community. Does the organization you work for do a good job of understanding its own tolerance for risk, communicating that tolerance to staff so they know what it means, and then basing decisions on the tolerance level?

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Malaria in Peru

Guardian article about malaria in Peru. 40 years after it was eradicated, there have been 64,000 cases in the country this year. Thank you deforestation and global warming. While rising sea levels and drought get most of the press, climate change could have a more immediate and significant effect on the spread of some diseases. A below the radar, safety-related issue to keep an eye on in the coming years.