Must-Read: 'The DIY Guide to Feminist Cybersecurity'

It’s not just for girls.

by Heidi Harrington-Johnson
Nov 14 2015, 1:10pm

All screencaps via

The DIY Guide to Feminist Cybersecurity by Safe Hub Collective opens with a warning: "it’s a jungle out there and you need to take the initiative to protect your digital space." To that effect, they have produced a comprehensive guide and a more digestible cheat sheet with tips on how to ensure your online interactions are safe and private with tools and software to help.

Why is this necessary? According to the collective, a group of Boston-based activists intent on creating safer public spaces, “You have a right to exist safely in digital spaces.” Online abuse is not something that only happens to celebrities or government spies. If you have a telephone or have ever connected to the internet, there is a chance that the information you’ve shared, whether it be spoken or written words or pictures, has been seen, heard, or stored by someone else.

It's neither cool nor democratic, but the online space is very much like its offline counterpart. As we go about our daily activities offline, we leave behind bits of information about ourselves or DNA. Sometimes this information is seemingly invisible, like a tiny bit of skin, and other times it’s easier to spot like a strand of hair. In the same way, we leave behind information about ourselves when we go online and this data contains valuable information about what we like, who we connect with, when, where and how. 

In and of itself, that strand of hair may not be important—but the strands that make up the complete picture of the individual are. Ever wonder why the advertisement for the shoes you searched for yesterday pops up on a website you’re looking for today? Your search data has been sold to an advertising company. In the same way, your private information is available to potential hackers and what you post publicly is visible to internet trolls. The Creators Project spoke to the guide’s creator, Noah Kelley, find to out more about cybersecurity and why it isn’t just for girls. 

Image courtesy of Noah Kelley 

The Creators Project: What prompted you to create the Guide?

Noah Kelley: As a programmer and an activist, I've recognized a significant dearth of focus from the tech community in improving the lives of everyday users on a meaningful social and political level. Of course there are fantastic techies doing this crucial work: from the wonderful community behind Model View Culture, to fearless organizations like the EFF or Library Freedom Project, there is a vibrant movement to reposition technology as a source of personal rights, opportunity, and well-being. But more often than not, the dominant tech communities are interested in apps and initiatives that are tailored to the interests of white, cis-gendered men of a certain degree of technical aptitude (be it real or assumed). This exclusivity, found everywhere from startup hiring strategies to programmer forums, creates an alienating atmosphere even when technologies, like personal privacy tools, are universally valuable. My hope with the DIY Guide to Feminist Cybersecurity was to share these tools in an accessible manner that prioritized the well-being of marginalized people who are more likely to experience abuse, surveillance, and exploitation in digital spaces.

Is the guide only for Feminists?

The guide is for anyone who wants more control over their digital life! That being said, it was explicitly written for Feminists because cybersecurity is a decidedly Feminist issue: digital harassment and surveillance is disproportionately targeted towards women, people of color, trans folks, queer folks, Muslim Americans, activists, and so many others who are not privileged on the internet. The guide's tools are helpful for everyone, but the risks and threats they seek to temper are absolutely not universal.

Why should I be more vigilant about protecting my digital space?

Vigilance in digital spaces is a personal decision and it is totally your right to be as proactive or disinterested as you please! Honestly, it's kind of ridiculous that anyone has to install a bunch of tools from a cybersecurity guide to begin with: you shouldn't have to spend so much time and effort protecting basic activities like web browsing, sharing pictures, or texting friends. But the nature of the internet today is that activity and personal information are being collected indiscriminately without your explicit consent. The risks, ranging from leaked personal data to political suppression to intrusive advertising, are well-known. But less considered is the fact that security is social. You may not be impacted by these risks, but many people, especially those with marginalized identities, can be devastated psychologically, economically, and politically by them. When you take measures to protect your digital spaces, you make it easier for everyone connected to you to be more secure too. It becomes more difficult to identify the vulnerable if everyone is sharing their security. Through this process, we can establish a more positive digital culture where everyone can enjoy safe access to the world around them.

Are there any similarities between physical and digital space?

Physical spaces are easy to grasp; there's a wealth of information available to you just from looking around or listening. Digital spaces are much more opaque; there is constant communication between a slew of technologies managed by totally unrelated entities: phones, apps, computers, servers, databases, IT departments, all of these factors create a digital space that goes largely unnoticed as you exist in it. But, like a physical space, digital spaces are still functions of our social norms. There can be as much entitlement to a woman's attention in a digital space as a physical one. 

If this technology can protect me, won’t it be able to protect the trolls and the hackers too?

Cybersecurity tools can, and are, utilized by hackers and trolls. Part of the reason they are able to successfully hack and troll is because they recognize the power differential that exists when the vast majority of the population is relying on insecure technology. As more people adopt cybersecurity tools, and a culture emerges that prioritizes user safety and well-being, this power-differential will diminish and trolling and hacking won't be nearly as easy as it is today.

If I don’t take more care in protecting my online self, what does the future look like?

If you don't take care of protecting yourself online, the future will look largely the same as it is now: your intimate personal data will be  commodified and sold, you'll be subjected to the surveillance whims of your government, and you will have to watch your digital spaces be threatened by racism, sexism, transphobia, queerphobia, and Islamophobia.

However, I think it's incredibly important to emphasize that none of these issues are the responsibilities of individual users. The tech world should build safer and more ethical digital spaces. Governments shouldn't compromise the rights of its citizens. Nobody should be subjected to hateful harassment online or off. Cybersecurity is a stopgap tool to give you options here and now in response to these threats; ultimately, it's up to society as a whole to build a more equitable future where these tools won't be necessary.

To download your own cheat sheet, click here


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