Online Security in MENA
Fig. 1. Courtesy of Patrick Chappatte/International Herald Tribune.

The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University published a report titled "Online Security in the Middle East and North Africa: A Survey of Perceptions, Knowledge, and Practice" written by Robert Faris, Hal Roberts, Rebekah Heacock, Ethan Zuckerman and Urs Gasser. The report presents results of survey of almost 100 bloggers in the MENA region carried out in May 2011 with the aim to analyze bloggers' perception of online risk.

Digital communication has become a more perilous activity, particularly for activists, political dissidents, and independent media. The recent surge in digital activism that has helped to shape the Arab spring has been met with stiff resistance by governments in the region intent on reducing the impact of digital organizing and independent media. No longer content with Internet filtering, many governments in the Middle East and around the world are using a variety of technological and offline strategies to go after online media and digital activists.

In this report we describe the results of a survey of 98 bloggers in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) carried out in May 2011 in order to study bloggers’ perceptions of online risk and the actions they take to address digital communications security, including both Internet and cell phone use. The survey was implemented in the wake of the Arab spring and documents a proliferation of online security problems among the respondents. In the survey, we address the respondents’ perceptions of online risk, their knowledge of digital security practices, and their reported online security practices. The survey results indicate that there is much room for improving online security practices, even among this sample of respondents who are likely to have relatively high technical knowledge and experience.

Key findings of the report:

• The survey respondents, primarily bloggers residing in the Middle East and North Africa, experienced a remarkably high incidence of security incidents related to their online activity over the past year, including cyber attacks, personal threats, arrest, and detention.
• Survey respondents reported a wide range of methods employed to mitigate the risks of online activity, including self-censorship, obscuring their identities, and writing in ambiguous language.
• Design and ease of use, rather than security-related features, are reported to be the most important considerations in choosing online platforms.
• Even within this set of at-risk bloggers, only a small number reported that they understand or implement best practices related to online security.

Robert Faris is the Research Director of the Berkman Center. Hal Roberts is a fellow at the Berkman Center. Rebekah Heacock is a staff member at the Berkman Center and a volunteer author for Global Voices Online. Ethan Zuckerman is a senior researcher at the Berkman Center and the co-founder of Global Voices Online. Urs Gasser is the Executive Director of the Berkman Center.

The full report is available for download in PDF here.