The HRO Cloud: Least Authority Launches Secure Cloud Storage for Human Rights Organizations

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Least Authority is launching the HRO Cloud to offer a secure file storage system to human rights organizations that cannot or do not want to host and maintain their own storage servers.

Digital files—such as photographs, recordings, written accounts, planning documents, and databases—are invaluable resources to the work of human rights defenders. Yet if these same files fall into the hands of adversaries, human rights defenders as well as the very people they are striving to protect become vulnerable to even higher risks of physical danger, threats, shut-downs, and more.

Least Authority is committed to the development of usable technology solutions to advance digital security and preserve privacy. As such, we participate in Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) and digital human rights spaces to support development of secure tools that are more usable.

As a result of Least Authority’s research and development in an earlier project, we heard human rights organizations (HROs) express a need to have a secure and free option for storing sensitive files—but also that they sometimes lack the capacity to host and maintain such a system themselves. We have taken action to respond to this need by launching the HRO Cloud.

Least Authority has designed the HRO Cloud to offer a secure file storage option to human rights defenders. The HRO Cloud is built on Tahoe-LAFS, an open-source, decentralized cloud storage system which distributes data across multiple servers. Using Tahoe-LAFS for this service means that even if some of the servers fail or are taken over by an attacker, the entire file store continues to function correctly, preserving users’ privacy and security. Users’ data is encrypted before it leaves their device. This means that users are in control of the keys to their files and only they can access their own data.

We are focusing on responding to the file-storage needs of groups who are defending human rights because the stakes are high for them and their work is vulnerable to surveillance and sabotage. By building tools that prioritize use cases that protect vulnerable and marginalized groups, we are normalizing privacy features and building tools that are more secure for everyone.

The Bigger Picture

The HRO Cloud is part of a larger project, “Building the BASE (Bridge, Adapt, Secure, Empower) for Secure Communications on Mobile Devices.” In addition to providing cloud storage, we are developing and testing two privacy-respecting Android mobile apps: Tahoe-LAFS for file storage and Magic Wormhole for secure file transfer, as well as developing a desktop application for Magic Wormhole. We also plan to integrate these tools with other tools used by human rights organizations.

During the implementation of Building the BASE—which runs through the end of September 2022—we will interact with the groups utilizing the HRO cloud through voluntary feedback loops, including user support. As users contact the helpdesk with questions, they will be providing us with information to refine use cases, improve features and further inform tool development for this project.

How to Join this Project

If you are a human rights defender (including organizations, activists, and journalists) and you could benefit from secure storage at no cost, please get in touch with us via email at: hrocloud@leastauthority.com. For the purposes of this project for which some communication with the users of the HRO Cloud is necessary, we will ask users for a way to contact at least one person from each group/organization, namely an email address or Signal number. An additional requirement for participation is that your work is focused on one or more of the following regions: Latin America, Africa, Asia, the Middle East, or Eastern Europe.

Questions? Feedback? Ideas?

Send your inquiries about our cloud storage for human rights defenders and organizations to: hrocloud@leastauthority.com

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