Cybersecurity Workers Need to Learn From Those They’re Trying to Protect
To shield the privacy of marginalized communities, civil society must understand what they’re going through
Co-authored by Albert Fox Cahn
Nearly two years ago, Eva Galperin, director of cybersecurity at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, tweeted, “If you are a woman who has been sexually abused by a hacker who threatened to compromise your devices, contact me and I will make sure they are properly examined.” Despite Galperin’s vast expertise, she didn’t expect what happened next: a mailbox that was flooded with requests for help from survivors of domestic abuse that continues to this day. A determined Galperin responded by launching a multi-pronged campaign against stalkerware.
Abusers install stalkerware in order to surveil, harass, and control intimate partners without their knowledge, tracking every conversation and movement. Galperin is pushing for change in the antivirus industry at companies like Apple, and is calling for officials to use “their prosecutorial powers to indict executives of stalkerware-selling companies on hacking charges,” Wired reported. The Russian security firm Kaspersky is working so hard to combat the problem that Galperin praises it for “raising the bar for the entire security industry.” It detected 518,223 cases of stalkerware (both successful and unsuccessful attempts to install it) during the opening months of 2019. That’s a 373% increase from the same period in the previous year. Clearly, a lot of work still needs to be done to protect the privacy of vulnerable people.
For the women who reached out to Galperin, stalkerware is often the most potent privacy threat they face. Unsurprisingly, it was largely invisible to the male developers designing security software, and far from an outlying case. Silicon Valley’s well-established diversity failures are blinding developers to the needs of many of their most at-risk customers. Countless organizations try to develop free tools and resources to promote privacy in the nonprofit space, but these materials are often based on problems experienced by the straight white men who design them. And yet this privileged audience often faces the fewest privacy threats, oblivious to the…