A Thoughtful, Analytical Approach to NGO Security

Links for 2/5/2009

Five Sudanese charged with murdering U.S. aid worker - In an area where impunity is the order of the day it looks like just might actually be done in the case of the murder of John Granville. Minor point - I think this should read “USAID worker” versus “U.S. aid worker”.

Israel seizes Gaza-bound aid ship - If you are trying to get aid into Gaza its probably not prudent to contract a Lebanese vessel.

Lone worker solution - I wouldn’t actually advocate sending aid workers out alone but this might be good for small teams in high risk environments.

Links for 1/29/2009

Human Rights and Wrongs at the UN - This BBC audio podcast examines the UN Human Rights Council and whether its obsession with Israel, and apparent blindness human rights abuses in countries like Zimbabwe, has destroyed its credibility.

Filipino rebels want investment for hostages - During a meeting with a Philippines provincial vice governor the al-Queda linked kidnappers of three Red Cross staff demanded education and development projects for Muslim communities.

wfplogistics - WFP Logistics now has a Twitter account. Is this a sign that large humanitarian organizations are losing their fear of Twitter?

Links for 1/28/2009

2 UN Staff Freed - Two WFP workers kidnapped in Afghanistan n New Year’s Day were freed late Tuesday with mediation from tribal elders.

Red Cross sticks to no-ransom stand - The Red Cross again refuses to pay a P5 million ransom demand for the three staff kidnapped and reiterates that they never pay ransom.

KarKorder - NGO drivers face significant risk, both from traffic accidents and violent incidents. This vehicle mounted combination video recorder and GPS data logger might be useful for mitigating some of the risk.

Links for 1/26/2009

Twitter updates from Madagascar - Unconfirmed reports that the president has fled the country, radio and TV stations going off air, and a five star hotel burning. @MadagascarTweet is attempting to amalgamate reports.

Twitter As A Business Continuity Tool? - After reading Twitter is a Continuity of Operations Tool, State Agency Discovers Dave Fleet outlines some of the potential pitfalls of relying on Twitter as a continuity tool.

‘Solar Powered Medical Clinic Will Save Lives in War Torn Iraq’ - Aid Worker Daily wonders why NGOs are not quicker to be involved in alternative energy in the field. It is something I’ve always wondered as well. Alternative energy even has security advantages for NGOs. There is no need to expose drivers to increased risk bringing large amounts of fuel into crisis zones. Generators make it difficult to hear what is going on around your compound and even reduce your acceptance. Who wants to live next to a noisy generator? Especially if you don’t have an opportunity to use it yourself.

Links for 1/23/2009

SNAPR: Social Networking Action & Privacy Risk Methodology - This website, developed by security and risk analysis students at Penn State University is a handy tool for assessing your risk exposure from your use of popular social networking sites.

Australia worried about aid workers in Mindanao - but not enough to do anything practical.

Surveying OpenStreetMap in Africa - a handy overview of the open source mapping activity going on in Africa.

Links for 1/19/2009

The Three Myths About Plane Crashes - The short version: most people survive plane crashes, most people don’t panic during crashes, your actions during a crash do influence your survival.

Philippines: Aid workers' abductors want military to call off manhunt - The kidnappers have also demanded a five million dollar ransom while the Philippines government is asking the Swiss and Italian governments not to pay any ransom. Negotiations are likely to be difficult. There are three governments, three families, the Red Cross, and possibly two kidnapping groups involved and each has differing interests.

Links for 1/16/2009

Women, the Devout and People with Good Memories Among Those that Worry Most About Terrorism - Comments on a somewhat flawed study that purports to show that women, the religiously devout, those with good memories, the less educated, and those lived close to the twin towers in NYC worry more about their vulnerability to terrorism.

Abducted Red Cross workers in Philippines make contact - The three Red Cross workers who were kidnapped have established contact with the Red Cross but they are still being held by their captors.

Where Walkie-talkies Dare - Ken Banks on using Walkie-talkies as an intermediate technology in the developing world. Cheap Walkie-talkies (FRS radio) are also great for ad-hoc NGO security arrangements.

Links for 1/14/2009

Hamas confiscates aid trucks to Gaza - At least ten Jordanian Red Crescent humanitarian aid trucks have been confiscated by Hamas. The contents have apparently been distributed to Hamas run programs.

Lost BRCA hard drive contains 300 social security numbers - A small american NGO has suffered a data breach. Approximately 300 people's Social Security numbers and personal information is on an external computer hard drive missing from Blue Ridge Community Action.

The war in Gaza escalates. Civilian and aid worker casualties on the rise. Words "Crimes Against Humanity" coming up. - A summary of recent events in Gaza including attacks on aid workers and humanitarian facilities and equipment.

Top Ten Reasons You Know You’re Working at an Aid Organization Headquarters - This has been circulating on email for a while but if you haven’t seen it you might get a chuckle.

Links for 1/15/2009

3 Red Cross workers kidnapped in Philippines - Three workers from the International Committee of the Red Cross were abducted n the town of Patikul, on Sulu where Abu Sayyaf and other rebel groups have been active. Officials identified the victims as Andreas Notter of Switzerland, Eugenio Vagni of Italy and a Filipino, Jean Lacaba.

UN chief 'outraged' as Israeli shells hit Gaza headquarters - At least three white phosphorus rounds hit the UN headquarters building in Gaza wounding three staff members.

Twitter for emergency management - Gavin Treadgold posts about the value of Twitter in emergency management. According to Gavin, “One reason sites like Twitter have become so popular with the public is because they can get information quicker than we, as emergency managers, are able to otherwise provide it. That sends a pretty strong message that we need to do better in terms of getting information out to the public.” The same could be said for NGOs.

Links for 1/13/2009

Japan doctor held by Somali gunmen returns home - Keiko Akahane of Medecins du Monde talks about being held by Somali gunmen.

Terrorism & Security In South Asia: Likely Scenarios During 2009 - Despite its title this paper is more of a review of terrorism in 2008 than an it is scenarios for 2009 but its still worth reading if your organization works in this area.

Oxfam worker and family in Gaza narrowly escape death as rocket hits house - An Oxfam worker describes the destruction of her house and the difficulty of finding a safe area in Gaza.

GAZA Rafah eyewitness: CARE aid worker bombed with his family - A CARE staff member has his own narrow escape story.

Strategic Implications of Global Health

Thanks to Sources and Methods for digging up this resource hidden in the bowels of the NIC servers.

The NIC’s Strategic Implications of Global Health paper is chock full of useful health statistics, predictions, maps and charts.

Print out the map, pin it up over your desk, and use it to explain to the new contractor that he really does need medical evacuation insurance before he heads off to Nepal.

World Health Care Capabilities map

Projected Deaths by Cause for High, Middle, and Low Income Countries

Links: Full Report - Health Care Capabilities fold out.

Obama and NGO Security

Can a change of president improve NGO security? It is possible, but only with effort from us.

The UN rights chief says the world’s hopes are pinned on Obama. Obama says he’ll listen to the people. Change.org is taking him up on the offer.

So what does any of this have to do with NGO security? Let me explain. Amongst the ideas submitted so far is this one from Michael Bear Kleinman; “The US Should Establish a Department of Development”. A Department of Development would help give some perceptual distance between US military foreign policy and development efforts. The rhetoric surrounding recent fatal attacks on NGO’s in Afghanistan and Somalia suggests that some see little difference between american soldiers and aid workers. Anything that can be done to draw a clear distinction between development policy and military foreign policy can’t help but improve the situation.

If you think the concept of a Department of Development is a good one you can use the link in the widget below to vote.

















IFRC Releases Two New Security Manuals

IFRC has released "Stay Safe", its new security manual. I've only taken a quick look at it but so far it looks good. There is also a security manager's version.

CARE Safety and Security Handbook Removed Update

At the request of CARE I've deleted all links to the CARE Safety and Security Handbook. The handbook remains available at the CARE website if you are seeking it. You can also find it at any number of other public sites.

This may also be a good time to remind everyone that this is a personal blog that represents my viewpoints and mine alone. It does NOT/NOT represent the views of any organization that I have worked for, work for, or may work for in the future.

All copyrighted material linked to remains the property of the respective copyright holders.

Breaking NGO IT with Low Tech - Suggested Readings

Discussion (here and here) regarding Bruce Schneier’s recent post on security mindset combined with recent interesting posts from friends regarding NGO IT security issues (here, here and here) has me thinking. It seems to me that social engineering, rather than a purely technological attack, is still the easiest route into most NGO’s networks. There is no need for anything too complicated. Most aid workers are somewhat trusting and helpful by nature making them easy targets for even relatively inexperienced social engineers.

Kevin Mitnick’s book, “The Art of Deception - Controlling the Human Element of Security” is a great introduction to social engineering. Kevin Mitnick was one of the world’s greatest hackers. He gained great notoriety for his ability to penetrate telephone and computer networks seemingly at will. What surprised many is that it wasn’t sophisticated technology that allowed him to do it. It was his ability to con or ‘pretext’ people into giving him the information he needed to access their systems. As he explains in the book the human factor was security’s weakest link.

Hint: If you search for “Kevin Mitnick The Art of Deception.pdf” Google you just might be able to find a free copy of Kevin’s book floating around the net.

To further develop your security mindset check out "No-Tech Hacking" by Johnny Long. Its a sample chapter from "Techno Security's Guide to Managing Risks for IT Managers, Auditors and Investigators". Johnny has since turned the chapter into a book in its own right. In the freely available sample chapter he covers tailgating, faking ID cards, lock bumping, shoulder surfing, dumpster diving and other low tech means of gaining forbidden access.

Happy reading and don't blame me if it keeps you up at night.

The Security Mindset

Bruce Schneier has an interesting article, "Inside the Twisted Mind of the Security Professional", that takes a quick look at the security mindset and whether it is innate or a skill that can be taught. I always enjoy Bruce's writing but in this case it is the links he provides to a 'computer' security course at the University of Washington that have me the most excited. Despite the fact that it is billed as a computer course the course blog is full of entries of interest to anyone honing their security mindset. Student security reviews range from soda machines to airport security. Well worth the read.

Security Links

Suicide attacks, bomb warnings, damage to undersea internet cables, and SMS service cuts have all conspired to keep me from finishing my comparison of SMS tools so you'll have to settle for some links.

10 Ways We Get the Odds Wrong: Psychology today takes a look at why our brains are so bad at assessing modern risks. There is an interesting if strictly US-centric quiz at the end that will let you test your risk knowledge.

Finding a Job: The AidWorkers Network has a good guide for anyone looking to break into the aid worker job market. Its not limited to security jobs but it doesn't exclude them either.

Travel Safely: Gadling shows you how to create your own DIY personal first aid kit for the road. Note that this kit is for travel related "nuisance illnesses". For field work I carry a larger first aid kit as well.

Aid Agencies Lack Focus on Security: According to a former aid worker who was evacuated from Chad last year some aid organizations don't focus enough on security.

Custom Garmin GPS Maps: NGO Security explains where to find open source Garmin GPS maps. This is a very good resource. I was able to find a street map for Colombo and some good Afghanistan maps.

You Thought My Banana Was a Bomb: The Strategist's take on the Transportation Security Administration's new blog. Funny in a very sad sort of way.

Security Links - 2 Dec 07

Maia over at the people search site spock has kindly added the details of the 17 ACF workers who were killed in the Muttur massacre to the spock database. You can view the results on this page or you can search for "murdered aid worker" at the spock site.


The NGO Security blog has been running a series of "What would you do if....?" scenarios based on videos from YouTube and other online sources. They are well worth checking out. The video makes the exercise a little more visceral. You don't need to be a security officer to participate. In fact I would guess that non security officers would benefit the most.

Watch the videos and imagine what you would do. Imagine yourself actually being there. Do it with as much detail as your imagination will allow. How would you respond? How would you feel? You don’t need to worry about getting the “right” answer. You don’t even need to leave an answer for the exercise to be beneficial. Visualization is a powerful tool. It will help you cope mentally with future crises.

Once you’ve done these yourself try them with your peers or your family. You’ll be surprised how your responses can differ radically from those of others. In Scenario 5 it wouldn’t do you any good to know that backing up quickly is a good idea if your driver thinks the best option is to jump out of the vehicle and hide in the ditch.


Silobreaker has updated their site. It is now easier to make sense of what you are seeing. The graphs and link diagrams are especially useful.

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