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Access Now Digital Security Helpline shows risks activists face

Who do you turn to when you need a helping hand with your cybersecurity? When it comes to apps or devices, it might be a customer support rep. But who do you turn to when you’re a journalist or activist facing persecution? For many, that helping hand has been the Digital Security Helpline.

Access Now Digital Security Helpline shows risks activists face

Since 2013, Access Now’s Digital Security Helpline has helped thousands of journalists, activists, NGOs, and other potentially vulnerable people and organizations get the help they need to stay secure as they continue their important work. This important work is why NordVPN has been proud to support its partner’s Helpline since 2019.

To celebrate its first 10,000 cases, Access Now published a detailed report breaking down how the Digital Security Helpline has been growing and how it’s been making the world a better place.

Key findings

Even if you’re not an activist yourself, the report offers some fascinating insights into cybercrime, surveillance, and censorship. That’s because it reflects real cases experienced by real people and includes trends discovered by the Digital Security Helpline.

Reactionary vs. preventative cases at the Access Now Digital Security Helpline

This is perhaps the most telling infographic in the report. This clearly shows that the shares of cases responding to real situations grew dramatically. These weren’t preventative calls made out of an abundance of caution – they were calls being made in response to credible threats, attacks, or other cases.

Here’s a quote from the report’s findings:

“It appears that preventative security measures have not kept pace with the significant increase in online attacks against civil society actors, and our experience at the Digital Security Helpline points to a global shrinking of safe online space for civil society”
A breakdown of beneficiaries by type at the Access Now Digital Security Helpline

This data shows us that both individuals and larger organizations can experience cybersecurity issues. We also see that NGOs and human rights organizations dealt with the most issues.

What fields needed help the most from the Access Now Digital Security Helpline

This graph gives us more insight into the fields that experienced the greatest need for cybersecurity and privacy assistance. The helpline served an extraordinarily broad array of different fields, but out of all of them, the human rights and free speech fields were most affected.

Read Access Now’s report here:

What did they discover?

The full report contains many insights and we highly suggest reading the full report. Here, however, are just a few of the conclusions that we found most compelling:

  • The data suggests a growing rate of cyber attacks against activists and workers, and this is making their work more and more difficult to do;
  • Corporations are apathetic to their plight. In negotiating the challenges faced by activists, many helpline workers found themselves relying on corporate third-party infrastructure administrators to help resolve or prevent attacks. From the report: “Their response to attacks on civil society — when they have a response — is often lacking and systemic problems are not adequately addressed.”
  • Many cases required a tailored approach. In many ways, this was to be expected and reflects the best approach for the general populace. VPNs are powerful tools, but they are just one tool in the fight to maintain your online security and privacy. Every single person and organization needs to analyze their own threat profile and how to mitigate the risks they face.