Authentic8 collaborated with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to elevate awareness of the cyber threats that high-risk communities experience and resources available to mitigate them.

Every day, millions of people explore the vast expanses of social media, engage with news, create content and consume information. While the lurking cyber threats of malware infections and data trackers are familiar to many as abstract risks, the reality for those performing humanitarian work or opposition against authoritarian regimes is starkly different. These "high-risk" communities — non-governmental organizations, journalists and academics — face digital risks that are existential threats to their missions. 

Through the Joint Cyber Defense Collaborative (JCDC), we collaborated with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) on JCDC’s High-Risk Communities Protection effort to elevate awareness of the cyber threats that high-risk communities experience and resources available to mitigate them. Today, CISA launched a webpage with cybersecurity resources for high-risk communities, which features Authentic8’s new Silo Shield Program to bolster the digital defenses of these communities.  

As a contributor to this effort, we highlight here in more detail how managed attribution can serve as a crucial layer of protection for these communities that depend on web-based research for their livelihood.

Threats to high-risk communities

Nearly all cyber incidents can be traced back to two primary sources: business email compromise and malware delivered via web browsing, or a sinister blend of both. These tactics, while commonly employed by cybercriminals driven by profit, are also the tools of choice for advanced nation-state adversaries. 

These bad actors have seemingly unlimited resources and do not seek financial gain; rather, they aim to disrupt, intimidate and silence. Upon gaining a foothold through initial web-based or phishing compromises, they can pilfer sensitive information, derail an organization's mission, and compromise the safety of both the organization and its personnel. 

This risk is particularly acute for high-risk communities — including journalists who uncover inconvenient truths, humanitarian workers providing lifelines in crisis zones, academics challenging oppressive narratives and more. For these groups, the consequences of targeted attacks are not just disruptive; they can be catastrophic. Often operating with limited resources to prevent, detect and respond to these threats, these groups find themselves on the frontline of a cyber battleground, where the stakes are their very missions and safety.  Put simply, high-risk communities are especially vulnerable and specifically targeted by well-resourced adversaries who seek to do them harm.

The risks of open-source collection

Conducting online research, investigations and open-source intelligence collection requires accessing resources that adversaries may control or observe. These activities also leave behind digital fingerprints, such as an IP address, that an adversary could use to identify and target an organization, putting critical missions in jeopardy. 

High risk communities face a trifecta of attributes that place them at heightened risk:  

1) they typically have less security resources than those in government or commercial sectors,

2) web-based communications and research are core components of their day-to-day work, requiring access to untrusted and potentially malicious websites, and

3) advanced persistent threat (APT) adversaries specifically target high-risk communities and seek to disrupt or harm their work due to ideological or political differences.

How managed attribution serves as a protective shield

In an era where the digital footprint of high-risk communities is scrutinized and exploited by sophisticated adversaries, managed attribution emerges as a critical shield in their cybersecurity arsenal. This advanced strategy does more than merely protect; it empowers these individuals to navigate the internet with both confidence and stealth. By isolating web traffic from the user's endpoint, managed attribution effectively neutralizes the threat of malware, severing the link that would otherwise allow malicious actors to compromise sensitive information or disrupt operations. Equally important is its capacity to provide obfuscated internet access, enabling users to browse the web from a user-selected region. This not only allows them to blend seamlessly with local traffic—evading the watchful eyes of nation-state adversaries—but also to sidestep geographic-based restrictions that may hinder access to critical information or platforms.

Authentic8 has a long history of supporting high-risk communities with the Silo for Research platform, protecting civil society groups as they pursue their mission-critical work in hostile areas of the web — and world.

Journalists and Investigators 

Journalists and investigators are increasingly targeted by authoritarian regimes with sophisticated spear phishing attacks and other web-based threats. A compromise can place confidential sources at risk, give authoritarian regimes an opportunity to interfere with communications or publication, and undermine trust in the journalist’s organization. Understanding the nature of the threat is critical to combating future attacks. Using Silo for Research, media outlets can open untrusted web content without worry, and security staffs are able to safely examine potentially malicious links or downloads targeting their journalists. Threat analysts can rapidly visit the suspicious links or websites in an isolated browser session, preventing any malicious code from reaching their network.

Many civil society organizations work to gather evidence of human rights violations, war crimes and extremist activities. With limited resources and a global mission focused on dangerous regions where physical access is not possible, the internet becomes the primary collection medium. The explosion of social media access, publicly available satellite imagery and other resources, means organizations can collect, analyze and validate data from around the world without a physical presence. However, the online environment presents its own challenges — from restrictive governments seeking to control information about events through disinformation campaigns, to targeting investigators to uncover their identities. Authentic8 supports a number of organizations dedicated to uncovering human rights violations who must be vigilant about protecting and preserving their digital investigations. Our users can access malicious or objectionable content without having to set up separate network infrastructure or purchase additional computers to use for investigations.


Academics often delve into sensitive topics, exploring controversial or politically charged questions, and uncovering truths that can challenge established norms and power structures. As part of this work, they frequently must visit both trusted and untrusted websites to support their work, providing opportunity for threat actors. The very nature of their inquiries can make academics targets for Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs) who seek to monitor, influence, or outright steal research to support national objectives. In cases where scholarly work intersects with national security, economic interests, or political stability, nation-states may aim to gain early access to findings, manipulate academic discourse, or suppress research that could negatively impact their global standing or domestic control. 

The targeting of academics is a direct assault on the principles of academic freedom and the open exchange of ideas. By compromising academics’ online research activities, these actors not only threaten individual careers and institutions but also undermine the integrity of the academic enterprise as a whole. 

By protecting web-based communications and obfuscating web traffic, a managed attribution solution like Silo for Research can serve as a critical layer to protect academia and the foundational values of inquiry, dialogue, and education.

International aid vetting

In the midst of global crises, international aid groups provide a lifeline to populations in dire circumstances. Unfortunately, bad actors often take advantage of these crises to enrich themselves or exacerbate chaos and disaster. When operating without government support, international aid groups are left to their own devices to determine whether organizations in the affected regions are legitimate entities or covers for those with bad intentions. For groups that supply aid to conflict areas, Silo for Research is a critical tool when investigating potential aid recipients without tipping off the target. From visiting websites to conducting social media checks, obfuscating their location and identity is key to ensuring that aid and support reaches those who need it most.

Protecting Vulnerable Communities

Authentic8 recognizes the critical importance of safeguarding online activities, especially for those who find themselves in the crosshairs of such sophisticated and malicious actors. While we have supported high-risk communities and other non-profit organizations for years, our recent work with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) through the Joint Cyber Defense Collaborative (JCDC) prompted us to formalize and expand access to our platform for these groups.

Our recently unveiled Silo Shield Program enables high-risk communities to apply for access to our Silo for Research platform:

  • Journalists focusing on topics like security, transparency and global affairs who perform online research and may be targeted by adversaries as a part of their work.
  • Activists and non-profit groups are eligible for Silo Shield as they work to safeguard human rights, prevent abuse and effect justice, and leverage on online research to uncover and document abuses, legal violations and advocacy opportunities.
  • Academics in fields like security, political science, sociology and environmental studies, whose research on global issues demands access to information across geographical boundaries — often in restrictive environments — are eligible.
  • Humanitarian aid organizations, including those focusing on direct support, anti-corruption efforts and digital freedom are eligible for Silo Shield, as their efforts to compile evidence, vet suppliers and aid recipients, and communicate safely online are critical to their missions.

Our commitment to these high-risk groups is more than just a promise; it's a mission to arm them with the tools they need to conduct their vital work securely and confidently. We aim to fortify the digital defenses of these communities, ensuring their ability to access global online resources without fear of adversary surveillance or compromise.

Eligible organizations can apply for consideration in this program via the Silo Shield site.  Additional resources for high-risk communities are also listed on CISA’s resource website.

Collaboration for enhanced security

When CISA engaged us through JCDC, we were honored to share our expertise on the threats researchers and investigators in high-risk communities face.  As a private sector partner providing secure and unique research capabilities, we were excited to be a part of this effort and to collaborate with other partners in the report that will be released in the coming weeks.

Collaborating with JCDC, we recognize a unique and profound responsibility that extends beyond our corporate boundaries. This public-private partnership is not just an opportunity to enhance national cybersecurity; it's a commitment to protect and support high-risk and vulnerable communities, including human rights groups, journalists and dissidents. These groups are often the targets of sophisticated cyber attacks aimed at silencing their voices and inhibiting their crucial work.

By joining forces, we leverage a powerful platform to extend our cybersecurity expertise and resources to these communities, ensuring they have the robust defenses necessary to continue their important work without fear of digital threats. Our technology provides a secure platform to gather, analyze, and provide actionable information from publicly available data, which is essential for these groups to carry out research, investigations and advocacy without compromising their online security.

Learn more about the Silo Shield program and sign up today.

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