Ukraine, Trafficking Survivors, and Cybersecurity
Trafficking survivors often excel at the mindset needed for cybersecurity.
Posted February 28, 2022 | Reviewed by Hara Estroff Marano
- The US faces increased cybersecurity threats because of the recent sanctions against Russia.
- Trafficking survivors often have a mindset and tenacity that make them excel at cybersecurity.
- Constant awareness of how others can harm you becomes an asset useful for cybersecurity.
Survivors of human trafficking can be surprisingly well-suited for combatting cybersecurity attacks such as those happening right now in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It may sound counterintuitive, but the life experiences of trafficking survivors can make them particularly adept at this kind of work.
According to Vanessa Russell, head of the anti-trafficking organization Love Never Fails, there are reasons why survivors do exceptionally well in cybersecurity. Her experience in rehabilitating trafficking survivors has shown her that they have a different mindset from most people.
“Many people have a first-world mentality,” says Russell. “They can be upset over something something like the coffeemaker not working. They haven’t needed the same level of tenacity and resiliency as have those who have survived trafficking.”
Russell cites as the case of a young woman who lived near “the blade," slang for an area of town known for prostitution. The woman knew that she was in constant danger. Every day she had to be hypervigilant to thread her way through the various dangers she confronted.
As Russell points out, “That kind of mindset works well for cybersecurity. You must be constantly thinking through scenarios of how to protect against people who can harm you.”
That mindset means trafficking survivors are good at developing security measures to anticipate what cyberattackers may try. “Also, when something does happen,” explains Russell, “they don’t fall apart. They are resilient and brilliant.”
Further, she notes, “They’ve experienced ongoing chaos in their lives, and they can deal with it. They are ready to spring into action and are apt to have a toughness that someone who’s upset about the coffeemaker not working may find hard to handle.”
Love Never Fails Us has so far trained 200 trafficking survivors for work in cybersecurity. Many of them are working right now to help combat cybersecurity threats to the United States.
Attacks Happening Right Now
These threats are real and ongoing. According to an advisory this week from the U.S. Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), “Every organization—large and small—must be prepared to respond to disruptive cyber activity.”
A former Cisco Systems IT professional, Russell has close and continuing contacts with the cybersecurity community. The CISA advisory warns of potential destabilizing actions, but Russell is aware that attacks are in fact occurring right now.
In her experience, as of Saturday, February 26, the attacks are usually disguised as ransomware. But in fact they are more sinister—aimed at destroying bank records or making hospital records disappear.
The attacks, she says, are aimed at disruption but not destruction. A successful cyberattack on a bank or a hospital could crease enormous amounts of havoc but not destructive on the scale of taking down power stations or causing dams to fail.
Taking down a power station or dam would be an act of war. Russell and her cybersecurity colleagues view destruction as an unlikely objective of the current attacks.
The 200 cybersecurity professionals trained by Love Never Fails are committed to the fight for all nations and people to be safe. Russell is proud that some of her graduates are working long hours to protect critical infrastructure, including banks, first responders, and hospitals. Her biggest wish is for the resources to train still more trafficking survivors in cybersecurity.