‘Mission control’ (my office) circa. 2000/1 – note I'm already using Linux at this time

Paul Mobbs & MEIR:

‘Participating With Safety’

Participating With Safety was a project APC, to teach activists, journalists and human rights workers on using information and communications technology safely. To support the project I was commissioned to write the outlines for seven briefings, which I then edited in co-operation with interested users from Eastern Europe and former Soviet republics.

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Computers are a very useful tool to assist people's work. They not only help with writing, graphic design and publishing information, they are increasingly becoming an essential communications tool as part of computer networks and the Internet; but the reliance people have on computers is also a weakness.

This weakness, and the ways of working around the problems computer technology can create, must be understood by those using computers. Through the understanding of the weaknesses of the way computers and computerized communications work we can take steps to protect our work, our security and our privacy.

There are many different aspects to using computers securely: You can set-up the computer to run more securely and reliably; Using access controls, such as passwords, you can prevent disclosure of information; By organizing the information on the computer, and keeping regular copies, you can prevent the loss or corruption of information; and Using various means, you can secure your use of the Internet, and prove the authenticity of your communications.

The PDF versions of the seven sheets are still available on-line:

Unit 1: Introducing Information Security – How to protect your information and computer systems
Using computers is a complex business. To use them properly you must learn not only how to use the functions of the word processor or database that you rely on; you also need to learn how to organise your computer and the information it contains in order to protect against the accidental loss of information. It is also important to prepare your computer, your information and your premises, for the possibility of deliberate external damage, which could be caused by computer viruses, interception, monitoring or physical raids by the state or other forces which oppose your work.
Unit 2: Backing Up Your Data – How to look after your electronic information to prevent loss and corruption
Information on your computer is vulnerable: hard disks can fail, computer systems can fail, viruses can wipe a disk, careless operators can delete files, and very careless operators can delete whole areas of the hard disks by mistake. Computers can also be damaged or stolen. For these reasons backing-up your data is essential. This involves making copies of essential files on your system and keeping them on another computer, or on some form of storage media.
Unit 3: Passwords and Access Controls – Controlling access to information with with words, keys and digital locks
'Access control' is all about ensuring that information is accessible to those who need it, but not to those who do not. This is not always as straightforward as it seems; being too strict about access can deny information to those need it.
Unit 4: Using Encryption and Digital Signatures – Protecting your information and identity using electronic codes and ciphers
Encryption is a means of encoding information so that it cannot be decoded and read without a 'key'. Computers have revolutionised encryption because they can encode and decode at high speed and encryption programs now come as 'plug-ins' for a lot of common software. They can also use far more complex systems of encryption that are far harder to break.
Unit 5: Computer Viruses – Understanding how viruses work and learning to avoid them
A virus is an executable programme, a set of instructions that manipulate the functions of your computer's operating system. The early, simple computer viruses consisted of just two commands – firstly a check for a particular condition (be it the date or some other criteria) and then a call to the program that formats the computer's hard disk. Many of the earlier viruses were transmitted from file-to-file on a computer as people shared files or floppy disks. Today the most common way to catch a virus is via the Internet. But instead of something simple, such as formatting your hard disk, Internet-borne viruses are far more complex. Many will read your email address book and forward themselves, when you next check your email, to all your friends.
Unit 6: Using the Internet Securely – How to work on-line in ways which protect your security, privacy and identity
The Internet is an open network; any point on the network can be accessed from any other. This is what makes the Internet a publicly accessible mass medium. It also makes using the Internet a security risk – through the information you give out, and through the opportunities it gives other people to impact upon your work.
Unit 7: Living Under Surveillance – Working around and avoiding where possible the impacts of state and corporate surveillance
Surveillance is the art of monitoring the activities of persons or groups without them knowing they are being monitored. Surveillance has been an intrinsic part of human history. Counter surveillance is the practise of avoiding or making surveillance difficult. Before computer networks, counter surveillance involved avoiding agents and communicating secretly. With recent development of the Internet and computer databases counter surveillance has grown. Now counter surveillance involves everything from knowing how to delete a file on a computer to avoiding becoming the target of direct advertising agencies.

After almost a decade and a half after publication, many aspects of these publications are rather dated. However, the general principles outlined in the publications are still sound – and can provide useful pointers for where to find further, more up-to-date information.