WIIS Cybersecurity Study Guide

The WIIS Cybersecurity, & Technology Study Guide is comprised of original WIIS Blogs, WIIS Policy Briefs, and other forms of unique content from a myriad of sources such as Podcasts, Reports, Journal Articles, and more; focusing on topics such as: Cyber Warfare, the Internet of Things, Big Data Issues, Military Technologies, Artificial Intelligence, and more.

The Study Guide will be released weekly throughout Fall 2020 in a series of Units focused on different topics and issues. The Study Guide Units will be composed of resources across academia, government, and non-government orgs in the public and private sectors including, but not limited to, journal articles, WIIS publications, podcasts, and reports. The topics will be exhaustively researched to compile as much information as possible. Additionally, particular attention will be given to finding resources with a gender perspective on the topics. WIIS will provide a brief summary, definitions of terms, objects, and phrases in the Unit, an overview of the gender component and discussion questions for each Unit. 

Unit One: Introduction to Cybersecurity


Cybersecurity is, by definition[1] , the protection of internet connected systems and devices. However, it is often colloquially defined more broadly to encompass all aspects of virtual interactions throughout international security issues. Additionally, with the advancement of internet-based technologies in daily lives, the reality of cybersecurity issues is becoming more prevalent throughout society and diverse areas of national and international security.  Cybersecurity, however, is a complex field and it is necessary to provide a base with common understanding and definitions. Therefore, Unit 1 of the WIIS Cybersecurity & Technology Study Guide will provide basic information about the history and evolution of cybersecurity in order to set the stage for more complex theoretical and technological aspects of the field.

Note from the Team

One of the complexities of cybersecurity is the broadness of its reach, it levels the security playing field in a unique way by tying individual human security directly to massive systems level security.  It cannot be constrained by the definitions given to us by traditional security policy and international relations, it does not fit into the binaries we are comfortable with, we can’t pin it down as a soft or hard power, it can be wielded by states and by individuals. The first question we had with this project was where does all this come from? We wanted to understand the history of the internet and cyber-technology. Kids born in the late 90s grew up watching tapes on big boxy television, but as young adults they can their entertainment over the internet on a tiny, slim rectangle that they can carry in their pockets, make calls from and locate themselves and their families 400 miles away. This may be our norm, but this is incredible! The breakneck development of the field and its related technologies poses security challenges at an individual to a global level.

Questions for Critical Thinking

  • How will the risks and benefits of new technologies be communicated to the public?
  • Where does the responsibility lie for ethical use of new technologies in the cyber realm? With those who develop, disseminate, or use?
  • How has the creation and evolution of this field led to discriminatory practices?
  • Is there a place for intersectional feminism in the cyber realm?
  • Given the relatively rapid pace of advancements in this field, what do you think the next five years will look like? The next ten?
  • What do policy decisions regarding cybersecurity look like? Can the field be regulated in the same way as traditional security fields? How could they be managed differently.

Questions for Further Research: Gender Component

Thus far there is little gender analysis of the field. There have been some reports linking a gendered analysis to cybersecurity, such as the one done by Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom[1] in April 2020, and other resources such as The International Journal of Gender, Science and Technology[2] which publishes pieces on gendered analysis of cyber.

On the other hand, efforts to add women to leadership and technical positions in cyber and tech fields are much more common. For example, UNIDIR has a program on gender and cyber diplomacy[3] that is mainly focused on promoting women’s leadership, and many articles and research done on gender in the field focus on the number of women in the field.[4]

Unfortunately what we found is that besides a few articles and reports, most of the efforts undertaken to promote gender in cybersecurity or tech has been a focus on promoting women’s leadership in the field. While this is, of course, a welcome effort, the fact remains that gender perspectives throughout the history of cybersecurity and gender analysis of current cyber efforts are lacking. This means there is less focus on the evolution of cyber-technologies and the role gender dynamics have to play, nor on the repercussions of neglecting to include gender in the creation of so many cybersecurity mechanisms, practices, and efforts.


Algorithm: "a step-by-step procedure for solving a problem or accomplishing some end"

Artificial intelligence: "a branch of computer science dealing with the simulation of intelligent behavior in computers pr the capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behavior"

Big Data: "The growth in data collection associated with scientific phenomena, business operations, and government activities (e.g., marketing, quality control, statistical auditing, forecasting, etc.) has been remarkable over the past decade. This growth is due, in part, to technology now capable of capturing lots of data at a high rate, such as information- sensing mobile devices, cameras, radio-frequency identification (RFID) readers, and wireless sensor networks. In fact, the term “Big Data” is now commonly used by companies to describe this wealth of information."

Cloud: "A technology that allows us to access our files and/or services through the internet from anywhere in the world. Technically speaking, it’s a collection of computers with large storage capabilities that remotely serve requests."

Coding: "The symbolic arrangement of data or instructions in a computer program or the set of such instructions."

Computer: "A programmable electronic device designed to accept data, perform prescribed mathematical and logical operations at high speed, and display the results of these operations. Mainframes, desktop and laptop computers, tablets, and smartphones are some of the different types of computers."

Computer Science:  "Computer Science is the study of computers and computational systems. Unlike electrical and computer engineers, computer scientists deal mostly with software and software systems; this includes their theory, design, development, and application. Principal areas of study within Computer Science include artificial intelligence, computer systems and networks, security, database systems, human computer interaction, vision and graphics, numerical analysis, programming languages, software engineering, bioinformatics and theory of computing. Although knowing how to program is essential to the study of computer science, it is only one element of the field. Computer scientists design and analyze algorithms to solve programs and study the performance of computer hardware and software. The problems that computer scientists encounter range from the abstract-- determining what problems can be solved with computers and the complexity of the algorithms that solve them – to the tangible – designing applications that perform well on handheld devices, that are easy to use, and that uphold security measures."

Cybersecurity: "Cybersecurity is the protection of internet-connected systems such as hardware, software and data from cyber-threats. The practice is used by individuals and enterprises to protect against unauthorized access to data centers and other computerized systems."

Cybertechnology: Cybertechnology is a hybrid term to refer to anything within the cybersphere or on a physical device like a computer.

Dark Web: The dark web is the smallest part of the internet. The dark web is "hidden" from normal search engines and is only accessible through using a Tor, or an anonymous browsing aid which hides the users IP address. The dark web is encrypted and allows users to browse anonymously. Sites on the dark web are not searchable. In order to access these sites, the user needs to know the destination URL. Because the dark web is anonymous, it has become a hub for illegal activity including drug and arms trafficking

Data Science: Data science, in its most basic terms, can be defined as obtaining insights and information, really anything of value, out of data.

Deep Web: The deep web makes up the largest part of the internet and includes all sites that are not accessible through search engines. The deep webs includes things like password protected email accounts. The deep web contains a majority of harmless/benign sites.

Domain: "A group of computers, printers and devices that are interconnected and governed as a whole. For example, your computer is usually part of a domain at your workplace."

Encryption: "Encryption is a process which protects a personal data by making sure that it is only available when a "key" has been entered."

End User: "The person who uses a product or service."

Hacking: "The process through which an unauthorized user gains access to a device or account."

Hardware: "Hardware refers to the physical components of a computer. Computer hardware can refer to everything from a laptop battery to the motherboard to the webcam; it is any physical component of a computer"

Internet: "An electronic communications network that connects computer networks and organizational computer facilities around the world —used with the except when being used attributively"

Internet Technology: "Computer Internet technology refers to devices, software, hardware and transmission protocols used to connect computers together in order to receive or send data from one computer to another within a small network or as part of a small network within a larger network, such as the Internet."

Internet of Things: "The internet of things refers to anything connected to the internet. Many of devices connected to the internet communicate with each other and collect data."

Malware: "Malware is intrusive software that is designed to damage and destroy computers and computer systems. Malware is a contraction for “malicious software.” Examples of common malware includes viruses, worms, Trojan viruses, spyware, adware, and ransomware."

Phishing: "A technique used by hackers to obtain sensitive information. For example, using hand-crafted email messages designed to trick people into divulging personal or confidential data such as passwords and bank account information."

Programming: "The process or writing and creating computer program, or functions which are designed to complete a task."

Ransomware: "Ransomware is a type of hacking which encrypts a users files and does not allow the user to access the data in these files. Typically, the hacker will ask for some sort of payment in exchange for de-encryption, hence the name ransomware."

Social Engineering: "A technique used to manipulate and deceive people to gain sensitive and private information. Scams based on social engineering are built around how people think and act. So, once a hacker understands what motivates a person’s actions, they can usually retrieve exactly what they’re looking for – like financial data and passwords."

Software: "A set of programs that tell a computer to perform a task. These instructions are compiled into a package that users can install and use. For example, Microsoft Office is an application software."

Surface Web: This is the part of the web that is easily accessible and includes sites like Google and Bing and is accessible through mainstream search engines. The "surface web" makes up the smallest percentage of all sites on the internet.

Tor Browser/Onion Browsing: "The Onion Router (TOR) was created in 1995 by the US Naval Research Laboratory. When Tor was created, the goal was to allow encrypted messaging, especially for government communication. However, Tor browsers are used primarily to access the dark web."

Virtual Private Network (VPN): A VPN is a tool which lets you encrypt your browser data and gives you the ability to browse the web online. When you're connected to the internet, you have an IP address which is a unique set of numbers used to identify you. A VPN hides your IP address allowing anonymous internet usage.

World Wide Web: "A part of the Internet accessed through a graphical user interface and containing documents often connected by hyperlinks"

Bonus: Indigenous People's Day

12 October 2020

Indigenous People’s Day is a public holiday that has begun to replace Columbus Day across much of North America, including in Washington D.C., “in a growing movement to end the celebration of the Italian explorer in favor of honoring Indigenous communities and their resiliency in the face of violence by European explorers like Christopher Columbus.” (NPR) One element of Indigenous People’s Day is the bringing of awareness to issues faced by indigenous peoples across North America and throughout the world. One of these issues in the United States is the tragic crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG). Another issue is the repatriation of native lands. The mistreatment of Indigenous peoples constitute problems of human security and sovereignty. As with many other societal issues, which will be discussed in the coming units, some Indigenous issues are facing renewed or broadened public interest through cyber-technological means like social media movements (#MMIWG). The relationship between technology and Indigenous people’s issues can also be fraught as technology can facilitate violence, but cybertech should be considered when addressing Native issues and other such facets of human security. Here is a sampling of articles exploring the relationship between cybertech and Indigenous issues. 

Unit Two: Cybersecurity and Warfare


War is a traditional component of international security studies. Due to advances in technology, cyberwarfare - digital attacks meant to inflict damage in the physical world - are increasingly common.[1] Ranging from the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) to the oft-cited case of STUXNET (an American cyber weapon that targets hardware), the precedent has been set by actors in the international realm to carry out cyberwarfare, and military tactics and policies have had to adapt to combat this threat.[2]

In the traditional sense, war inflicts harm, death, or conflict between groups. However, it is difficult to compare cyberwarfare to traditional warfare as cyberweapons and warfare have many contrasts to conventional weapons systems or uses. Most cyberweapons are decentralized (such as botnets), require less human-power, and it can be difficult to ascertain where cyberattacks come from.[3] For example, cyberattacks or hacking can be masked as if they came from different origin countries, leading to tensions in international relations.[4] In response, militaries, and private and public sectors around the world have developed their own cyber attack and defense centers and strategies to combat this growing threat and create policy guidelines.[5]

This is a new and very unique realm of warfare where much remains unclear. The term cyberwarfare itself is an ambiguous term, at best, and in need of clear definition and global consensus on what it truly means and what actions should be taken in response to cyberattacks.[6] Regardless of the nuances and lack of global consensus or law on cyberwarfare, cyberspace has been referred to as the ‘fifth battleground’, with the other four being air, land, water, and space, and we can rest assured it is here to stay.[7] Technology is undeniably contributing to advances in all realms of warfare, and cyber, or digital, attacks are increasingly used as a method for nations, militaries, or non-state actors to advance conflict.[8]

Note from the Team

As noted in Unit 1, cyber capabilities and new technologies have levelled the playing field of security in a new way. One of the questions that arose when diving into the world of cyberwarfare was how is cybersecurity changing what the field of traditional security looks like? With the internet as a medium of conflict, new actors and their goals are harder to define and they aren’t as restricted by resources as they might be in more traditional warfare. Additionally, cyber and new technologies are altering how traditional militaries fight. New technologies with internet capabilities, like drones and UAVs, are emerging onto the battlefield and merging with more traditional ballistic weapons, transforming fighting. These changes are deeply impactful of warfare on all levels including analysis.

Questions for Critical Thinking

  1. What are the implications of the sometimes depersonalized nature of cyber-relations and therefore cyberwarfare?
  2. Do cyberattacks warrant a physical warfare type of response? How does cyberwar fit into the law of armed conflict?
  3. Is a cyber attack a form of cyber warfare, or a tool used in broader warfare practices?
    1. Follow-up Question: Do you think Cyberwar is possible? If so, what would that look like?
  4. How can we define cyberwar for a global audience?
  5. What would be the difference if more women were involved in cyberwarfare? What roles do women play in conflict that are being transformed by cybertech? Are cyber-focused roles more accessible to women than traditional military and combat roles?
  6. How can a gender perspective be applied successfully to cyberwarfare tactics?

Questions for Further Research: Gender Component

With the advent of a new type of warfare, it is not unexpected, given traditional warfare’s historical exclusion of women, that the cyberwarfare realm is exclusionary as well.[1] This is due to the general lack of gender balance and gender analysis in the cybersecurity field,[2] compounded with the general history of exclusion of women and rejection of gendered analysis in military matters and in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).[3] However, while there is a research gap between gender analysis and cyberwarfare,[4] more has been done to integrate gender balance in the field, in much the same way as in the cybersecurity field more broadly.

The cyberwarfare realm is a unique area that brings together distinct theories and practices such as: gender and war, gender and technology, cyber and war, and traditional vs. contemporary security analysis.[5] There is ample room for improvement in the gender and cyberwarfare realm, both in workforce diversity and in diverse understanding of cyberwarfare with a gendered lens.[6]

It is necessary to implement a critical gendered lens in cyberwarfare now, as this relatively new area of security and warfare is beginning to evolve and take shape. Incorporating a gender perspective in cyberwarfare analysis and practice, as well as incorporating gender balance in the field, will lead to a more substantive understanding and stronger practices in the years to come.


  1. Rules of engagement
    1. "orders that soldiers fighting in a war are given about what they can and cannot do"
  2. Cyberwar
    1. "Cyber warfare involves the actions by a nation-state or international organization to attack and attempt to damage another nation's computers or information networks through, for example, computer viruses or denial-of-service attacks."
  3. Cyberweapon
    1. The conceptualization of "cyberweapons" draws from the conceptualization of a weapon. It is anything intended to cause harm, but unlike traditional weaponry, cyberweapons are doing using hard and software.
    1. Stuxnet is a computer worm. Originally, Stuxnet was designed to be used as an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities. Since then, however, Stuxnet has grown to be included in other energy facilities and programs. Stuxnet is a form of malware that attacks actual hardware.
  5. IP address
    1. “An internet version of a home address for your computer, which is identified when it communicates over a network; For example, connecting to the internet (a network of networks).”
  6. Server
    1. "A server is a computer that provides data to other computers. It may serve data to systems on a local area network (LAN) or a wide area network (WAN) over the Internet."
  7. Human security
    1. “Human security is an approach to assist Member States in identifying and addressing widespread and cross-cutting challenges to the survival, livelihood and dignity of their people.” It calls for “people-centred, comprehensive, context-specific and prevention-oriented responses that strengthen the protection and empowerment of all people.”
  8. Virus/bug
    1. “A computer virus is a type of malware that propagates by inserting a copy of itself into and becoming part of another program. It spreads from one computer to another, leaving infections as it travels. Viruses can range in severity from causing mildly annoying effects to damaging data or software and causing denial-of-service (DoS) conditions”
  9. Virtual reality
    1. "An artificial environment which is experienced through sensory stimuli (such as sights and sounds) provided by a computer and in which one's actions partially determine what happens in the environment"
  10. Drone, Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)
    1. "An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is an aircraft that carries no human pilot or passengers. UAVs — sometimes called “drones” — can be fully or partially autonomous but are more often controlled remotely by a human pilot."
  11. Unmanned warfare
    1. Warfare conducted through the use of drones and/or autonomous weapons/machinery. 
  12. Generations of warfare
    1. The concept of generations of warfare refers to the changing nature of war. This concept highlights both ideology and technology as drivers for change.
  13. Distributed Denial of Services (DDOS)
    1. DDOS refers to a cyber attack. The goal of this attack is to try and make the intended product or service unable to the user. This type of attack disrupts the connection between the user and the host
  14. Cyber Espionage
    1. Cyber Espionage refers to the process of obtaining private information through means such as hacking or other technical means.
  15. Sabotage
    1. "Sabotage is defined as deliberate and malicious acts that result in the disruption of the normal processes and functions or the destruction or damage of equipment or information."
  16. Disinformation
    1. “False information, as about a country’s military strength or plans, disseminated by a government or intelligence agency in a hostile act of tactical political subversion"
  17. Misinformation
    1. Wrong or misleading information, not intended as a hostile act. 
  18. Attribution Problem
    1. Cyber attribution problems refer to the inability to determine who is executing a cyber attack or even its origins.
  19. Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and high yield Explosives
    1. CBRNE are weapons that typically cause a great deal of damage, both bodily harm and a disruption in society.

Unit 3: Terror, Disinformation and Radicalization


The world of cyberterrorism is complex and comprises different groups focused on diverse goals. For example, hacktivists (ex. the group Anonymous), conspiracy and extremist groups (ex. QAnon and the Alt-Right), recruiters and members of terrorist organizations, and others make up different areas of what constitutes the ‘cyberterrorism’ realm.

What is Cyberterrorism?

In her testimony before the Special Oversight Panel on Terrorism Committee on Armed Services for the U.S. House of Representatives, Dorothy E. Denning defined cyberterrorism as the “convergence of terrorism and cyberspace. It is generally understood to mean unlawful attacks and threats of attack against computers, networks, and the information stored therein when done to intimidate or coerce a government or its people in furtherance of political or social objectives.”[1] There is one clarifying note - these attacks must result in violence or harm or enough fear to cause harm.

However, when talking about cyberterrorism in general, it is somewhat more prudent to cast a broad focus to encompass all aspects of attacks on information or networks, and recruitment and/or social intimidation from certain groups. It can be easier to break down the groups into three different sections: activists, hacktivists, and terrorists.[2] When examining these groups, it is important to understand exactly how the internet is used to support and carry out various methods of terrorist activities such as: recruitment, gathering and disseminating information, financing, coordination and communication, events and execution of events, and cyberattacks.[3]

Example of Cyberterrorism activities

The unique aspect of cyberterrorism is how different groups focus on carrying out their activities, and one of the main activities for all groups is recruitment. While some ‘activist’ Alt-Right groups, such as the Proud Boys, have open websites and social media accounts they use to spread their messages,[4] many terrorist organizations target potential members for radicalization online through subtle means. For example, groups such as AlQaeda have targeted individuals through methods such as online video games, chat rooms, and other virtual platforms.[5][6]

It is vital to note that recruitment is not the only activity that groups carry out virtually. Coordinating meetings, marches, events, attacks, and even the dissemination of further propaganda are all carried out online by not only traditional terrorist groups such as ISIS or AlQaeda, but also the emerging Alt-Right groups and Social conspiracy groups. For example, the far-right conspiracy group QAnon, while not necessarily a terrorist group itself, has separated itself from other far-right groups by opening its group online to anyone and sharing their views and agenda in the digital realm everywhere.[7] This is unique as other far-right groups are much more insular and only approved members typically connect together in the digital realm.

One of the main cyberterrorism activities is to gather information, deny information, or to disseminate it.[8] Many hacktivists, or people who are out to hack digital networks to achieve a political or social goal, are into crashing systems, distributing information, or otherwise causing disruption. But there are some attacks, such as the attack on Sony by a group seeking to retaliate against the company for the film ‘The Interview’ which North Korea took great offense to.[9] This attack hacked into Sony’s digital offices, and took important information (such as personnel files and taxes) and erased many files.[10] Countries do sometimes get involved as well. For example, hackers from China have gained access to many U.S. military personnel files, new military tech blueprints, and secret information over the years.[11]

In addition to information control, there are other forms of digital hacktivism. While some larger companies, and even governments, get involved in this, the hacker group ‘Anonymous’ is one of the most famed groups. They are known for their DDOS (or distributed denial of service) attacks that focus on denying access to websites or certain information, and then sharing their tactics publicly.[12]

The area of cyberterrorism is vast and, at times, uncertain. Truly understanding the different actors that operate in this realm, as well as their digital practices, is vital to future security efforts.

Note from the Team

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic broke, we were starting to talk about issues like fake news, conspiracism, the harm that can come from the internet and cybertechnology and the shape of terrorism online. These next few Units deal with how cybertechnology is interacting with our global society. Most of us live on the surface web, the mainstream, readily accessible portion of the internet that is searchable through engines such as Safari, Firefox, Google Chrome or Internet Explorer. But the internet is not simply made up of the platforms that many of us are used to, there are many alternative platforms that are not as regulated as, or indexed by, the surface web. The opposite of the surface web is the dark web, which is more difficult to access but is unregulated and anonymous. The breadth of the security risk posed by internet actors is vast. The internet, dark or surface, is a medium for information sharing that is incredibly influential in many ways including the dissemination of hate speech, disinformation and cyberweapons like bugs and ransomware. Individuals can be radicalized through the internet and can radicalize others and can also impart harm on computer systems and critical infrastructure with few resources. Now, a savvy individual with a laptop computer can inflict damage on a nation-state on a scale heretofore inconceivable. Whether offensively or defensively, this anarchic, unconquerable cyberworld is impossible to completely secure and should be paid close attention.

Questions for Critical Thinking

  1. What do you think is the most important aspect of cyberterrorism?
  2. How can policymakers incorporate a gendered perspective into cyberterrorist policies?
  3. Is hacktivism an act of cyberterrorism?
  4. Does gender perspective make a difference when looking at certain activist groups?
  5. What do you think would constitute a cyberterrorist attack?

Questions for Further Research: Gender Component

Gender Analysis is necessary to cybersecurity[1] as well as to understand and combat terrorist groups and acts of terror. Activists who push an agenda, such as the majority women group QAnon, Hacktivists who seek to gain information or combat certain social issues, or terrorist groups that focus on recruitment or real-world attacks all work in realms that require a critical gender analysis.

Activists and hacktivists are unique groups of people that either advocate for social justice issues, promote their Alt-right group values (which are typically drawn on lines of sexist gender or race views, or conspiracy theories), or seek to counteract certain discourses (or bring their own discourse to the public eye). Gender is a vital component of this area. Take, for example, the Proud Boys. This Alt-right group has virtually promoted in-person activities that have sometimes turned violent, such as marches or rallies, and they ‘root their advocacy in an uncompromising gendered world’[2] where women and girls are subject to slurs, restrictions, and predetermined roles. As gender is a key component of their activism, it has translated online, with many members of this group, some of whom are designated as extremists by the FBI, making digital threats and undertaking virtual harassment of women leaders and activists.[3]

Hacktivists can be more difficult to understand regarding gender balance, as their members frequently remain anonymous. However, the gender dimensions of hacking are clear. A recent study shows that there are definite linkages between gender stereotypes and the types of hacktivism that is carried out.[4] For example, the ‘female’ stereotype hacktivists would focus on dismantling male stereotypes and patriarchal norms, whereas the ‘male’ stereotype hacktivists would focus on politics or taking down corporations.[5]

Understanding how terrorists view gender dynamics in their own ranks can greatly influence policymakers and practitioners to understand recruitment, retention, and various terrorist activities.[6] In fact, a study found that certain traits accompanied potential terrorist sympathizers or future recruits. For example, domestic violence, negative views towards women, and gendered cultural traditions such as brideprice or dowry practices all played a role in forming a worldview that opens individuals up to radicalization, as well as maintaining strict gender stereotypes within organizations.[7] Additionally, online recruitment mechanisms carried out by women were typically more likely to be successful if they targeted other women, as men were less likely to listen to them.[8]

While there are many more examples, it is clear that a better understanding of how gender impacts cybersecurity and terrorism will improve policymakers, practitioners, and academics’ understanding of cyberterrorism in all its forms.

Gender Specific Readings

  1. On Social Media’s Fringes, Growing Extremism Targets Women
  2. The Rage of the Incels
  3. Incels Categorize Women by Personal Style and Attractiveness
  4. Online violence: Just because it’s virtual doesn’t make it any less real
  5. Technology Facilitated Gender Based Violence


Articles and Reports 




Alternative Platforms: There is no official definition to what an alternative platform is, but in the context of online radicalization these are the platforms groups will decide to use in order to get around content restrictions on mainstream social media sites. For example, YouTube cracked down on the spread of alt-right propaganda on its platform. This crackdown forced many alt-right content creators, pro-gun activists and conspiracy theorists to move to different platforms with less regulation. BitChute, for example, is seen as the alt-right version of YouTube.

Click on each link below to learn more about some of these platforms, how they work and how they can be used for radicalization. 

Black Hat Hackers: Black hat hackers are individuals who use their knowledge of computers and information systems in order to exploit people for their own gain. Black hat hackers can do anything from spread computer viruses/malware or to gain access to sensitive information.

Bots:"A software program that can execute commands, reply to messages, or perform routine tasks, as online searches, either automatically or with minimal human intervention (often used in combination)"

Content Cloaking: "Cloaking refers to the practice of presenting different content or URLs to human users and search engines."

Cyberterror: "The politically motivated use of computers and information technology to cause severe disruption or widespread fear in society."

Deep-fakes: "The term deepfake is typically used to refer to a video that has been edited using an algorithm to replace the person in the original video with someone else (especially a public figure) in a way that makes the video look authentic."

Gamergate: On the surface, Gamergate is just an online harassment campaign deeply rooted in misogyny. In 2014, this campaign emerged and targeted women within the gaming industry. These women were sent rape and death treats and a few even had their addresses leaked to the public. Gamergate was a coordinated effort though and individuals organized on social media platforms like 8chan and Reddit. While Gamergate itself was horrific, the links to the modern day organization of the alt-right should not be diminished. There are many similarities between the way Gamergate was organized and the modern-day organization of the alt-right, especially in regards to their structure, organization, and the tactics they use. 

Grey Hat Hackers: Grey hat hackers are neither seen as good or bad. These hackers will look for vulnerabilities in websites, without the consent of the owners, and will sometimes charge a small fee to change them. Sometimes, they may post these vulnerabilities online and let others take advantage of them.

Hacktivism: "Computer hacking (as by infiltration and disruption of a network or website) done to further the goals of political or social activism"

Hashtag Hijacking: Hashtag hijacking is typically a marketing term, but is also a tactic of online groups. Essentially, people will use a hashtag to promote their own visibility. For example, in June 2020, alt-right groups used the hashtags surrounding George Flyod's death and the Black Lives Matter movement to gain visibility and spread misinformation.

US Patriot Act: Stands for: Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism. This act is meant to bolster US counter-terrorism efforts by providing guidelines for deterrence and detection. The act allows federal officers to treat investigations into terrorist activities as they would an investigation for drugs/organized crime, thus allowing for increased surveillance. Additionally, the act removed communication barriers between federal offices and updated the punishments for terrorist activity within the United States. The Patriot Act also includes a section on making sure the US could combat digital threats.

QAnon: QAnon is a far-right conspiracy theory that says that governments all over the world, but especially the United States, are run by a cabal of Satan worshipping pedophiles. QAnon also alleges that Donald Trump is the only one who can stop this. The FBI has classified QAnon as a domestic terrorism threat. QAnon’s theories encompass a range. Some believe that Democrats eat babies, some believe that 9/11 was an inside job and others believe that the coronavirus pandemic isn’t real. The QAnon theory isn’t cohesive at all, but at its core, it is strongly anti-establishment. Religion also plays a major role in the spread of QAnon - both through the spread of these theories and the beliefs. Christaianity, particularly Evangelicalism, has been a hallmark of the spread. Pastors in churches all over the United States have spread the message of Q and others see Q as a sort of prophet. QAnon at its core is also deeply antisemtic. The core beliefs of QAnon are comparable to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which portrays Jews as enemies of the state. Adolf Hitler referred to this work in his early speeches and used this work as a way to bolster anti-semtic ideology. QAnon blames Jew within the US for financing the cabal of Satan worshipping pedophiles they believe are running the country and controlling the media. QAnon has spread widely inaccurate information from everything from the current California wildfires to the Coronavirus pandemic and has contributed to real world violence. In addition, QAnon supporters are running for office now. The most notable example is Majorie Taylor Greene who is running for a seat in the US House of Representatives. Greene has been vocal about her beliefs in QAnon and has even gotten the endorsement of President Trump. 

Rabbit Hole Effect (Social Media Algorithms) : The rabbit hole effect refers to the way in which social media algorithms operate. There is no one algorithm for all these sites, but at their core these algorithms work to keep the user engaged in the content they are seeing and keep them on the platform. These algorithms can be harmless. For example, if you engage with a lot of cat videos on Instagram, you'll notice that your explore page will be filled with more cat videos. In short, platforms will show you more of the content you have interacted with in the past. However, this can be harmful. Individuals can be radicalized by social media. As with the cat videos, if someone engages with a conspiracy theory they will be shown more of that content. These platforms don't distinguish between a cat video and an alt-right conspiracy theory, they are simply trying to show you something that will keep you on the site and capture your attention.

Radicalization--Internet specific:"Online radicalization to violence is the process by which an individual is introduced to an ideological message and belief system that encourages movement from mainstream beliefs toward extreme views, primarily through the use of online media, including social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube"

Ransomware: “Ransomware is a type of hacking which encrypts a users files and does not allow the user to access the data in these files. Typically, the hacker will ask for some sort of payment in exchange for de-encryption, hence the name ransomware.”

Sabotage:"Sabotage is defined as deliberate and malicious acts that result in the disruption of the normal processes and functions or the destruction or damage of equipment or information."

White Hat Hackers: White hat hackers are sometimes referred to as "ethical hackers". These individuals are sometimes hired by companies in order to find weak spots in a company's website or ways the company could be hacked and fix them.

Surface Web: This is the part of the web that is easily accessible and includes sites like Google and Bing and is accessible through mainstream search engines. The "surface web" makes up the smallest percentage of all sites on the internet.

Unit 4: Tech and Society Part I: Governance


Government vs. governance

  • Governance - ways rules norms and actions are structured sustained regulated and held accountable
  • Government - a body whose sole responsibility and authority is to make binding decisions in a given geopolitical context by establishing laws

How is cyber related to governance?

As advancements in technology have brought the cybersecurity realm into everyday life, the impact it has on governance, social movements, and regulation has become apparent. Threats to democracy such as hacking electoral systems, deep fakes, disinformation campaigns, and internet regulation are often found hand in hand with positive advancements such as fact checking, best practices of digital diplomacy, and the advent of progressing social movements online. However, the fact remains, cybersecurity can be used as a tool to advance or disrupt democracy and governance. 

Threats to Society

Technology and Cybersecurity have become everyday tools in the hands of governments, politicians, and non-state actors to push agendas. In the process of this, the threat to democracies and governance issues is growing. For example, in 2016 when the Russians hacked the DNC email serves and distributed the data to Wikileaks,[1] or the rise of consolidated social media campaigns from government and non-state actors spreading disinformation for political gain.[2] These examples are not necessarily unprecedented, given the rise of cyber in daily lives, the increased globalization, and the rapid developments in technology. However the fact that consolidated disinformation and hacking related in foreign government manipulation of a democratic election shows the long-term consequences of using these tactics. Additionally, with the advent of further ways to spread misinformation, such as Deep Fakes (or edited false and misleading videos), this type of meddling will only increase.[3]

Disinformation campaigns are not solely used by foreign governments to influence public views. These campaigns utilizing details such as fake news are also huge threats to democracy and can result in tangible consequences. For example, articles with exaggerated images or article titles meant to catch peoples’ eyes (i.e. clickbait) can turn malignant quickly when unsuspecting individuals click on the links and allow individuals to access their personal information.[4] However, the social and political consequences of reading or sharing clickbait articles is the vast dissemination of fake news that occurs on social media.[5] When individuals in positions of power share and give credibility to false information, whether knowingly for their own gain or unknowingly, it causes issues in governance. Additionally, this type of disinformation can discredit actual activists and those who are doing true work in this realm (especially regarding women and gender activists).[6]

Censorship, Regulation, and Social Movements

In addition to disinformation, deep fakes, and political issues with cybersecurity, complications in this area arise with government control of the internet, censorship, and regulation, as well as conflict between governments and social movements.

Government control of the internet is one of the most effective tools of authoritarian leaders to manage the people in their countries. There are positive examples of virtual social campaigns that raise awareness towards important issues such as racism, misogyny, authoritarian regimes, and other important issues.[7] In the cyber realm there are always those who seek to discredit activists, and all too often governments seek to censor these individuals online as well. For example, activists and journalists who seek to share the truth can suffer extreme consequences such as jail time for their work.[8]

Additionally, in order to control what individuals see and can act upon, some countries, such as North Korea, Vietnam, China, and Cuba highly restrict internet access, especially access to certain international sites or forums.[9] This is dangerous in many ways, and these restrictions of information and privileges are clearly used to control the flow of information. For example, in Syria, it is extremely dangerous to share information contrary to the current president, and some journalists and activists have been jailed or even killed by doing so.[10] This is a clear example of cyber monitoring by a government leading to real-world consequences. Another example of this type of monitoring is Tajikistan, which used censorship tactics in response to global protests against authoritarian governments that could specifically harm the Tajik regime legitimacy.[11][12]

The Arab Spring is an interesting example when it comes to the use of technology to mobilize against control of or restrictions on the digital realm.[13] For example, in Egypt, the protests in Tahrir Square started as the result of internet shutdowns, leading to marches in the streets.[14] Social media was essential for carrying the message throughout the Middle East. The protests and videos from Tahrir Square spread online, as did images from the protests in Tunisia.[15] These images did not just spread around the Middle East, but all over the world

COVID-19 has changed the way we interact with the world, and especially with the digital world. Issues such as the emergence of ‘digital diplomacy’,[16] a rise in phishing scams[17] and fake news,[18] and online sexual harassment[19] have become more prevalent and dangerous the past few months, as have instances of governments or political leaders regulating information.[20] As we look forward, it is clear that governance and cybersecurity relate to each other in vital areas, and these issues are ongoing. The question for the future is clear: will governments use cybersecurity to prompt or control democratic processes?

Questions for Critical Thinking

  1. Is fake news a cybersecurity threat?
  2. What can be gained by incorporating a gender perspective in the realm of governance and cyber?
  3. What will the cyber/governance world look like post-COVID-19?
  4. How can individuals incorporate cybersecurity practices into their daily lives?
  5. Does society have an impact on governments via the digital realm? Or is it the other way around?

Gender Component

The gender dynamics of politics and governance are clear to see and understand. The convergence of politics, societies, and the cyber realm creates a unique area in desperate need of a gender perspective.

Regarding the social side of governance, women politicians and activists are typically targeted for disinformation campaigns and fake news more than men.[1] In addition, women public figures are not only targeted more, but are also uniquely exploited by, for example, publicizing sexualized images of them in the public realm[2], online sexual harassment, and intimidation.[3] It is important to clarify that these are typically targeted attacks meant to inform a political agenda. An example of this type of online attack is of a woman activist in Tajikistan who, in January 2020, was the center of an online smear campaign and an explicit video was released online in an attempt to discredit her.[4]

Some other ways a gendered analysis can inform this area is in social movements and government regulation. Government regulation of gendered topics is unique. For example, in many places, gendered political or social issues, such as reproductive rights, are often the focus of digital misinformation campaigns which are then used as justification for certain restrictions.[5] In addition to governments using their influence in the digital realm to maintain power over their people, gender dynamics and equal rights are frequently overlooked and underrepresented by these leaders.[6] This is done in a few ways, most frequently by blocking access to information on gender rights outside of their countries, or by pushing a specific gender role that society must maintain over digital channels the leaders control.[7]

However, sometimes in areas where gender issues are not addressed by the government or leaders, some women and gender activists take to social media to voice their activism.[8] Across the globe, social media driven movements like #BlackLivesMatter, are forcing people to grapple with racism and police brutality. Other movements like #MeToo, the Turkish #ChallengeAccepted,[9] and South American #NiUnaMenos[10] movements all call attention to femicide and expose the impacts of gender based violence and misogyny.

Just these few examples illustrate that governance issues need a gendered perspective, and the cyber realm of governance and social issues is no different.


  1. Resources
    1. Meet the young people using Instagram to fight Italy’s racism
    2. ‘Girls Takeover’: Teen is Finnish PM for a day to raise awareness
    3. The Rise of Technonationalism and Consequences for International Order
    4. A Misinformation Test for Social Media
    5. How Technology is Shaping Creative Activism in the 21st Century
    6. Technology governance - OECD
    7. Digital democracy Is the future of civic engagement online? - European Parliament
    8. Many Tech Experts Say Digital Disruption Will Hurt Democracy
    9. Will Technology Kill Democracy—Or Reinvent It?
    10. Technology for Governance, Politics, and Democracy
    11. COVID and Digital Diplomacy aka “Inter-net-national Relations”
      1. https://www.passblue.com/2020/09/24/the-dos-and-donts-of-digital-diplomacy-in-the-covid-19-world/
      2. https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/5050/covid19-sexual-harassment-work-online/
      3. https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/5050/six-digital-tactics-conservatives-use-undermine-reproductive-rights/ ?
    12. Silicon Valley
      1. Google’s Monopoly
        1. U.S. Accuses Google of Illegally Protecting Monopoly
        2. Why it's so hard to dethrone Google
      2. Social Media: News or Entertainment?
        1. Social Media Finds New Role as News and Entertainment Curator
        2. Podcasts
          1. Post No Evil
          2. War of the Worlds
          3. Breaking News
          4. Breaking Bongo
          5. American Shadows
        3. Facebook and media accountability: a tale of power, politics and ignorant entrepreneurs
        4. Facebook’s Bias Is Built-In, and Bears Watching
    13. Election Meddling/Social Media Manipulation
      1. Podcasts
        1. The Curious Case of the Russian Flash Mob at the West Palm Beach Cheesecake Factory
        2. Tweak the Vote
        3. Bit Flip
        4. Deep-Dark-Data-Driven Politics
      2. Videos
        1. The Perfect Weapon
    14. Control
      1. The Police Can Probably Break Into Your Phone
      2. The Great Online Convergence: Digital Authoritarianism Comes to Democracies
      3. The Digital Dictators: How Technology Strengthens Autocracy
      4. Covid-19 is Proving a Boon for Digital Authoritarianism
      5. Exporting digital authoritarianism
      6. When it Comes to Digital Authoritarianism, China is a Challenge — But Not the Only Challenge
      7. Podcasts
        1. Eye in the Sky
    15. Misc
      1. The Social Dilemma


Birddogging: "'To bird-dog" means "to follow, watch carefully, or investigate." When used in a political context, the term refers to activists who seek out the candidates, pin them down with specific questions or information, and retrieve their views.'  (Source) Birddoging can very easily be done online. Social media allows individuals to directly tweet at and message their representatives, making it easier to pressure them. Mass campaigns can also be organized by interest groups.

Censorship: "The suppression or prohibition of any parts of books, films, news, etc. that are considered obscene, politically unacceptable, or a threat to security."

Co-opting: This is a type of censorship campaign where instead of simply blocking information, governments will seek to use social media for their own purposes. Regimes may see public discontent online and use social media as a way to see what their citizens may want. They can then work to absolve some of these grievances, bolstering regime support and legitimacy.

Data Mining: "Data mining, also called knowledge discovery in databases, in computer science, the process of discovering interesting and useful patterns and relationships in large volumes of data. The field combines tools from statistics and artificial intelligence (such as neural networks and machine learning) with database management to analyze large digital collections, known as data sets. Data mining is widely used in business (insurance, banking, retail), science research (astronomy, medicine), and government security (detection of criminals and terrorists)."

DNC Hacking: In 2016, a group of Russian hackers launched an attack on Hilary Clinton, the then Democratic Nominee for U.S. President, and her campaign staff. The hackers managed to obtain sensitive information from these emails and then posted them on WikiLeaks. The hackers used phishing attempts to obtain the login information. The hacking of Hilary Clinton's emails demonstrates a clear shift in the way we talk about cyber and governance. While hacking and cyberespionage were not new tactics, this was the first time these tactics were used to influence an election and sow seeds of discontent in the general public.

Deep Fakes: "The term deepfake is typically used to refer to a video that has been edited using an algorithm to replace the person in the original video with someone else (especially a public figure) in a way that makes the video look authentic."

Digital Authoritarianism /Network Authoritarianism: There is no one way to define digital/network authoritarianism. This concept refers to the ways in which authoritarian, or hybrid, regimes will utilize the internet and technology to bolster their own legitimacy. Regimes will use a myriad of different tactics - everything from censorship to decimation of disinformation to surveillance of dissidents in order to keep control. China is typically seen as the classic example of network authoritarianism. China was one of the most sophisticated online censorship programs in the world (known as the Great Firewall). The Chinese Government blocks, filters, and deletes potentially harmful content. Because the internet and social media have radically changed the way individuals communicate with each other and form opinions, the internet is often seen as a threat to authoritarian regimes, and something that needs to be controlled.

Digital Democracy : Digital democracy does not have a set definition, but similar to digital authoritarianism - the concept refers to the link between democratic systems and technology. The internet and technology has made it easier for people to communicate, share ideas and mobilize. In a democratic system, built on the principles of free speech and the right to mobilize and protest, technology can help bolster those core values. However, cyber and technology also represent an unprecedented threat to democracy. The spread of mass information means that misinformation and disinformation may also spread. This spread of information can be anything from conspiracy theories like QAnon, which has on multiple attempts incited violence to disinformation perpetrated by foreign governments who want to sway elections.

Disinformation: “false information, as about a country’s military strength or plans, disseminated by a government or intelligence agency in a hostile act of tactical political subversion"

Donkey Bloggers (Azerbaijan): In 2009, two young activists in Azerbaijan were arrested on the charge of hooliganism for a satirical video they made criticizing the government for their misuse of oil revenue. In this video, the activists were dressed as donkeys because the government had spent over $80,000 of state funds on importing donkeys. This video was posted on YouTube, hence leading the subsequent arrest of these activists. In 2010, Azerbaijan had under 200,000 Facebook users, out of a population of 9 million. Those who were on Facebook, were more politically active and began using the space to speak freely about the regime and expose what was happening inside the country. However, Azerbaijan clamped down on dissent online, in the name of fighting online terrorism. While the way regimes have censorship information and dissidence has changed since 2009, the story of the "Donkey Bloggers" in Azerbaijan remains a hallmark moment in the shift from traditional media to social media and the way regimes respond to that shift.

Election Security: Election security is a broad term that encompasses many different links between elections and cyberspace. This includes everything from the 2016 DNC hacking, an attempt by a group of Russian hackers to sway the US election, to the spread of disinformation, cyber attacks which may prevent people from voting (such as creating a DDOS attack on a webpage with voting information) to the hacking/meddling of actual electoral infrastructure like voter databases, digital ballots and the system used to tally votes.

Fake News  "false stories that appear to be news, spread on the internet or using other media, usually created to influence political views or as a joke"

Filtering: Filtering is a type of censorship tactic which restricts what type of outside information can be viewed. Government will allow some outside information into the country but block any information they see as potentially harmful to the regime.

Flooding: This is a type of censorship tactic. Some regimes recognize that filtering and blocking content coming into the country may not be 100% effective. Therefore, they will also sometimes flood the news with information. The goal of this tactic is to disillusion citizens by publishing fake and contradictory information. Additionally, flooding works to fragment public opinion in turn making it harder for individuals to organize and mobilize.

Hashtag: On most social media platforms the hashtag (also called a hash or pound sign, #) “turns any word or group of words that directly follow it into a searchable link. This allows you to organize content and track discussion topics based on those keywords.”

Internet Blocking: This is the complete denial of internet services to an entire country. Governments will shut down the internet to block media coming into the country, but also to block social media and other means of mobilization and organization.

Mass Communications: "Something such as television or the internet that means that a message, story, etc. can be communicated to a large number of people at the same time:"

Metadata: "Data that provides information about other data. Metadata summarizes basic information about data, making finding & working with particular instances of data easier. Metadata can be created manually to be more accurate, or automatically and contain more basic information."

Misinformation:"wrong or misleading information”

Net Neutrality: "Net neutrality is the idea that internet service providers like Comcast and Verizon should treat all content flowing through their cables and cell towers equally. That means they shouldn't be able to slide some data into “fast lanes” while blocking or otherwise discriminating against other material. In other words, these companies shouldn't be able to block you from accessing a service like Skype, or slow down Netflix or Hulu, in order to encourage you to keep your cable package or buy a different video-streaming service."

News/News Outlets: News refers to new and factual information. News outlets are the conduits between this information and the public. While many outlets do include a commentary/opinion section, news outlets are to remain unbiased and report solely on the events happening.

Online Surveillance: Online surveillance refers to the monitoring of a person's internet usage - what they are doing online. Advancements in technology have made surveillance easier and harder for users to detect. While individuals can use VPNs and other programs in an effort to grant them privacy, surveillance may also take the form of hacking into a person’s phone/computer microphone and camera.

Propaganda: "Ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one's cause or to damage an opposing cause"

Silicon Valley: "The area in northern California, southwest of San Francisco in the Santa Clara valley region, where many of the high-technology design and manufacturing companies in the semiconductor industry are concentrated."

Social media:  "forms of electronic communication (such as websites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (such as videos)"

Rabbit Hole Effect (Social Media Algorithms): Social media algorithms refer to the ways in which different platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc operate. There is no one algorithm for all these sites, but at their core these algorithms work to keep the user engaged in the content they are seeing and keep them on the platform. These algorithms can be harmless. For example, if you engage with a lot of cat videos on Instagram, you'll notice that your explore page will be filled with more cat videos. In short, platforms will show you more of the content you have interacted with in the past. However, this can be harmful. Individuals can be radicalized by social media. As with the cat videos, if someone engages with a conspiracy theory they will be shown more of that content. These platforms don't distinguish between a cat video and an alt-right conspiracy theory, they are simply trying to show you something that will keep you on the site and capture your attention.

The Great Firewall: The Great Firewall is one of the most well-known examples of internet blocking. The Golden Shield Project as it is officially called by the Chinese Government, is one of the most extensive censorship programs in the world. The Great Firewall works to block, censor and monitor information online. The Great Firewall employs a variety of tactics such as IP blocking (which forbids users with a specific IP address from accessing content) and keyword searching to block access to any content the regime deems harmful.

Virtual Private Network (VPN): A VPN is a tool which lets you encrypt your browser data and gives you the ability to browse the web online. When you're connected to the internet, you have an IP address which is a unique set of numbers used to identify you. A VPN hides your IP address allowing anonymous internet usage.

Unit 5: Tech and Society Part II: Big Data and 5G


Whenever you search for something on the internet, read a news article, scroll through Social Media, or shop online, your data is being collected. Advances in technology have enabled these seemingly insignificant pieces of individual information to be gathered, stored, analyzed, and bought or shared in both the public and private sectors.[1] This raises the question of what exactly the world of Big Data means for individual privacy.

Big Data & Individual Privacy

Individual privacy is mainly impacted through private companies and government use of Big Data. Private companies such as Facebook or Google are always collecting data on who you are, what you like, what you pay attention to, where you are, and other aspects of your online presence.[2] Companies such as Google manage enormous amounts of data to understand any information relevant to their clients. For example, if a private company were interested in the influence their products had on social media, they would work with a data company to gather information and determine the influence and predict where that company should target its advertising.

The upside to this type of enormous data collection and analysis is the convenience it lends to everyday life. Individuals can access their cloud storage anywhere in the world, transfer anything from photos to money with the tap of a button, and often you can get personalized browser recommendations or ads. The companies providing Big Data gathering and analysis offer a fantastic product that both individuals and companies want because, frankly, it makes life easier. However, as with most benefits, there can be enormous drawbacks.

Big Data & Companies

The reason Big Data is such an engrossing topic at the moment is because of its relevance to most people around the world. Globalization is happening at a rapid pace, which means that in conjunction with more interconnectedness, companies are expanding rapidly to places all around the world. This, at first glance, is beneficial - more connections, ease of communication, open diplomatic channels, greater knowledge sharing, etc. However, when companies that are based in one country, such as Facebook or Google (both based in the USA), expand their user base and relations to other countries, it is easier for other countries to exploit the everyday lives of individuals around the world. Social Media is an excellent example of this. In 2016, the Russian meddling in the US elections was especially apparent on Facebook and Twitter through a series of targeted advertisements and digital marketing focused on promoting one Presidential candidate over another.[3] Many people were subject to ads, news articles, and a constant influx of information on their social media and internet searches - making it easier for certain ideas to spread and misinformation to expand.

Another way Big Data and Data Mining can negatively impact individuals’ privacy is by exploiting personal information and committing identity fraud, conducting open source background data searches, and various other personal information threats. For example, in 2019 when CapitalOne was hacked, 100 million records were stolen including personal and financial information, leaving millions of people vulnerable to identity theft.[4] Another example from 2018 when Facebook was hacked and 50 million users’ information was revealed to third parties showed the vulnerability of sharing our personal information online.[5] The exploitation and manipulation of individual data is an enormous threat that Big Data companies often overlook in the name of fiscal gain or convenience.

Big Data & Government

In addition to private companies conducting enormous data-mining efforts, it is true that many governments collect a multitude of data themselves, often for the main purpose of running their office or branch of the government. Because of this, if and when there is a data breach in most governments, it is large and can be very destructive. For example, when China hacked the US Pentagon contractor networks multiple times[6] or the US Military breach that impacted 200,000 military service members[7] personal information and the information from their contacts and family members. This targeting of individuals based on where they work in governments is a problem for national security and should be approached as a national security threat.

While there are definitely risks associated in private companies, risks to personal security and privacy are often potentially larger in the private sector than most government agencies’ risks due to government oversight - with obvious exceptions. As an example, the US National Security Agency conducts data mining on private citizens’ phones, emails, etc., to analyze and prevent instances of terrorism. While there is some ambiguity about the methods or the final use of the data, the end goal is something most people can get behind and there are government checks and regulations that apply to how data is gathered and what it can be used for.[8] These checks and regulations are even more apparent when multiple countries join together, such as in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).[9] While it is not perfect, there are multiple regulations for member governments to prevent misuse or oversight in data mining, and Big Data analysis is carefully monitored.[10]


5G is a hot topic lately, and relates to Big Data intrinsically. 5G provides a higher level of connection (you can, for instance, download an entire blu-ray movie onto your phone in seconds) and provides faster and higher quality data usage to personal handheld telecommunication devices by significantly increasing the speed at which you do everything. Companies like Verizon and T-Moble have their own 5G networks, but only a few models of cellphones or other handheld devices can use it. This advance is the next logical step in individual devices around the world, and brings with it a host of opportunities and individual privacy threats.

One of the major threats regarding 5G networks is the monopoly certain countries and/or companies have on it. China, for example, has been leading the market for all things related to 5G. While other countries have made advancements in this area, many companies have been outsourcing a lot of wireless things such as cell coverage, physical tower equipment, and other telecommunications to places like China.[11]

This is a National Security issue across the board because if one country developed technology and a different country is using it (for example, China developed 5G and the US and European countries using it), the developer country could potentially monitor or data-mine anything coming through the 5G network.[12] The equipment could have a monitoring piece added or if they have access to the raw data coming through the connection the country could pull that and use it for their own means.[13] In addition to national security risks, there are significant risks for individuals in a similar vein to the threats that Big Data pose - identity theft, personal information loss, and other risks.

Big Data, Data Mining, and 5G all contribute benefits to everyday lives. However, the question of how they relate to and what must be done to protect personal information security must be addressed.

Note from the Team

Many of the major social media companies and tech giants are American companies. These include Facebook, who owns Instagram, Whatsapp, Messenger; Google, who owns YouTube and Gmail; and Twitter. The interconnected relationships between individuals, private corporations and the American government are affecting those on the global stage. The desire to promote American exceptionalism and economic dominance has superseded the consideration of the implications that social media and technology might have on society. This unchecked development has created a virulent situation, blurring the lines between news and entertainment and creating a hellscape of fake news, manipulation and fostering an environment where radical conspiracy theories and the far-right can thrive. 

Social media was once seen as a facilitator of democratic values such as freedom of speech and expression, and freedom from undue censorship. Furthermore, social media is still seen as a conduit between constituents and their elected officials, providing another channel where citizens can express their grievances and mobilize. Yet, this notion is being challenged by a rise in extremist political views on both ends of the ideological spectrum—a rise partially brought on by social media algorithms. Social media firms are at their core companies trying to sell individuals a product, which is the continued use of a particular platform. The capitalist promotion of technology companies has come before the establishing of policies for monitoring, evaluation and accountability. This “easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission” attitude in regard to Silicon Valley has had irreversible implications for our democracy. As noted in Unit 3, social media has played a massive role in the rise of conspiracy theories like QAnon. These companies have designed their product to keep the user engaged - to keep them clicking and scrolling and continually exposed to new content. If the algorithm thinks that a user likes dogs, their feed will be filled with photos of dogs and advertisements for pet products. But algorithms cannot differentiate between what is real news, and what is fake news and what may be potentially harmful. 

Questions for Critical Thinking

  1. How can data collection help us/harm us? What policy steps can be taken to protect individual security? 
  2. Are their collective benefits to national security through data collection? If so, what is a reasonable price to individual security? 
  3. What is the digital divide and how can cellular connectivity change this phenomenon?
  4. Do you think caution should be exercised regarding 5G technology since most of the advances are emerging from China?
  5. Do the ends justify the means for Big Data?

Gender Component

The gender analysis of this topic is nuanced. Big Data is a tool used by companies, individuals, and governments to create knowledge-based datasets for actions, insights, and predictions on individuals’ lives. One of the biggest ways that Big Data relates to gender is through gender analysis, or sex-disaggregated data.

Traditionally, there are gaps in how data is gathered and analyzed, and that typically means women (and minorities of different sexes and races) are often excluded in the process or casually overlooked and the resulting actions, or policies, made from those datasets exclude women.[1] This has an enormous impact on the everyday lives of women, and while there have been efforts to combat this gap in sex-disaggregated data and statistics, such as the United Nations’ gender indicators[2], and recognition that comprehensive datasets must include women and others’ experiences as well as men’s, progress has been slow.[3] Big Data is often less concerned with a focus on sex-disaggregated data or gender analysis. This is unfortunate because a comprehensive understanding cannot be achieved without understanding all aspects of the data and recognizing potential biases.[4] There is an enormous opportunity for those that collect and manage Big Data, or those that use Big Data to pursue their individual agendas to incorporate a gender perspective and promote relevant datasets to governments, companies, and individuals.[5]

Although Big Data poses threats to individual privacy which are relevant to women and gender analysis, there is an opportunity for many companies, governments, and individuals to use Big Data to examine the gender balance of their respective goals, and conduct a gender analysis on actions.[6] Additionally, through emerging opportunities for employment or advancement in careers in 5G telecommunications, there are often opportunities for career advancement for women in this area.[7]


5G: 5G is the next generation (and fifth) of communications. 5G is essentially an upgrade from our current level of communications and promises increased connectivity and speed between devices. The applications of 5G are what make it so revolutionary. With increased speed between devices, doctors can perform remote surgeries, cars can operate without human drivers and more.

5G Conspiracy Theories: There has been a flurry of conspiracy theories relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of these theories relate back to the advancement of 5G. These claims have no scientific backing and encompass a wide range of theories. Some assert that 5G technology causes the human body to react in a way similar to symptoms of the coronavirus while others see lockdown as a way for governments to install 5G networks. Some of these theories relate back to other high-level conspiracy theories, such as the anti-vaxx movement and even QAnon. Social media has been instrumental in spreading these theories and panic over 5G. These theories are dangerous as they both prompt distrust of 5G and underplay the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bandwidth: "a range within a band of wavelengths, frequencies, or energies"

Big Data: The growth in data collection associated with scientific phenomena, business operations, and government activities (e.g., marketing, quality control, statistical auditing, forecasting, etc.) has been remarkable over the past decade. This growth is due, in part, to technology now capable of capturing lots of data at a high rate, such as information- sensing mobile devices, cameras, radio-frequency identification (RFID) readers, and wireless sensor networks. In fact, the term “Big Data” is now commonly used by compa- nies to describe this wealth of information.

Blockchain: " a digital database containing information (such as records of financial transactions) that can be simultaneously used and shared within a large decentralized, publicly accessible network"

Cloud Computing: "cloud computing means storing and accessing data and programs over the internet instead of your computer's hard drive"

Contact Tracing COVID-19: The COVID-19 pandemic has produced contact tracing apps in an effort to help individuals find out if they have been potentially exposed to the virus. However, these apps have raised privacy concerns as individuals are concerned that these apps can steal personal data stored on an individual's phone. Many of these apos work by bluetooth, transmitting an encrypted signal to others phone with the app installed nearby. If a user tests positive for COVID-19, they will need to manually input it into their app and their app will send a notification to those it has come in contact with. Personal information is not collected, although fears that it will be has stopped many individuals from using these apps.

Cryptocurrency: “any form of currency that only exists digitally, that usually has no central issuing or regulating authority but instead uses a decentralized system to record transactions and manage the issuance of new units, and that relies on cryptography to prevent counterfeiting and fraudulent transactions” 

Data: "factual information (such as measurements or statistics) used as a basis for reasoning, discussion, or calculation". In the context of cybersecurity, data typically refers to individuals. This is information about likes and dislikes, age, career, hobbies, location, political affiliation etc.

Data mining: "Data mining, also called knowledge discovery in databases, in computer science, the process of discovering interesting and useful patterns and relationships in large volumes of data."

Encryption: Encryption is a process which protects a personal data by making sure that it is only available when a "key" has been entered.

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR): "The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is the toughest privacy and security law in the world. Though it was drafted and passed by the European Union (EU), it imposes obligations onto organizations anywhere, so long as they target or collect data related to people in the EU. The regulation was put into effect on May 25, 2018. The GDPR will levy harsh fines against those who violate its privacy and security standards, with penalties reaching into the tens of millions of euros."

Huawei: Huawei is a Chinese company, which is currently leading the world in 5G technology and applications. The United States has banned Huawei over fears that the devices could be used as spyware because of the 5G capability. There are concerns that hackers can use the 5G capabilities as an entry point into gathering sensitive information. Other countries like Australia and Canada have followed the US' lead. However, Huawei does lead the world in 5G capabilities and while the US and other countries are trying to catch up, Huawei still dominates global 5G markets

Internet of Things: The internet of things refers to anything connected to the internet. Many devices connected to the internet communicate with each other and collect data.

Metadata: "data that provides information about other data"

TikTok and WeChat Ban Attempt: In September 2020, the Trump Administration announced that it would be banning TikTok and WeChat, two very popular Chinese owned apps. The apps themselves do not raise much concern; TikTok is a short video platform used primarily by teens to share jokes and dances and WeChat is used as an alternative to traditional text messaging. However, the Trump Administration saw both TikTok and WeChat as security concerns. Both these apps collect data about their users. Additionally, there are concerns about TikTok being used to spread misinformation. However, given the Huawei ban, the attempt at banning TikTok and WeChat was in part due to US-China relations and was influenced by China's restrictions on US companies.

Unit 6: Tech and Society Part III: Social Pathologies


The internet is divided into three categories. First, there is the surface web, which is anything accessible through a search engine like Google.[1] Following the surface web, there is the deep web that comprises most of the internet that people can access, but these webpages do not show up in general search results.[2] Your personal email, for example, is considered part of the deep web as you need a password and certain credentials in order to see the content of the page. Finally, there is the dark web.

The dark web, in and of itself, is not malicious, the term itself broadly refers to the hidden part of the internet. In order to access this part of the internet, individuals need to have a special browser, known as the onion router (Tor).[3] The United States Naval Research Lab created Tor in the mid-1990s as a way of encrypting government communication.[4]  Tor is similar to a Virtual Private Network, in the sense that it grants the user anonymity and prevents the user from being tracked and watched by third parties.[5] The general public can download Tor for personal use. For example, there are dissidents around the world who use Tor as a way of sharing sensitive information without putting themselves in danger.[6] However, unlike a VPN, Tor allows the user to access the dark web.

The dark web hosts tens of thousands of unique URLs, each ending with “.onion”. These sites vary in content, encompassing everything from chat rooms to marketplaces, and while they are not inherently illegal, they may host illegal content.[7] Additionally, most of the transactions conducted on the dark web use different forms of cryptocurrencies.

Cryptocurrencies are a growing security threat, extending far beyond their use as currency in darknet markets. In theory, anyone can create their own cryptocurrency, they just need to build legitimacy through users to function as currency. There are a variety of different forms of cryptocurrencies which correspond to different markets. For example, Dogecoin, based off an internet meme of a Shibu Inu dog and started as a joke but turned into an actual form of currency.[8]  There is also Titcoin, a cryptocurrency used in the buying and selling of pornographic material—it was created as something to accompany mainstream cryptocurrencies like BitCoin, and to avoid linking purchases to the user’s  main cryptocurrency account.[9]

Darknet Markets

In 2011, an American man named Ross Ulbricht created the Silk Road, one of the first darknet marketplaces. Marketplaces are a hallmark of the darknet ecosystem. These marketplaces exist for individuals to anonymously buy and sell illicit goods. While drugs account for the majority of what is sold online, these markets sell other forms of illicit goods, such as hacking equipment and tutorials, as well as personal data, counterfeit documents, and firearms[10]. Like with the rest of the dark web, anyone can access these marketplaces. Transactions are typically conducted through cryptocurrencies, most notably BitCoin. These ‘Darknet Markets’ make it easier for individuals to access illicit goods and avoid prosecution, due to the anonymity of the dark web.

Darknet markets are incredibly lucrative. The Silk Road operated for around two years and made profit through commission, charging a small fee for all of the transactions taking place on the site; it had an estimated cash flow of $213 million at the time of its closure in 2013.[11] Since the site was shut down, darknet marketplaces have only gotten more lucrative. Multiple other marketplaces have sprung up following the success of the Silk Road. Some of these marketplaces have ended up being scams, were hacked, or were otherwise shut down by international authorities.[12] Yet, these markets keep appearing and growing. Take, for instance, AlphaBay, a popular darknet market that was estimated to have made around $1 billion in sales in the three years it was online.[13]

While drugs make up a large portion of the material sold on the dark web, they are far from the only illicit material sold online. The dark web has made it easier to buy and sell weapons online by allowing users to evade potential background checks[14], and to pay lower prices than legal weapons.[15] In addition to weapons and ammunition, sellers may also sell instructions for how individuals can construct weapons using 3D printers and other machines individuals can buy and use legally.[16] The lack of background checks is particularly concerning considering how lone-wolf terrorists, such as the 2016 Munich shooter, have bought weapons on the dark web in order to carry out acts of terrorism[17]. Although it is difficult to find accurate statistics due to the anonymity of the dark web, the majority of guns sold on the dark web appear to be made in the United States[18].

Sexually explicit material, especially involving children, is also rampant on the dark web, and on the internet as a whole. This type of material disproportionately impacts women and girls.  The increase in the availability of technology has corresponded with the growth of the illicit markets, as it increases access to these sites[19].

The market for child pornography in particular is very lucrative and has caused webcam child sex tourism (WCST) in various forms to grow[20]. There are websites like “DarkScandals,” now shut down, allowed users to buy and download violent and exploitative material of children either by utilizing cryptocurrency, or by uploading videos in return for access to the site’s content[21]. WCST also includes webcam shows, some of which include predators paying to direct individuals to engage in specific sexual acts[22].

The exploitation of individuals is not a recent phenomenon nor is it the product of technological advancements. However, the spread and advancement of technology has allowed exploitation to increase by making it easier to connect buyers and sellers of exploitative material. Additionally, because the darknet operates using Tor, it has become easier for individuals to hide their identities and evade capture.

While the dark web hosts much illegal content, illegal material can be found all over the internet  as well. While popular apps like TikTok do not host explicit content, some of its content has been uploaded to pornographic websites. These videos are of predominantly young girls dancing to explicit songs[23].  While these websites have removed the videos and reiterated content guidelines, users are still posting these videos[24]. TikTok has also come under fire due to the high levels of grooming and harassment on the app. TikTok has a livestem feature and many users, predominantly young girls, report that they have been asked to take off their clothing or otherwise harassed while livestreaming content[25].  Users all report high levels of online harassment, some of which is sexually charged, and other which is racially or religiously motivated[26].

Law Enforcement and Darknet Markets

Darknet marketplaces are still incredibly prominent and lucrative, and although authorities seize these sites and the marketplaces are disrupted, at some point normalcy returns. When US authorities seized the Silk Road in 2013, the Silk Road 2.0 emerged to succeed it. When AlphaBay was shut down, users flocked to Hansa. Darknet markets are built one on top of the other, leaving law enforcement playing a constant game of cat and mouse.

Artificial intelligence has revolutionized law enforcement’s attempts to capture individuals involved in the buying and selling of child pornography. Terre des hommes, a Dutch NGO, used AI software to create virtual children. While virtual, the child looks hyper-realistic and has been deployed in online chatrooms to find pedophiles[27]. The AI software allows law enforcement to create sting operations without the use of actual children.

The involvement of cryptocurrency has also aided law enforcement. The DOJ reported that BitCoin funded the largest child pornography site on the dark web, “Welcome to Video”, which hosted over 250,000 videos[28]. Investigators were able to utilize blockchain technology in order to find the creator of the site and ultimately shut down the site[29]. A similar tactics was used take down another child pornography site called “DarkScandals”[30].

However,  darknet markets have proved to be incredibly lucrative, which in turn has revolutionized cryptocurrencies. While marketplaces like the Silk Road initially conducted transactions solely through BitCoin, the growth of these marketplaces has prompted the growth of other and more private cryptocurrencies. AlphaBay is a notable example for its acceptance of the cryptocurrency Monero. Monero had the reputation for being a more secretive cryptocurrency, allowing users to conduct transactions without it being linked back to them[31]. Monero’s stealth made it the preferred cryptocurrency for markets. When AlphaBay began accepting Monero, the value of the currency increased to around six times its previous worth[32].

Criminals use cryptocurrencies to aid in money laundering and some have begun to demand payment in different cryptocurrencies during ransomware attacks[33].  The rise of cryptocurrency has also paved another avenue for non-state actors to raise funds. The United States Department of Justice reported that terrorist groups have begun using the dark web and cryptocurrencies as an avenue for fundraising.

COVID-19 and Darknet Markets

The COVID-19 Pandemic is only making these marketplaces more profitable. Lockdowns around the world have encouraged higher levels of drug use, and e-commerce has emerged as the preferred way of buying various drugs. In the United Kingdom, online drug vendors estimate that their market grew 25% during the three-month lockdown[34]. Darknet markets have also profited off the widespread fear during the global pandemic. Where traditionally these markets sell drugs and other illicit goods, in the early days of the pandemic, individuals flocked online to buy personal protective equipment, the blood of recovered COVID patients, and drugs marketed as potential vaccines.[35]

Furthermore, the DOJ has evidence to suggest that terrorist organizations are taking advantage of current events to fund their endeavors. Earlier in 2020, individuals associated with ISIS were caught selling personal protective equipment such as N95 respirator masks. The funds collected from these sales went to support ISIS operations.[36]

Questions for Critical Thinking

  1. Sometimes shutting down platforms creates opportunities for others to take their place in worse ways than before. How can law enforcement manage this?
  2. How does the protection of individual privacy overlap with the prosecution of crime on the darknet?
  3. What do you think will happen to the darknet post COVID-19?
  4. What do you think of BitCoin? Will it replace current mainstream currency?
  5. What is a gendered perspective on the dark web and darknet?

Gender Component

Gender is a key dimension of the dark web, however, there seem to be competing narratives regarding gender perspectives and gender parity on the dark web. For example, while there are ample opportunities for women to achieve gender parity in a number of areas (such as buying/selling/managing products or sharing resources/skills on navigating the dark web), there is little to no understanding of what it means to have a gendered perspective while looking at the dark web. Additionally, the activities carried out on the dark web could benefit from an analysis and understanding that comes with a gendered perspective (i.e. examining the illegal trade of humans or the sharing of ideas or power). Further, although the dark web and its legitimate and illegitimate platforms[1], especially social media platforms, can provide a certain anonymity to users, thus preventing individuals from knowing what gender or race, socioeconomic status, physical location, etc. a user is, there are truly no fail proofs and physical security and an individual’s background, gender, race, etc., will typically come to light one way or another.[2]

However, one thing remains clear, women’s physical and virtual security is more threatened than men or other people’s physical and virtual security in various situations on the dark web, specifically regarding human and sex trafficking, escort services, even business ventures.[3] Additionally, while law enforcement does take down illegal sites, it often can be more difficult.

While cryptocurrencies are relatively gender neutral on paper (some top executives in this realm are women)[4], the use of the currencies tells another story. It is well known that cryptocurrencies can fuel broader illicit activities on the dark web and the darknet markets. However, the impact that cryptocurrency can have on physical security through illegal sex trafficking or other similar acts is magnified for women.[5]

Finally, in addition to sex trafficking and physical and virtual threats to women’s security, the spread of ideas and hate towards women or other groups is alive and well on the dark web. Unfortunately, the spread of these ideas can result in brutal acts of terrorism, violence, or hate acts. Groups such as incels[6] which promote ideas of dominance over women and promote a balance of power disproportionately impacting women and others’ lives are key examples of this type of threat from the dark web.


AlphaBay and Hansa Takedown: In July 2017, the marketplace AlphaBay went offline. The site's users did not know why and after a week without updates, many decided to conduct business elsewhere and fled to another successful market, Hansa. At the time, users were not aware that international authorities had seized Hansa and were using Hansa as a honeypot to gather as much information as possible. This single operation took down two of the largest darknet marketplaces at the time.

BitCoin: BitCoin is a cryptocurrency created in 2009. Individuals can either buy or “mine” BitCoins. The processing of mining involves solving mathematical problems. BitCoin is stored in a digital wallet, or a type of virtual banking system. BitCoin is an anonymous system as it only shows the identification for these digital wallets and not any user data.

Cryptocurrency: “any form of currency that only exists digitally, that usually has no central issuing or regulating authority but instead uses a decentralized system to record transactions and manage the issuance of new units, and that relies on cryptography to prevent counterfeiting and fraudulent transactions”

Dark Web: The dark web is the smallest part of the internet. The dark web is "hidden" from normal search engines and is only accessible through using a Tor, or an anonymous browsing aid which hides the users IP address. The dark web is encrypted and allows users to browse anonymously. Sites on the dark web are not searchable. In order to access these sites, the user needs to know the destination URL. Because the dark web is anonymous, it has become a hub for illegal activity including drug and arms trafficking

Darknet Marketplaces: The anonymity of the darknet has meant that criminal activity can thrive. While the darknet is not inherently illegal, it does host quite a lot of illegal activity, such as marketplaces. These marketplaces allow individuals to buy and sell all sorts of illicit goods, including drugs, firearms, hacking tools, and more. The transactions on these darknet marketplaces use cryptocurrencies which grants individuals engaged in this process more anonymity.

Deep Web: The deep web makes up the largest part of the internet and includes all sites that are not accessible through search engines. The deep web includes things like password protected email accounts. The deep web contains a majority of harmless/benign sites.

Monero: Monero is a type of cryptocurrency. Monero markets itself as being a more private and confidential form of conducting transactions online. AlphaBay, a prominent darknet marketplace, began accepting the currency in 2016 causing monero’s value to increase. Unlike other cryptocurrencies like BitCoin, Monero promises the user total anonymity, making it ideal to conduct illegal transactions.

Silk Road:  The Silk Road is one of the first and most notorious examples of drug and weapons trafficking on the dark web. Drugs of all kinds, everything from prescription pills to heroin, were sold on this site and as the site grew, weapons, including firearms and grenades, and counterfeit documents were also sold on this site. The US Federal Bureau of investigation seized the site in 2013. What made the Silk Road so unique was that it was one of the first and most successful marketplaces and revolutionized the commercial drug trade. Like with any legal marketplace, if a seller sold a bad product the site would then remove the seller and otherwise take action to ensure that bad products are not being sold on the site. The Silk Road was also incredibly lucrative and had around $1.2B in revenue at the time it was shut down.

Surface Web: This is the part of the web that is easily accessible and includes sites like Google and Bing and is accessible through mainstream search engines. "surface web" makes up the smallest percentage of sites.

The Armory: The armory was an offshoot of The Silk Road dedicated exclusively to the buying and selling of weapons. The site was shut down due to low transactions.

Webcam Child Sex Tourism: “Webcam Child Sex Tourism, also known as WCST, is when adults pay to direct and view live-streaming video footage of children in another country performing sexual acts in front of a webcam.”

Unit 7: Tech and Society Part IV: Emerging Issues


Climate Change

At first glance it is not necessarily easy to see the impact cybersecurity and tech has on climate change. However, these intricacies become apparent when examining the relationship between energy use/consumption and climate change.

Global power consumption is an issue that must be addressed sooner rather than later. In addition to tradition cybersecurity threats - big energy companies are especially vulnerable to cyber attacks[1] - energy generation and consumption are clearly related to cybersecurity through practical means. The impact it has on climate change is real - for example, emissions are rising with the use of internet-connected devices around the world[2] (about 5% of the world’s consumption now is through internet-connected devices, but is rising continually).[3] Additional uses of big data bases (which use 2% of the world’s energy consumption)[4] and things such as Bitcoin mining[5] consume huge amounts of energy, with some studies positing that although Bitcoin is already flagged for large consumption, its actual consumption amount is underestimated.[6] The level of consumption is drastic, but what is more concerning is the level of energy consumption from the internet and internet-connected devices. A study from a Swedish company found that the Internet uses 10% of the world's energy - which is more than can be produced by renewable sources such as solar and wind power (this does not include hydro and nuclear power).[7]

Misinformation was covered in previous units and showed that the internet was a powerful tool in certain hands. However, misinformation is alive and well in the above mentioned energy issues, specifically with people who call climate change a hoax. For example, there has been an increase in internet users seeing misinformation campaigns on topics such as climate change intended to discredit governments and international actors.[8] This information is often created and spread through private companies with a stake in the energy industry.[9]

The above information tells two cautionary tales - first that energy consumption is increasing around the world through the use of the Internet and internet-connected devices, this leads to the concern that some methods of power generation are not going to be enough to maintain the levels of power consumption. The second is that increased use leads to increased emissions resulting in more destructive climate change issues for the future.

The Internet of Things (IoT)

Related to the increase of internet-connected devices’ energy consumption is the advances in technology that make those devices available to everyone. A note, internet-connected devices will be referred to now as the Internet of Things (IoT) and could range from a cell phone to a smart refrigerator to the thermostat that automatically changes the temperature in a ‘smart house’ - essentially anything that can be connected to and controlled via the internet.[10]

There are positive advantages to the IoT, for example the IoT can be used to drastically decrease energy consumption[11] by improving solar and wind power,[12] and ‘Smart Cities’ in the future are no longer something out of a science fiction novel.[13] However, the security issues arising from these interconnected devices are real and present, and play into both the national/international security realm, as well as personal security since anything connected to the internet has the potential to be hacked.[14] For example, in 2016 botnets from the IoT were responsible for a partial shutdown of the Internet.[15] While this mainly resulted in big sites such as Netflix or Hulu being shut down for a period of time, the implications for personal and state security were plain - if the IoT impacted private companies so drastically, it was possible to surveil, hack, or steal state or personal data - or to hack personal webcams. This is especially relevant to potential future issues as many IoT devices, such as water cleanliness monitors or even management of ships or docking stations for shipments of goods or services, could be hacked and threaten trade, diplomatic efforts, or even national security.[16]

While advancements in technology have huge benefits, there is the concern that with huge advances comes potential security implications and drawbacks that are, as of yet, unknown. In addition to the growing importance of the IoT in people’s everyday lives and security issues, advances in technology could lead to future implications we can only barely understand. For example, self-driving electric cars.[17] While it seems convenient, there is still the potential for them to be hacked or controlled externally, leading to personal security threats.[18] There has been continuous calls for legislation to prevent abusing the IoT and increasing security on the multitude of devices connected to each other and to the internet. In November 2020, the U.S. Congress passed a bill that will focus on enhancing safeguards in devices - specifically for the Federal Government in the hopes that it would expand from there.[19]

Final Thought

With the above information, it is clear that Cybersecurity is related to many aspects of our daily lives and our future security. While there are negative aspects regarding energy consumption, personal IoT use and security, misinformation, and other security concerns, there are also many benefits to recognizing the link between everyday issues such as Climate Change or the IoT, and Cybersecurity. And there are positive aspects to consider as well. Emerging technologies can help slow the progress of climate change and enhance personal security and cultural preservation. Space is closer than ever to the average person, and there are improvements on refugee aid and security. The importance of Cybersecurity and emerging Technologies is still becoming apparent in every aspect of our lives. The important aspect of this is to ensure that we manage and use it as the tool it is, for the benefit of society both now and in the future.

Questions for Critical Thinking

  1. How does the IoT impact your daily life?
  2. What are the gendered implications of the IoT (not the gender equality implications, the gendered perspective implications)?
  3. How are advances in Climate Change impacting the cybersecurity realm, and vice versa?
  4. What are the implications of new technologies in the Climate Change realm?

Gender Component

Gender equality and women’s status is distinctly related to Climate Change. On one hand existing power structures mean that women often bear the brunt of climate change impacts, especially in low-income and agricultural societies, (in the form of droughts, displacement, and even less food to eat).[1] On the other, it has been shown that gender equality improves as their involvement in preventing climate change increases. Additionally, more sustainable methods for reducing climate change are created when women are included in the process.[2] It is important to note that climate change impacts individuals based on a variety of factors - gender being a predominant one.[3] The connection between gender equality and climate change/cyber security & new technologies can be a domino effect. For example, harvesting bitcoin produces emissions on a vast scale, triggering displacement when people leave their agricultural village to find water and more resources. Women who are displaced are disproportionately targeted for sexual abuse/harassment. Alternatively, women work together to find sustainable alternatives for energy emissions due to technology or the impact of cyber.

While the IoT poses risks to women in general with issues such as webcam hacking and their physical security, the IoT also poses new challenges to women’s physical security in situations of domestic abuse and intimate partner violence.[4] For example, while the show ‘Mr. Robot’ focused on how hacking into a smart house would allow outside users to control the people inside, the reality is there are now instances of that exact scenario happening.[5] Many people, specifically women, reported new forms of domestic abuse in a unique way: their ex-partners still had access to remote-controlled home devices such as the thermostat, lights, etc., and they were manipulating them to exert their control and power.[6] The ramifications of this type of remote harassment are extremely negative, especially if they branch into the physical violence realm. The issue with the IoT and harassment is especially problematic as many people don’t truly understand what makes the ‘smart’ devices function, and can’t control them.[7]

It is true that women, especially, gain many benefits in regards to the IoT. Although control of certain devices can seem terrifying, home security in the forms of video cameras or sensor lights are just a couple of examples how the physical security of women can be increased due to the IoT.[8] Additionally, although there is still a gender equality gap in the IoT, more women are beginning to work on coding specific programs that relate to the IoT. In fact, many women are joining the growing industry surrounding the IoT. Unfortunately, while now more women are entering this specific area for work, and there are many efforts in place to stop domestic abuse or harassment through the IoT, one wonders if more women had been working on the coding and technology in the first place, or if a gendered and feminist perspective had been applied at the beginning of these developments and advances, whether there would be more secure devices, less ability to harass, and more peace of mind when using IoT devices.


Artificial Intelligence: "A branch of computer science dealing with the simulation of intelligent behavior in computers per the capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behavior"

Biometric Data: "Biometrics are unique physical characteristics, such as fingerprints, that can be used for automated recognition."

Blockchain: " a digital database containing information (such as records of financial transactions) that can be simultaneously used and shared within a large decentralized, publicly accessible network"

Data Centers: "a data center is a physical facility that organizations use to house their critical applications and data."

Digital Footprint: "one's unique set of digital activities, actions, and communications that leave a data trace on the internet or on a computer or other digital device and can identify the particular user or device"

Internet of things: The internet of things refers to anything connected to the internet. Many devices connected to the internet communicate with each other and collect data.

Misinformation: Wrong or misleading information

Renewable Energy: "Renewable energy is energy from sources that are naturally replenishing but flow-limited; renewable resources are virtually inexhaustible in duration but limited in the amount of energy that is available per unit of time."

Supercomputers: "Supercomputer, any of a class of extremely powerful computers. The term is commonly applied to the fastest high-performance systems available at any given time."

Unit 8: Looking Forward

Questions for Critical Thinking

  • How can technology and cyber-capabilities address/mitigate accessibility issues?
    • What are the shortcomings of technology and cyber-capabilities in terms of accessibility?
    • How can/can’t internet activism/online etiquette address these issues?
  • How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the progression of accessibility issues in the workforce?
    • In healthcare?
    • In terms of personal privacy?
  • How is cybertechnology changing education?
    • Accessibility issues? More or less accessible? Consider the technological access gap.


Meet the Decoding Cybersecurity and Technology Team!

Maeve Murphy

Maeve Murphy is the creative director of the WIIS Cybersecurity & Technology project. Maeve oversees the creative direction of the project, manages content, and is the primary contributor to the main project initiatives such as the Study Guide, WIIS Blog submissions, and content curation. Maeve brings her background in international affairs, intersectionality, gender inclusivity in peace processes, warfare, and identity and peace processes to the project. Her inspiration for this project came in March 2020 when the WIIS office went completely online due to the COVID-19 pandemic and began to focus on virtual security measures for the office. In light of the ‘new normal’ Maeve recognized the need for a broader understanding of the cybersecurity realm, and, using her skills and expertise, is focused on bringing an intersectional approach to this field.

Kayla McGill

Kayla is the policy mind behind the WIIS Cybersecurity and Technology project. Kayla contributes her background in gender analysis, data gathering, and understanding of a feminist analysis of international security issues to the project. She also contributes her experience working with and consulting various US government agencies and international organizations on the topics of gender, terrorism, culture and warfare, and on data collection, retention, and use. Using her expertise in research, data analysis and policy writing, Kayla is contributing to the Cybersecurity Study Guide, as well as contributing to the forthcoming Cybersecurity & Technology PolicyBrief.

Roksana Verahrami

Roksana is the research powerhouse that drives the WIIS Cybersecurity and Technology project. She is the primary contributor to the Cybersecurity Study Guide index and resource page. Her organizational prowess and thoroughness have supported the project and the team. Roksana has also continued to provide excellent technical support in helping to build the Decoding Cybersecurity and Technology web platform. In addition to her key role as the team leader for communications, Roksana brings her background in research, international affairs, peacebuilding, and knowledge of personal data security to the project.