Mar 3, 2021

Founder of craigslist Renews Support Expanding Cybersecurity Defense for Nonprofits by UC Berkeley Students

For the second-consecutive year, Craig Newmark Philanthropies has funded Citizen Clinic, a groundbreaking program at the University of California, Berkeley’s Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity (CLTC) at the School of Information. This first-of-its-kind program trains UC Berkeley students to provide digital security assistance to activists, journalists, and advocacy organizations who may be subjected to phishing, spyware, surveillance, trolling, and disinformation campaigns, often at the hands of powerful adversaries.

“2020 and the first part of 2021 have made it clear how important it is for our democracy to have strong defenses against cyberattacks and disinformation.”
— Craig Newmark

Since 2018, Citizen Clinic has trained 70 students across 11 academic departments, ranging from journalism and public policy to law and engineering. While most had no prior cybersecurity training, students provided effective, customized cybersecurity assistance to 10 nonprofit clients on four continents, ranging from women’s reproductive rights organizations to LGBTQ and international indigenous rights groups. More than half of clinic alumni are women and students under-represented in cybersecurity. Many clinic alumni have gone on to assume leadership roles both in industry and nonprofits, contributing first-hand insights to many of the frontline cybersecurity challenges confronting society today.

Newmark’s first grant to Citizen Clinic in 2020 launched two important advances for the pioneering program:

  • The Citizen Clinic Cybersecurity Education Center, an open-source website to help organizations seeking tools and techniques to protect themselves and to inspire and assist universities that want to build their own clinics; and
  • An unprecedented partnership with UC Berkeley’s School of Journalism that equipped journalism students covering risky investigations with cybersecurity safety skills. Student-journalists learned how to protect the integrity of their investigations by building defenses against cyberattacks, by taking steps to avoid illicit surveillance, and by being prepared to counter other threats posed by private or public actors who may seek to conceal wrongdoing by intimidating journalists.

“2020 and the first part of 2021 have made it clear how important it is for our democracy to have strong defenses against cyberattacks and disinformation,” Newmark said. “Bad actors in both areas overlap, and there’s a relationship between hacking systems and hacking minds. Newmark Philanthropies’ grantees work separately and together to promote values like fairness and equality, and I’m glad UC Berkeley’s Citizen Clinic is part of the community shaping solutions for a more secure and just future.”

“Craig’s renewed support will help Citizen Clinic continue to grow,” said Ann Cleaveland, CLTC’s Executive Director. “We’re excited to be recruiting a new Adjunct Professor in Cybersecurity to lead our Public Interest Cybersecurity curriculum over the next three years and, thanks to Craig, we’ll have critical core and communications support to amplify our visibility and impact. Craig’s support will also help us engage with other Newmark grantees and the wider technical assistance community to share best practices and launch innovative collaborations.” 

“Craig’s continued support is an exciting endorsement and helps us continue to contribute to a pipeline of diverse, experienced talent to address critical cybersecurity issues.”
— Ann Cleaveland

Potential partners include the Newmark CUNY School of Journalism as well as other members of the Public Interest Technology University Network (PIT-UN), a consortium of universities and foundations for which UC Berkeley is a founding member, committed to supporting a new generation of civic-minded technologists and leaders who are digitally fluent. 

Citizen Clinic provides digital safety support tailored to the specific missions and context of its partners in civil society, while teaching valuable skills to students who are entering a global workforce with a shortage of cybersecurity expertise. Students who participate in the Citizen Clinic program gain hands-on experience in the important field of public-interest digital security. 

“Our team worked with an Indigenous women’s rights organization that had a history of being hacked and trolled online,” said Jigyasa Sharma, a past Citizen Clinic participant and UC Berkeley Master of Public Policy alumna. “We organized sessions on topics like, what is a VPN? What is a password manager? What are best practices for security? I left inspired, with new friends and a lot of learning.” 

“Craig’s continued support is an exciting endorsement and helps us continue to contribute to a pipeline of diverse, experienced talent to address critical cybersecurity issues,” Cleaveland says.

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What is Citizen Clinic?

The Citizen Clinic at the UC Berkeley School of Information is the world’s first public-interest cybersecurity clinic, helping politically vulnerable organizations defend themselves against online threats.

Similar to clinics in law and medicine, Citizen Clinic trains interdisciplinary teams of students to assist these under-resourced organizations as they fend off online harassment, malware, and other politically motivated online attacks. The student teams assess threats, recommend risk-appropriate mitigations, and work collaboratively with clients to implement new policies and technical controls to address their long-term digital safety.

photo of Craig Newmark
Craig Newmark, Founder, Craig Newmark Philanthropies (Bleacher + Everard)
screenshot of Zoom meeting
Citizen Clinic staff joined UC Berkeley students in a multi-day monitoring project to assess security threats and election disruption in live-time as part of a Human Rights Center Investigation Lab in this photo from November 3, 2020 (CLTC photo)

Last updated:

March 3, 2021