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COVID Blog #1: How tech is bringing communities together in a time of social distancing

In a few short months, COVID-19 has caused widespread anxiety around the world. Yet in this time of uncertainty, the impact of community and collective action is undeniable.

Technology has a critical role to play during times of crisis. That is particularly true in this situation of a global pandemic with highly restricted mobility. Here are just some of the platforms and resources that have been created to support communities through the power of tech. If you’re looking to set up your community of support during this challenging time, check out these and other mutual aid resources:

  • The Coronavirus Handbook: Started by a tech nonprofit in the UK, this ever evolving resource brings technologists, civic organizations, public and private institutions, researchers and specialists from around the world together to collaborate on a response to the coronavirus outbreak and its subsequent impacts. While providing a space to work on proactive solutions, the handbook also provides essential personal tips for self care and remote working.
  • Catchafire: On a self-proclaimed mission to “mobilize the world’s talent for good”, Catchafire’s volunteer platform connects professionals looking to donate their skills with organizations in need of their talents. They’ve taken measures to give special assistance to work relating directly to COVID-19 and have short-term projects and a virtual volunteer pool in the areas of website management, operations, marketing and HR support.
  • Started by a few software developers in California, Help with COVID is an online marketplace where people can recruit volunteers for projects that are supporting the community through COVID-19, and volunteers can find projects to contribute their skills towards. The listed projects are especially in need of volunteers in software development, bio, medicine, manufacturing, and grant writing.
  • Here in Vancouver, a site has been set up to support mutual aid efforts in the wake of COVID-19. The website is filled with people offering their services – from running errands and picking up groceries, offering dog walking services, or simply offering to be there for someone on the phone and lend a friendly ear, it serves as a beautiful example of how communities come together in a time of need.
  • COVID-19 Coming Together (Facebook Group): Another Vancouver based group, this community on Facebook was created for members in the Greater Vancouver to come together and support each other during this critical time. With over 26,000 members, there are heartfelt stories of support, creativity and encouragement for those who need it most. One offers their sewing skills and calls for fabric to create face masks that will be donated, another calls for someone to help run errands for her father who is in self-isolation. People can also donate to their fundraising page where all proceeds go to Vancouver individuals and families’ basic needs such as rent and groceries.
  • NeedsList: The online platform NeedsList matches needs and offers within communities in real time, and tracks the value of all in-kind supply needs and offers coming through the community. This is a great way to figure out what you can give based on specific needs.

Have you come across other initiatives we should know about? Let us know in the comments.

We at PeaceGeeks hope that you are also able to find time for self-care during this difficult time. Stay safe and healthy — we’re in this together.

Mar 24, 2020
Category: Technology

How to Protect Against Meltdown and Spectre - Kris Constable

The short, but intense solution for Meltdown and Spectre from CERT is to upgrade your CPU. (update: As you can see by this URL, they have a more detailed solution now)

Your operating system provider will be sending out a patch shortly. Install it as soon as you can.

Download the latest firefox as they’ve started patching version 57. or if you’re using a Chrome based browser like Iridium or Chromium, type this in your URL: chrome://flags/#enable-site-per-process and click “enable” on “Strict site isolation.” Also, in your browser, make sure you’re using Adblock Plus or Ublock Origin, and EFF’s Privacy Badger. The important thing to remember with these plugins, is you should not allow JavaScript on any untrusted website. Say for example Facebook and Google/Gmail (I don’t endorse either, and both have alternatives that are more privacy friendly if you click the links) but you should never allow JavaScript from a random website like this one, or your local news outlet. People can do malicious things with your computer such as getting your passwords, if you have JavaScript (or Flash, heaven forbid you still have it) enabled.

Finally, make sure you have antivirus software installed and running (even if you’re running a mac/osx!) and follow these instructions from your vendor.

If you’re an employer, especially one of our small/medium business clients whom can’t automate this, please send this out to all of your staff and contractors, and ask them to send you an email when they’ve completed this process. Keep a spreadsheet until everyone has done this.

Jan 5, 2018
Category: Technology

Vancouver’s Tech Sector Introduced to Pool of Skilled Immigrants at Networking Event

On July 18, PeaceGeeks co-hosted its first ever tech sector networking event at Unbounce for immigrants new to Vancouver in collaboration with the City of Vancouver (the Vancouver Immigrant Partnership), and the Immigrant Employment Council of BC. The event was aimed at introducing leaders in the tech industry to the pool of skilled immigrant workers in the city, and to connect international professionals with opportunities in Vancouver’s thriving tech world.


There is a growing need for networking events like this, given the struggles for employment faced by immigrant workers in our country, as well as the shifting needs of a diverse Canadian economy. By 2019, it is estimated that Canada will need to fill more than 180,000 positions in the information and communication technology sector alone­, and there simply are not enough Canadian-born workers with the right skillset to meet industry demand. Maintaining BC’s tech sector will be crucially important in maintaining a thriving provincial economy, as the industry generates over 23 billion dollars annually, and contributes 15 billion dollars in GDP.


This is at odds with the fact that it often takes between six months to a year for foreign workers to obtain a visa to work in Canada, which has the adverse effect of discouraging foreign talent from seeking employment in the country. As stated by a recent report in the Globe and Mail, the amount of time workers need to wait in order to obtain a visa is not in line with international competition for foreign talent, which means that Canada is losing the skilled immigrants it needs to countries with shorter wait times.


To compound the need for new immigrants to join the Canadian workforce, is the fact that new immigrants in Canada are faced with multiple barriers to locating employment in their chosen fields. For instance, the unemployment rate for recent immigrants in BC is double that for the rest of the population. This does not bode well for the Canadian economy. In fact, it is estimated that by the close of the decade, over one million jobs will open up in BC, and around a quarter of these jobs will need to be filled by those born outside Canada. For Natalie Comninos-Buisansky, a skilled immigrant who attended the event, securing employment is closely tied to access to a professional network. She knows that in today’s world, “relationships are the catalyst for success. One’s net worth is only as good as your network. This event offers the prospect of connecting with new people, sharing knowledge and referrals and the opportunity to raise your profile, and above all, build community.”


Among tech companies in attendance were industry leaders such as Electronic Arts (EA), Appnovation, AxiomZen, Hootsuite, Slack, Unbounce, and UrTheCast. The event was met with positive reviews from attendees, and was the beginning of an emerging effort on the part of the City of Vancouver to help integrate new citizens into the workforce and to improve the way immigrants settle in the city. Over the coming year, the Vancouver Immigration Partnership plans to partner with other sectors to create more networking events like this one, and PeaceGeeks looks forward to seeing more events of this kind in the city.

Aug 9, 2016
Category: Technology

GIS and International Emergency Response

There's a growing trend of digital volunteerism using geographical information systems (GIS) that are emerging during times of crisis. When disaster strikes, emergency responders and aid organizations on the ground can be left without any information. This can also includes knowledge of infrastructure needed to effectively respond to the disaster. Digital volunteers, however, have the information, technologies and technical skills to assess the status of an emergency remotely.

Digital responders are tasked with the acquisition, verification, summarization and geolocation of data including: the categorization of social media posts and photos to indicate which areas and individuals have been affected; the location of emergency shelters and health facilities to direct those in need; and even the mapping of basic road network infrastructure to assist aid workers in accessing affected areas. GIS technologies such as Esri's Web mapping technologies play an invaluable role in reacting to these emergencies around the world.

Jul 20, 2015
Category: Technology

Tips For Staying Safe Online

 By Tiago Palma & Derek MacDonald

In the current age of technology and globalization, those who dedicate their lives to promote human rights, international development, and social justice have increasingly become more dependent on digital communications. The “open-nature” of the internet has allowed for the free-flow of information that has left many vulnerable to malicious intrusions from hackers from all over the world. Given the recent outburst of hacks, now would be a good time to rethink their own ability to keep their work safe from security breaches. As such, digital humanitarians and digital peacebuilders – as well as anyone who uses the internet for their work – need to ensure their work is safe from potential security risks.

In early June, PeaceGeek friend Derek MacDonald from Scale Free Systems gave an Information Security presentation at the HiVE Vancouver for anyone who was interested in learning more about how to protect themselves against digital hacks. Here is a summary of his tips for anyone interested in taking extra steps to protect themselves.


A strong password is by far one of the most effective ways to protect your computer and any important data you might have stored in one of your “cloud” accounts. The key to have a strong password lies with making it have lots of entropy. This can be accomplished by coming up either with very long passwords or vary random patterns of words. The best way to do this is to combine a random memorized string followed by a long password. This string adds more security as a prefix or as a mid-fix. Random suffixes, as well as number and punctuation suffixes tend to be more common and, therefore, are not that useful.

On average, everyone should have 3 or 4 different memorized passwords: one phone unlock code (or pattern); one password for a primary email account (just in case); one password for online banking for one bank account and one “master password” that is used with a password manager.

Also consider using two factor authentication for important accounts like banking, your google account and your password manager. However, make sure you can recover your credentials if you lose a device you are using for two factor authentication. Having only one device that can authenticate one’s true identity can be a risky decision.

Password Managers

One of the most common mistakes most people make is to use a single “master password” in all of their personal web platforms. It is understable why this is so common. People in general tend to be quite forgetful and remembering several passwords can be quite difficult. But using a “1234” or one’s birthdate as a cross-platform password can have disastrous consequences.

One easy way to deal with this far-too-common absentmindedness is to use a password manager app. LastPass, for instance, is a good example of an app that is free for personal use, is incredibly user-friendly and is supported by smartphones. LastPass keeps information on a user but encrypts locally, using a master password. Keepass is another good open source app that encrypts passwords locally. Unfortunately for Mac users, however, KeePass’ functioning Mac version is still in testing.

The biggest shortcoming of password manager apps is that users MUST NOT forget their master password! It is highly recommended to save a physical copy of that password somewhere safe, such as a safety deposit box, and not to have it perpetually saved on a computer.

For more information and other resources visit:

Laptop Security

Laptops are common and easy theft targets, so consider having a physical laptop lock for your desk. Most laptops use the “noble lock” standard. Some laptops, mainly recent Macs, do not have built in lock support.

Your laptop password is very important as it is also effectively an encryption key if you are encrypting your laptop (and you should). Therefore a laptop password needs to be reasonably strong.

You should also set up your laptop to lock the screen after a fairly short idle time, 15 minutes being a reasonable guideline.

Although biometric technology (i.e the use of fingerprints to authenticate one’s true identity) has also been used to provide an extra layer of security, it has not been as effective or popular as initially anticipated. As a result, many companies have dropped their commitment to this technology.

Local Encryption

Both Apple OS X and Microsoft Windows usually have built-in local encryption apps. BitLocker, for instance, is typically available to anyone who has a device that runs Windows Vista or Windows 7 Ultimate, Windows Vista or Windows 7 Enterprise, Windows 8.1 Pro or Windows 8.1 Enterprise. For more information on BitLocker, please visit

On the other end of the spectrum, Mac FileVault is typically built-in on most Mac devices, and is quite easy to manage from the computer’s System Preferences. For more on FileVault, visit

Viruses, Worms, etc

There is an infinite number of viruses, worms, bugs, trojans, etc out there that only exist to damage software and operating systems. The main types of these malicious “things” include Viruses, Malware, Spyware, and Ransomware, and these can be typically found in malicious websites, untrusted browser extensions, optional installs with freeware, downloading fake versions of software (especially those that are open-sourced and free of anti-virus and other security softwares), and even email attachments. Outlook and Windows are usually deemed vulnerable to such attacks, and so they are usually the most targeted programs. But that does not mean that whoever does not use them will be free from getting a virus.


Firewalls are one of the best ways to keep a computer safe from such attacks, and so they should be kept ON as much as possible, even if they do indeed cause computers to slow down substantially. Once again, thankfully, both Windows and OS X have built-in firewalls and one is not required to buy one. On Windows, the Firewall can be turned on by accessing the Control Panel, and by searching for Windows Firewall. And on a Mac, by simply accessing the System Preference and searching for ‘firewall’. However, if you’re not satisfied with the built-in options, there are tons of other options out there. Simply google ‘firewall’ and I’m sure plenty of options will pop up.


Electronic devices running Windows operating systems normally have built-in anti-viruses that are actually quite good. Windows 7 users will have access to Microsoft Security Essentials, while Windows 8 users can use Windows Defender. Again, if built-in apps are deemed to be not-as-effective, there are plenty of multiplatform 3rd party apps that are available for download online (both free and paid). According to Tom’s Guide, examples such Avast, Bitdefender, Norton, Malwarebytes, Kapersky, Avira and Sophos are amongst the best anti-viruses available in the market. Of all these, Avast and Sophos are arguably the best for Mac users, while Windows users should consider acquiring either Kapersky for anti-virus and Malwarebytes for Malware detection.


Mac users can use built-in app Time Machine for onsite backup of their data on OS X, while 3rd party apps such as BlackBlaze, which is a great remote backup solution, is good for all operating systems.

Global Exploits

Global Exploits typically affect servers more than users, and as such, information about them can be extremely useful for organizations that place emphasis on hosting, for instance. Heartbleed is by far the most known example of a Global Exploit. Heartbleed is a security bug that was discovered in 2014 that affects several major websites that contain personal information (i.e. banking and credit data) such as Google, Yahoo!, Dropbox, and others. This bug allows the hacker to access usernames and passwords, amongst other types of sensitive data, by exploiting the “heartbeat” functionality of OpenSSL. Being affected by Heartbeat may be, unfortunately, inevitable. In order to avoid future complications, one should read reliable sources, such as the LastPass blog and a few others to find what to do. The worst thing one can do, however, is to just login everywhere and change all passwords BEFORE having the breach fixed, as this might actually facilitate the cybercriminal’s ability to hack a computer, rather than diminish it. More information can be found in several websites and blogs.

Information Security Blogs

Feel like you want to learn more about how to keep your computer safe? If so, feel free to visit one of these websites or the

Jul 20, 2015
Category: Technology

Digitally Monitoring Nigeria's Elections

During March and April of 2015, PeaceGeeks activated our Emergency Response Team to assist with providing digital monitoring support towards ensuring transparency and legitimacy in the crucial Presidential, National House of Assembly, Governor, and State Assembly elections. Nigeria's elections were originally scheduled for Feb 14, but were postponed to enable a multinational military response to Boko Haram which has terrorized northern Nigeria and increasingly bordering communities for the last six years.

During the Presidential and National House of Assembly Elections which took place March 28, Muhammadu Buhari was elected, resulting in an unprecedented case of the opposition defeating the ruling party through democratic elections in Nigeria. This election has set an example for other rising democracies in which the people are able to play a more active role in both choosing government officials and contributing to the political decisions that will be made in the country. Digital elections monitoring provides a platform to ensure that the elections are as democratic and safe as possible and contributes to establishing a stable, accountable, and democratic government.
This project was launched by a Nigerians non-profit organization, Connected Development (CODE). CODE is committed to empowering communities to stand up for democracy in their nation, independent of government influence, in order to impartially assess the status and progress of their country toward a safer and more peaceful nation.

The PeaceGeeks Team supported CODE’s efforts with Uzabe, an on-the-ground and online initiative to observe and report on elections at polling stations and in communities across Nigeria. The Uzabe platform was created to report on election day proceedings to establish an early warning system for vulnerable communities and to respond to any emergency response needs. This initiative had two key components:

1. Organizing and coordinating on-the-ground monitors and online media monitors who collect and submit information to a central database
2. Categorizing, geolocating and verifying messages received from monitors, which the appear on the Uzabe map

During the Presidential elections, the team received nearly 500 reports from on-the-ground and media monitors and has created over 320 reports from these messages. During this activation, PeaceGeeks volunteers contributed remotely along with dozens of other around the world from other organizations.

The PeaceGeeks team reactivated on April 11-12 to support State Governors and State House of Assembly elections in Nigeria and geolocated over 300 reports. The second activation took place during the Random Hacks of Kindness for Peace (RHoK4Peace) Hackathon in Vancouver, BC. In addition to the international team, the PeaceGeeks Emergency Response Team had an opportunity to work on the project together in person, which provided an additional level of support, enthusiasm and motivation through the long work hours.

The team would like to express its thanks to the many volunteers who contributed to not only this elections monitoring activation, but to the increasingly popular trend toward digital elections monitoring worldwide in order to make governments and democratic elections more safe, accountable, and well informed. The results of the team's hard work can be seen here.

‪To learn more about the PeaceGeeks Emergency Response Team or join our efforts on similar projects in the future, take a look at our web page.

By Shannon Cox

Apr 17, 2015
Category: Technology

PeaceGeeks Launches the Amani Platform

Thanks to support from the Berghof Foundation, PeaceGeeks is excited to announce the launch of Amani 1.0, a tool that will allow us to rapidly launch sites for our partner organizations. With Amani our partners will be able to share their stories, collect data and map critical issues affecting their communities in real time. The open-source, scalable platform has a user-friendly interface that includes crisis mapping and content management capabilities. It has the ability to easily create sites with multiple languages that work on computers, tablets and smart phones. If you are interested in how Amani can help your organization please contact


Jul 7, 2014
Category: Technology
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