New SBTF Deployment for Typhoon Yolanda

Disaster responders in the Philippines need your help!

 

The Standby Task Force is officially deploying in response to a Digital Humanitarian Network (DHN) request from UN OCHA to assist with media monitoring and mapping for Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), a super typhoon due to make landfall in the Philippines at 01:00 UTC on Friday, November 8th.

Please consider contributing your time to this new deployment! You do not need to be a member of the SBTF, you simply need to follow the steps below and log into Skype.

Thank you very much for your time and we look forward to working with you!

Activator: UN OCHA via DHN

Deployment timeframe: 21:00 UTC, Thursday, November 7 – 22:00 UTC, Sunday, November 10.

Platform: The deployment will use the MicroMappers platform that the SBTF are testing and the Ushahidi map platform. Regarding MicroMappers, this deployment is open to anyone with an internet connection; no previous training or SBTF membership is required. Regarding the Ushahidi map, we will need SBTF volunteers with experience in using Ushahidi.

STEP 1: Please sign up for the deployment and indicate your availability here:

http://tinyurl.com/n2d9vd9

STEP 2: We will add you to the Skype chat window for the deployment called Typhoon Yolanda – Palau General Chat. Please check this Skype window for further instructions and link to the platform for the deployment.

Deployment Leads:

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

————————————————————————————————

 BACKGROUND INFORMATION

Super Typhoon Haiyan, known locally in the Philippines as Yolanda, is equivalent to a Category 5 hurricane, posing a major threat to people and property across the island nation.

Earlier on Thursday, local time, the winds with this exceptionally dangerous storm increased to 280 kph (nearly 175 mph), tying it with Super Typhoon Lekima for the strongest tropical system in the world for the 2013 season based on wind speed and central pressure. The strength of Haiyan (Yolanda) is equal to that of an extremely powerful Category 5 hurricane in the Atlantic.

The typhoon is expected to make landfall at around 09:00 local time (01:00 UTC) on Friday between Samar and Leyte, two of the Visayan Islands in central Philippines. It is then forecast to move over to the South China Sea north of Palawan Island on Saturday, meteorologists say. Its anticipated path will take it directly over the Filipino region struck hardest by a 7.1-magnitude earthquake in October. Around 12 million people live in the Manila metro area, where the storm is expected to hit Saturday, with another 10 million in the central Philippines, where the storm will likely hit hardest.

Accuweather warns rainfall along the storm’s path could measure over 8 inches (200 mm), with mudslides becoming an increasing concern at higher elevations. Making matters worse, a tropical cyclone has already drenched parts of the central Philippines, meaning the storm’s rainfall will likely lead to worse flooding and mudslides.

The typhoon can have a high humanitarian impact based on the maximum sustained wind speed and the affected population and their vulnerability. Schools and offices have already been closed in the region and thousands of people are being evacuated. The estimated population to be affected by Category 1 (120 km/h) wind speeds or higher is 14.2 million

Useful links:

SBTF/USAID – A Partnership – The Future of Digital Volunteers?

meier usaid logo
Kirk Morris, Melissa Elliott, Jeannine Lemaire – SBTF

“On Friday, June 1st, USAID’s GeoCenter and Development Credit Authority (DCA) launched the Agency’s first-ever crowdsourcing initiative to pinpoint the location of USAID DCA loan data. Forty people came to USAID’s Innovation Lab throughout the day to crowdsource live. Online volunteers, working from Canada to the United Kingdom to Uganda, worked nonstop until the project was complete. The event, which was planned for the entire weekend, concluded after only 16 hours as the first 150 people completed 2,300 records. Each of these records is associated with multiple entries in the original database so the final output from the volunteers will result in approximately 10,000 unique records. The event relied heavily on partnerships from online volunteer communities – the Standby Task Force and GIS Corps who both brought many volunteers and leaders to the table. These records are part of a larger dataset containing over 100,000 records, 70,000 of which were automatically geocoded in collaboration with the Department of Defense. The initiative took place using the data.gov platform, manipulated for the first time as a crowdsourcing tool.” – Shadrock Roberts, USAID.

We have immense respect for the heavy lifting done by Shadrock Roberts and Stephanie Grosser of USAID. Walking through the Government bureaucracy and legal hurdles required tenacity and patience to bring the effort to fruition. Appreciation must also be shown to the many unknown Government workers who contributed in making the collaboration possible.

It started here:
usaid event page

and here:

This partnership between USAID and the Standby Task Force was unique for a number of reasons. One, we, the SBTF, had the luxury of weeks in which to prepare, inform and galvanize our membership. Two, it was the first effort by the SBTF to map and clean data not related to crisis. There was an initial concern that membership might be put off by the thought of data mining knowing it wasn’t for a critical crisis response and that manipulating pure data might be, well, boring. But, membership showed great enthusiasm and excitement for the detective work required to identify the individual reports. We dare say many members had fun meeting the challenges presented by non-standard location data. As Shadrock Roberts of USAID pointed out, “The records that were given to volunteers were records that we could not automate. This means that they contained some of the most difficult, confusing, and partial geocoded data of the whole set.”

This effort represents a significant view of the future for digital volunteers. As open data becomes more readily accessible, a wealth of information becomes available to be used for good. We were also impressed with the response to the call for volunteers from the global (“crowd”) public. They proved to be wholly reliable, competent and committed to the event as much as the seasoned volunteers. A major lesson learned is with proper work flows, instruction and experienced guidance the “crowd” is an extraordinary asset we all have to learn to trust.

Trust is an element that can’t be passed by casually. Establishing it has required effort, diligence and dedicated volunteers who take pride in the veracity of their efforts. This long road began with UN OCHA, Andrej Verity and the Colombia team (@ochacolombia). Along the way we made incremental advances with UNHCR, WFP, WHO, Amnesty International USA and the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative. And now a working partnership with USAID made possible by an effort of two-and-a-half years of dedicated membership. The future is bright for mapsters and open data.

Think the Volunteer Technical Community and SBTF have not made a difference? Then ponder this:

Dr. Rajiv Shah, Administrator of USAID, is quoted this week:

“All of these developments have made me think about how crucial it is to expand the community of individuals and organizations that we listen to and work with. This past week, our GeoCenter and the Development Credit Authority hosted our Agency’s first-ever crowdsourcing event, enlisting 150 volunteers to clean up and geotag thousands of loan data records. That event not only increased our Agency’s transparency, it created a model for the entire government—our event was the first time data.gov was opened to crowdsourcing. It won’t be the last.”

From USAID:

“The crowdsourcing event was implemented at no cost to the Agency and is paving the way for the USG [US Government] to allow an interested public to play a role in our efforts to open more data. The substantive effects of the released data and maps will change the way our partners work with DCA in the future. After reviewing the data for quality control, the complete dataset, case study, and the associated map will be released and presented at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars on June 28th.” – Shadrock Roberts, USAID.

Results (thus far) of the USAID CrowdSourcing Event:

Volunteers processed more than 2,300 records in approximately 16 hours. Many of these records have been used to populate multiple entries in the original dataset (where there were multiple entries only one “parent record” was given to the volunteers). At present, USAID has been able to complete 8,615 records from the work of the volunteers! They are fairly confident that the final number will be around 10,000. Only 2,393 records were labeled as “bad data,” which can still be mapped at the national level. Of the ones that were “completed” over 4,000 of them returned a good enough placename match to be assigned a latitude and longitude point.

We pulled together a few statistics from the crowdsourcing event (reflecting only the active sixteen hours of the event, as the event concluded earlier than the originally planned 60 hours thanks to our amazing volunteers!):

  • Total volunteers who actively participated in the crowdsourcing: 143
  • Total USAID, GISCorps and general public volunteers: 75
  • Total SBTF volunteers: 68
  • Total SBTF volunteers active in Skype channels: 58
  • Total SBTF volunteers who RSVPed for the full 60-hour event: 142

The Next Phases:

The first phase of using crowdsourcing to geocode the data records and perform data cleansing is now complete. Phases 2 and 3 of the project are now being performed by USAID and GISCorps. During Phase 2, “hard-to-geocode” records are being worked on further by GISCorps volunteers who have specialized expertise in geolocation and writing automated scripts to perform these tasks. During Phase 3, quality control and analysis of all geocoded records will be performed, meaning the geocoding of data by both the “crowd” and automated systems will be checked for accuracy. Once these phases are finalized, the complete data set, map and case study will be released to the public, promoting open data and transparency.

Quotes from volunteers:

“The true meaning of crowdsourcing: I’m skyping with my mom to get help with the Sri Lanka-based tasks our volunteers are having some trouble with (she’s from there)”. – Jeannine Lemaire, Standby Task Force Volunteer

“I’m between jobs right now and this is a great opportunity for me to connect with people doing similar work as me in the DC area.” – Dan, GeoDC

“I wasn’t sure what I was going to be doing but I appreciate what USAID does and wanted to help.” – Stephanie, volunteer who works full time at National Defense University

The following Skype chat illustrates the wonder of crowdsourcing volunteers:

[6/2/2012 5:10:57 PM] Rick: I work in the field of Environmental science, with work also in Toxicity, Exposure, Epidemiology and Risk Assessment.

[6/2/2012 5:14:00 PM] Joy: Thank you Richard. Get out of town I worked for a bio montoring lab all through my under grad +5 years aquatic toxicology for NELAP compliance. I tried really hard to selll my boss on creating a GIS for his clients he just didn’t see the value in it so it was time to leave.

[6/2/2012 5:16:01 PM] Rick: I like the work I do from a task standpoint, and from the challenge. What I have not had is the fulfillment of feeling like I have done something good. I think that is why it is so hard for me to leave now:)

[6/2/2012 5:17:23 PM] Joy: Adeiu to everyone that worked vigilantly to finish ahead of schedual. I think ya’ ll broke some records. te he

[6/2/2012 5:18:30 PM] Joy: Richard you did lots of good today and you can feel good about that.

[6/2/2012 5:19:26 PM] Rick: I do. I haven’t felt like this since the soup kitchens and food drives I used to do in college. I love this.

 

The main offices of USAID hosted volunteer members of the “crowd” in DC:

USAID crowd

data gov

 The Instructions:

The Platform and Tools:
Below are a list of some of the tools we were fortunate to have at our fingertips for this event, including Rabble, a custom-built microtasking application designed specifically for this crowdsourcing event by Socrata, a leader in open data helping to make Kenya a leader in the open data movement. This app enabled volunteers to request records from the US government’s open data site, Data.gov.
rabble signup

The Data.gov Dashboard:
Here the members were presented with the data records. Using various tools, including search engines and online maps, combined with much investigation and detective work, the volunteers were able to mark the data record as complete or as bad data.
Dashboard

dataUSAID/ESRI Lookup Tool:

ESRI developed a tool just for the USAID crowdsourcing event to aid volunteers in their search for good location data matching the record.

esri hue

Geonames Tool:geonames org detail

 

NGA Geonames Tool:mil geonames

mil geo names hue

A summation: We’ve come a long way, baby. The White House noticed! But, “with miles to go before WE sleep.”

 

We also got noticed in the press. Below is a brief list:

 

 

A Master’s Thesis on the Motivations Behind the SBTF

[Guest blog post by Evelyn Hichens, an SBTF volunteer who has just completed her Geography Msci course at the University Of Birmingham, UK. For her fourth year dissertation she decided to focus on quantifying the motivations behind the volunteers of Standby Taskforce. A powerpoint presentation of her MA thesis is available here.]

Hey Mapsters,

As you some of you may know, I’ve been carrying out research into the motivations behind the Standby Task Force for the last six months or so. I have had some great chats and have really enjoyed hearing about your experiences and motivations. I have previously done some research on crisis mapping but it mainly focused on the ‘for’ and ‘against’ of using crowdsourcing in a humanitarian setting. However, I have now realised that it is first important to understand the motivations behind the volunteers involved – without this information the movement could be prevented from moving forward. Not paying enough attention to volunteer motivations has been a criticism of previous Volunteer Geographic Information (VGI) studies.

So firstly for those who don’t know what my research is on, here is a quick overview of the methodology. I used the Volunteer Function Inventory to create a survey and to quantify the motivations of volunteers. In total 42 volunteers answered the survey – many thanks for all you who did! I also interviewed 13 volunteers, and four core members of the SBTF as well as four representatives from organisations that had previously activated the SBTF.

Just quick overview of some of my key findings…

Volunteers tend to join the SBTF as they have an interest in the field of crisis mapping/disaster response and they are curious to see what the SBTF does. The SBTF has widened the field for participation in disaster response. For the majority of volunteers I spoke to, their main motivation was their desire to help but a secondary motivation was also noted, the chance to learn new skills.

The volunteers are passionate about the work the SBTF is doing and this can be shown by one of my favourite quotes from my dissertation:

“[The SBTF] is an organisation of compassionate individuals who use a variety of skills, training and experience to provide humanitarian aid in crisis situations through online interactions. Some are professionals and others learn from scratch, but every person has an important role to play.”

Volunteers tend to exhibit similar understandings of the purpose of the SBTF whilst they do not share a clear understanding or necessarily have an awareness of the SBTF’s long term aims. Yet, somewhat controversially, this does not seem to be an issue. It has previously been mentioned that crowdsourcing initiatives require clear long term objectives and that the greater the motive alignment of the crowd, the more likely it is for volunteers to feel like a partner. Instead the key to the SBTF is ‘keeping the conversation alive’. Volunteers are attracted by the openness of the community; as the end goals are not set in stone, the volunteers have the opportunity to be part of its future. Volunteers are driving the initiative, rather than purely being an anonymous cog in a machine.

The profile analysis showed that 46 percent of the volunteers had not joined any teams. When volunteers join the SBTF they fill in a bio section, in which the question ‘What teams would you like to join?’ is filled in. However, just because volunteers have filled this in it does not mean they are a member of these teams. Volunteers who read this post I urge to to check that you have actually joined a team/s that you had filled in, as without this information the SBTF cannot have a clear understanding of its community’s skill-set.

As altruistic motivations prevail in the SBTF community, it is crucial that the volunteers are aware of what the outcome of their efforts will be and how their labours translate into helping people. During the interviews, two volunteers discussed how they required more information on the impact of the deployments to conclude whether they are actually helping people. The SBTF needs to ensure, where possible, to provide the volunteers with detailed information on the impact of their work. As well, before activating deployments, considering whether volunteer motivations will be met through their engagement. This may mean that volunteers will be less not motivated to volunteers for those deployments that are not in a crisis setting.

The SBTF answered the request of the Disaster 2.0 (2011) report for an effective interface between volunteers and traditional organisations in the field and this has been recognised and appreciated by the traditional organisations that have activated it. So far motivations for activating the SBTF have been experimental in nature, yet engagement has been positive and the SBTF are steadily becoming a valued member of the response community.

This study’s understanding of volunteer motivations should allow the SBTF to work towards enhancing volunteer retention, through both ensuring the volunteers know how they are helping people, and continuing volunteer skill development through training, simulations, and support throughout deployments. It hopes to catalyse further studies focusing on volunteer motivations in the field of crisis mapping; this field is rapidly expanding, and it is important volunteer motivations are understood so that the SBTF are aware of these and consider them in the management of the community.

Many thanks to all the volunteers that took part in the survey and to everyone I interviewed. I would be very interested to hear any of your comments so please feel free to get in contact with me: eve2609@gmail.com.

Harvard Humanitarian Initiative – (HSI) Simulation Exercise – An Appreciation

Our partners (HSI) had the tough work mucking about in the cold and wet weather. Our resulting map…

Thank you

“This past April 27-29 over 100 HSI program participants came together in a state forest just north of Boston, Massachusetts to participate in a simulation exercise designed to replicate a complex humanitarian crisis. For two and half days of unseasonable New England weather, participants worked in the rain and cold to respond to the needs of a (simulated) vulnerable population in need of immediate humanitarian assistance.”

 

Humanitarian Studies Initiative (HSI) Simulation Exercise

SBTF & USAID Partnership on Poverty Alleviation and Smarter Development

The Standby Volunteer Task Force (SBTF) continues to break new ground in 2012. This time around we’re partnering with colleagues at the US Agency for International Development (USAID) who recognize, like we do, that equitable and sustainable economic growth is instrumental for countering extreme poverty across the globe. Being one of the biggest development organizations in the world, USAID has the resources to have significant impact on the livelihoods of millions. To this end, our colleagues want to better understand the link between their economic growth initiatives and their subsequent impact on poverty alleviation. This is where we as SBTF volunteers come in.

Our partners have access to a considerable amount of data which, if analyzed, will yield some very important empirical  insights on the link between economic growth projects and poverty alleviation. The challenge, simply put, is to geo-code these datasets so that we can all better understand the geographic impact of various local economic initiatives vis-a-vis extreme poverty. Geo-code simply means finding the geographic location of said projects so that the resulting data can be mapped. USAID has already used automated methods to do this, but some datasets can only be processed by humans. But why map this data in the first place? Because maps can reveal powerful new insights that can catalyze new areas of potential collaboration with host countries, researchers, other development organizations and the public.

The local economic growth projects in question are aimed at reducing poverty and thereby changing people’s lives for the better. The results of the analysis, all of which shall be made public, will be used directly by USAID to fine tune their programs and thus increase their impact on poverty alleviation; welcome to Smarter Development! Given the extraordinary commitment of SBTF volunteers in projects past, our USAID colleagues have approached us to help them geo-code these important datasets. This is the very first time that USAID has reached out to online volunteer communities to actively help them process data about their organization’s impact in the field.

The result of this partnership will be a unique geo-coded dataset and a case study of said dataset that will be completely public for anyone to review. We’re excited to be partners in this effort since the project will demonstrate how crowdsourcing and online volunteers can play a significant role in both opening up development data and analyzing said data for the purposes of Smarter Development. This project will also provide SBTF volunteers with the opportunity to develop new skills while refining their existing skills and learning about how to work with new technologies.

Onwards!

Resources for Online Anonymity, Encryption, and Privacy

Reposted from the Herdict Blog of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society

Please, remember security is never perfect, but we can make best effort and always be informed.

Resources for Online Anonymity, Encryption, and Privacy

By Alex Meriwether | May 7th, 2012 | 

There are many tools available to help Internet users reach the content they seek more securely, safely, anonymously, and reliably. But the thicket of acronyms and technological terms can be intimidating to many people. What’s a VPN? How is that different than a proxy? Does “private browsing” stop my ISP from looking at my data? The complexity can cause people to throw up their hands and do nothing.

We put together this primer because inaction born out of confusion is the worst outcome. In the cat-and-mouse game against censors and snoops, there are many tools that can help, but they do very different things and they aren’t perfect. Although, there is no wholly foolproof and undetectable manner of anonymous, encrypted, private browsing, the resources we describe below are better than nothing.

Below we will map out the basics of several options available to users—including proxies, VPNs, and Tor—as well as future emerging technologies like Telex. This is meant to be an introduction to the types of tools that are available, as well as an introduction to the limitations and risks of each. We have not tested all of them, so as always, do your own research before trusting a third party with your data.


“Private Browsing” Mode in Web Browsers

How It Works: All of the major web browsers offer a “Private Browsing” function. When this function is activated, everything that the browser usually stores on the local computer—browser history, caches, cookies, download lists, form data, passwords, and other temporary files—is deleted when the browser is closed or the function is turned off. Private browsing limits what files are saved to your system so that it is more difficult for someone with physical access to your computer to trace your steps. It also makes it harder for sites to track you because their cookies are deleted.

Limitations: People mistakenly believe that “private browsing” anonymizes them to the websites they visit and makes their communications private. Unfortunately, that’s not true. Even with private browsing mode on, anyone intercepting or handling your traffic can see what you’re doing. For instance, ISPs can still record what sites you visit. And if you log into a site like Gmail, Google will still be able to associate all your actions on the site with your username, even if private browsing is enabled. Moreover, private browsing may not even stop sites from tracking you. A 2010 Stanford study determined that some sites can both determine information about visitors as well as leave behind traces on users’ systems. For instance, plug-ins installed in the browser can still track users through an independent system of cookies and temporary files. Thus, private browsing only protects you against someone who is using your computer and snooping through your browsing history. And someone with that kind of access to your computer could install a keylogger or other hidden program that records your keystrokes. Despite these limitations, private browsing can be a helpful way of reducing the amount of information that is recorded on your computer when browsing.

Resources:

Your Guide to Private Browsing | HuffPost Tech: menu commands and keyboard shortcuts to launch a private browsing session in IE, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, and Opera.
Private Browsing: Activating Private Browsing Mode in Your Favorite Browser | About.com: graphic tutorials on launching private browsing sessions in IE, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Opera, and Flock; tips for private browsing on iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch.


Secure Browsing (through HTTPS)

How It Works: HTTPS is a way for users to protect the content of their communications from eavesdropping. When browsers don’t use HTTPS and transmit data openly, anyone along the path between the browser and the destination can view what is transmitted (that includes the ISPs that carry your traffic, or individuals surreptitiously intercepting the data). By encrypting the data, you make it much harder for anyone other than the intended recipient to see the content. Most major sites that require you to log-in (Google, Facebook, Twitter) and sites that transfer sensitive information (banking sites) now offer an encrypted connection. (Instead of http://www.google.com, your address bar will read https://www.google.com).

Limitations: Many sites don’t offer HTTPS, and some that do default to unencrypted HTTP or go back to unencrypted pages after the log-in process. Because of that, users must keep an eye on when they are encrypted and when they are not. Using a resource like HTTPS Everywhere can at least ensure that you connect using HTTPS for those sites that have that option. It’s important to remember that even if you connect to a site like Gmail using HTTPS, you are not hiding the destination only the content; an ISP or a government can still know you’re visiting Gmail. HTTPS is also not foolproof, as it is possible for a determined party to pretend to be the destination, in what is a called a man-in-the-middle attack.

Resources:

HTTPS Everywhere is a Firefox and Chrome extension from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. It will automatically switch sites from HTTP to HTTPS whenever possible and warn users about web security holes.


Circumvention & Anonymity

Among the greatest threats to Internet freedom are filtering and surveillance. These related issues either prevent you from accessing the content you want or allow third parties to keep track of what content you do access, respectively. Many of the tools to evade one also help with the other, so we discuss them together below. In most cases, these tools will help disguise your IP address, the sites you’ve visited, and technical information about your device, while possibly helping you access censored content.

Proxy Servers

How They Work: A proxy server is a machine that stands as an intermediary between your machine and the content you are trying to reach. Proxies can help evade censorship or filtering when connections to the proxy aren’t filtered but the desired content is. When you connect to censored content through a proxy, the censor will see only your connection to the proxy, not the verbotten content. Proxies also provide some anonymity because to the destination server, you look like you’re coming from the proxy server, not your actual origin. Web-based proxies are the easiest way to use a proxy server. Simply visit a proxy website with your prefered browser, enter your target URL, and the proxy site will then relay the request and deliver the site content back to you. There are also a number of downloadable clients for both Mac and Windows that connect your system to a proxy server.

Limitations: There are several downsides to using proxies, ranging from annoyances to serious security threats. On the annoyance side, because your data is passing through a single, fixed (and likely overloaded) point, it is not uncommon to experience slow load times and connection errors. On the security side, because all of your data is passing through a single, fixed point, it is easy for nefarious individuals to intercept any unencrypted data (using HTTPS or VPNs in addition to a proxy may address these concerns, but they have their own limitations described elsewhere in this post). In fact, sometimes hackers set up proxies with the express purpose of collecting user details, so it is important to carefully choose a trusted proxy. Using proxies can often be a game of cat and mouse; countries that filter sites often block known proxies, forcing users to move to a new, lesser known proxy. In some cases these same governments may create proxies specifically so they can monitor all the traffic and identify users.

Resources
Regularly updated lists of web-based proxies:
Web-based proxies (via Techlicious):
Downloadable proxy clients:
  • Alkasir (Windows – English, Arabic) Learn more about Alkasir.
  • Freegate (Windows – English, Chinese, Persian, Spanish) Learn more about Freegate.
  • JonDo (Mac, Windows, Ubuntu, Linux, Android – English, German, Czech, Dutch, French, Russian) Learn moreabout JonDo.
  • proXPN (Mac, Windows, and iPhone – English)
  • Psiphon (Various configurations, including a lightweight web proxy that runs on Windows and Linux plus a cloud-based solution) Learn more about Psiphon.
  • SabzProxy (Mac, Windows, Linux – Persian) Learn more about SabzProxy.
  • Simurgh (Windows – English) Learn more about Simurgh.
  • Ultrasurf (Windows – English) Learn more about UltraSurf. Also note Tor’s recent report detailing Ultrasurf security holes and Ultrasurf’s response.
  • Your-Freedom (Mac, Windows, Linux – 20 languages) Learn more about Your-Freedom.

 

VPNs

How They Work: Like proxy servers, Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) route users’ traffic through their own servers. What makes VPNs different from a standard open proxy is that VPNs authenticate their users and encrypt data. Additionally, because of how VPNs are configured, they are more likely to work with software on your computer that you use for email, instant messaging, and “Voice over IP” (VoIP).

Limitations: VPNs share some of the same risks as proxy servers. Because all of your traffic is passing through a single point, your security is only as good as that of your VPN. Some VPN services keep traffic logs, and free services in particular may be disposed to sell your information to advertisers or turn it over under pressure from authorities. Free ad-supported VPNs may limit your bandwidth; paid VPN services are generally more reliable and come with a much higher bandwidth. It is important to keep in mind that the VPN provides a secure connection between you and the VPN, but not between the VPN to your ultimate destination. The use of HTTPS and other standard measures are still necessary to secure your connection your destination.

Resources

There are hundreds of VPN services online. What follows is a list of several popular services, both free and paid (via AnonymissExpressHow to Bypass Internet Censorship, and Techlicious.) View this wiki for a longer list of free and paid VPN providers, including monthly fees and technical characteristics. Note that some services are known to log IPs.

Free VPN Services:
Paid VPN Services:

 

Tor

Tor (“The Onion Router”) is free, downloadable encryption software for online anonymity, recommended by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

How It Works: Like proxies, Tor hides your IP address and location by routing your requests through another server. Tor, however, goes through multiple intermediary servers, a series of machines operated by volunteers all around the world. To the destination site, it looks like you are coming from the computer that was the last stop in the Tor journey, not from your computer. The Tor Browser Bundle works with Firefox and is available for for Mac, Windows, or Linux. It can also be stored on a memory stick for use on public computers.

Limitations: As with proxies, using Tor can be rather slow due to the number of servers between you and your destination. Furthermore, while data is encrypted between servers, it is unencrypted when the final server communicates with your destination. Those operating this “exit node” can see your log-ins, passwords, and other data (unless you have a secure “HTTPS” connection with the website you’re visiting), and it is “widely speculated that various government agencies and hacker groups operate exit servers to collect information” (Techlicious).


Emerging Technologies

Telex is a work-in-progress that is intended “to help citizens of repressive governments freely access online services and information.” The concept is this: when you request a website blocked in your country, Telex software on your computer changes your request to an allowed, decoy site. At the same time, it adds a hidden cryptographic tag to your request that only Telex can see. Telex will deploy boxes to locations along the Internet backbone and these boxes will use deep packet inspection to locate the cryptographic tag. The box will decode the tag to get your original intended destination, and will route your request to that site. Using that approach, Telex would enable people to access blocked content by making it appear that they are trying to access allowed content instead.


Sources and Further Reading

 

On Standby Doesn’t Mean Always-On: An Update on the SBTF

We’re continuing to learn a lot at the Standby Volunteer Task Force (SBTF), and yes, that’s an understatement. While we only launched this initiative less than a year and a half ago, we’ve been involved in some 20 deployments since. The combined learning from all of these deployments has been tremendous and we’ve done our very best to both publicly document these lessons learned and to internalize them in our workflows and standard operating procedures. As this global volunteer network continues to evolve in exciting ways, however, the need to pace ourselves is as important as ever.

It’s very easy to get caught up with back-to-back deployments and side deployments. But being a standby network doesn’t mean that we should be always-on. We’re looking for quality rather than quantity. Standby simply means that we should be prepared to deploy should an activating organization require support. The quiet time in-between is important for a volunteer network; not only to collectively catch our breaths but equally importantly to innovate. Yes, innovation does emerge during times of crisis, but this type of innovation while at times brilliant is necessarily reactive and ad hoc at best. The quiet times allow for more in-depth reflection, critical thinking, thoughtful deliberation and scenario planning. These standby moments  allow us to improve workflows, try out new tools and reconsider certa