Cyber Threats to Humanitarian Agencies – Security and Defence Learning at OEB


Spies, rebel insurgents and war criminals have been discovered hacking into the sensitive databases of the world’s humanitarian relief agencies. Geoffrey Okoa, Chief IT Security Officer of the World Food Programme, with personal experience of cyber attacks in Africa, will warn delegates at Security and Defence Learning, the international forum on security training at OEB 2010, which will take place in Berlin on December 1, that computer security for aid workers is a matter of life and death.

Because emergency aid workers cross borders easier than most, because they file priceless political information on their computers and because they talk to both sides in a war situation, their data is regularly targeted by spies, rebel politicians, racketeers and war criminals.

When information falls into the wrong hands human lives are in danger.


Geoffrey Okoa says that those aid organisation chiefs who say their IT databases are secure are ‘in denial’.


He will reveal five popularly held myths about safeguarding the data gathered and held by international humanitarian organisations.


He says the first myth in the minds of many NGO managers is that, ‘We are the humanitarian community and are not a target.’


The second myth is, ‘We have nothing to hide.’


He will describe how, in the early hours of a crisis intervention, workers from different NGOs have to share sensitive information in the field, long before IT professionals can start to defend their systems from prying eyes.


‘Security is only patched in afterwards and usually because operations are hampered by persistent hacking and intrusion attempts, virus attacks and other threats that impact their system’s performance and compromise data integrity. This vulnerability attracts those who would like to exploit it while it lasts.’


The United Nations World Food Programme, based in Rome, expects in 2010 to have delivered food to more than 90 million people in more than 70 countries. Most of the 10,000 WFP staff work in remote areas ‘serving the hungry poor’. WFP is the world’s largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger.


Security and Defence Learning 2010, the sixth international conference on technology-assisted learning for security, defence and emergency services, will take place at the Intercontinental Hotel, Berlin, at 09:00 on Wednesday December 1st.


Other keynote speakers include:


Chris Donnelly, CMG, Director, Institute for Statecraft and Governance, UK


Capt. Dr Piotr Gawliczek, Head of Innovation, National Defence University, Poland;


Capt. Almeida Moura, Director, CNED, Portuguese Navy


Col. Amardeep Bhardwaj, Army War College, India


Jean-François Gadeceau, Assistant Director, Police Training and Development Directorate, INTERPOL


Col. Dr Jeffrey D. McCausland, Distinguished Visiting Professor, U.S. Army War College, USA, will also be speaking in the OEB session Future Conflict and Learning. This session will take place on Thursday, December 2,nd, from 14:15 – 15:45.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.