Feb 7, 2024

Cybersecurity Clinic at UC Berkeley Helps Nonprofits Protect Themselves Online

By Charles Kapelke

Like many nonprofits, the Traverse Project, a Houston, Texas-based organization that conducts transnational investigations to identify perpetrators of sex trafficking and child exploitation, has limited resources for digital security. Unfortunately, its volunteers operate almost entirely online and face a constant threat of retribution from the criminals they investigate.

“I’m like a startup CEO,” said Austin Shamlin, the project’s founder and chief executive officer. “I wear about 10 different hats, and we have to have policies in place to ensure that the investigations don’t get corrupted and that my volunteers don’t get identified. I don't really have time to sit down and create those kinds of policies.”

Enter Citizen Clinic, UC Berkeley’s cybersecurity clinic, a semester-long course offered in both fall and spring at the School of Information that’s open to students across campus. Like Berkeley’s clinics in law and medicine, Citizen Clinic gives students hands-on training and experience as they deliver pro bono digital security assistance to nonprofits and other public interest organizations.

Last semester, a team of seven students assisted the Traverse Project, including by helping the organization’s volunteers remain anonymous to protect themselves and their families from sex traffickers, who in some cases are powerful and well-connected criminals.

“The farther we go up the chain of command in tracking a trafficking network, the more we’re likely to get to wealthy people or corrupt governments who have access to intelligence tools or products that they could use to start tracking my analysts,” Shamlin said. “These folks are very powerful in a lot of countries, so it’s important for our volunteers to stay very anonymous.

“The Berkeley students are helping us come up with policies and tools that we can use to mitigate some of that risk. They’re taking a huge task off my plate. To have these super-intelligent young professionals come in and provide their assistance to our nonprofit, it’s game-changing.”

Read the rest here. 

Excerpt from “Cybersecurity clinic at UC Berkeley helps nonprofits protect themselves online;” by Berkeley News on February 7, 2024.

photo of a man in a t-shirt
“To have these super-intelligent young professionals come in and provide their assistance to our nonprofit, it’s game-changing,” said Austin Shamlin, founder of Traverse Project, which Citizen Clinic served in fall 2024. (Photo/Traverse Project)


What is a Cybersecurity Clinic?

What is a Cybersecurity Clinic?

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Last updated:

February 15, 2024