A Thoughtful, Analytical Approach to NGO Security

Silobreaker - Online Analyical Tool

Online research can be a great tool but as anyone who has used Google can attest there is a lot of information out there and most search tools just dump out an endless list of links. Sorting through it, discarding the irrelevant, and putting the remainder into some usable form is a task left to the user. Any tool that allows the already busy Security Officer to spend less time searching for information and more time assessing and analysing it is of value. Silobreaker is one of these tools. In the words of Silobreaker, "Silobreaker looks at the data it finds like a person does. It recognises things - companies, people, topics, places - and puts them in context".

While I was testing the public Beta I quickly discovered its utility. A basic search for the term 'suicide bomber' brought up the type of content you might expect but with some preliminary organization. There was a top stories pane, a search result timeline frame, an entity list, a "Quotes" pane, a more traditional search results list and a network visualization diagram. The sidebar also has a list of entities related to your search; cities, people, companies etc.

Since I'm currently in Sri Lanka I "drilled down", as Silobreaker calls it, to Sri Lanka. The result were now much more relevant and lo and behold there were items of interest and relationship that hadn't captured my attention before.

As one would expect with a Beta there is still some work to be done. Even on my relatively fast connection the site seemed slow at times. One very useful feature that counters the sluggishness is the liberal use of hover overs allowing a quick preview of content before you commit to clicking on a link or entity.

Silobreaker is currently allowing free public access to its online Beta. I recommend you give it a try and see if it meets your needs.

The Economist on Tech, Response, and NGOs

The economist has an interesting article on how technology is changing the power dynamics between NGOs and their beneficiaries. There are even a couple of paragraphs covering concern about how mobile phones and similar technologies might impact on NGO security.

NGO in a Box - Security Edition

NGO in a Box has a Security Edition that includes Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) to aid NGOs in securing and protecting their data and online activities. The package seems ideally suited to human rights, anti-corruption, and womens groups, as well as independent media outlets. Any other group that wants to protect their data from abuse, misuse, and vandalism might want to check it out as well.

Social Networking tools for NGO Security – Part 1

I was experimenting with Twitter when it occurred to me that it was an ideal tool for NGO security officers. Rather than using the service to merely update friends on what I was having for breakfast I could be sending out security information alerts and updates. All my “followers” would then get current, low cost, security information.

This method has many advantages over the SMS security tree method commonly used by NGOs. Traditional security trees tend to fail when one or more members (the branches of the tree) do not receive or pass on the text messages they receive to those below them, typically because they are on leave or because the tree information is not up to date. Traditional trees can also be expensive. Each SMS sent by every member of the tree comes out of someone’s budget. This can add up quickly if you are sending out several messages a day to a two hundred-member security tree.

Social networking services like Twitter or Jaiku allow us to avoid these problems. Essentially Twitter and Jaiku allow the head of the security tree to send one SMS to the service’s server. The service then distributes the SMS to all the “followers” (subscribers) of the account more or less simultaneously. This means the tree still works even if members are missing. In addition you only pay for the SMS to the service’s server. SMS messages from the server to each of the followers are free*.


* Most mobile service providers only charge for text messages that are sent while those received are free.


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This work by Kevin Toomer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 Canada License.
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