Altruism under attack: why cybersecurity has become essential to humanitarian nonprofits

Humanitarian initiatives have always been of huge global importance, but perhaps never more so than over the past few years. The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, unprecedented shifts in weather patterns limiting resource availability and triggering mass migration, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and some of the largest rises in living costs for decades have all brought new urgency to the vital support humanitarian work (often led by nonprofits) provides those in need.

However, nonprofits engaging in humanitarian efforts are finding themselves faced with increasing cybersecurity risks and challenges that threaten their ability to provide relief successfully, safely, and securely. As a result, cybersecurity is increasingly playing a vital role in the future of the nonprofit-led humanitarian landscape.

Under siege by complex threats

Nonprofits and the wider humanitarian sector face increasing cybersecurity risks and challenges. “Many humanitarian and nonprofit organizations started their digital transformation later than most other entities. The increasing use of digital technologies to deliver services and programs for their beneficiaries means that their cyberattack surface has recently increased,” Stéphane Duguin, CEO of the Cyberpeace Institute, an independent and neutral organization committed to assisting humanitarian firms to prepare against cyberattacks, tells CSO. This is a challenge for such organizations, primarily as they find it more difficult to attract and retain cyber talent “first and foremost for financial reasons, whilst at the same time grappling with increased technological complexity and legal matters, on top of numerous legacy and third-party dependencies. These challenges often lead to poor cybersecurity practices and, in turn, an increasing number of successful cyberattacks against them.”


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