What Is A CryptoParty And Can I Protect My Data?

If you’ve ever browsed the web searching for tips about protecting your data or devices, you may have come across the term ' CryptoParty '. This is a relatively recent phenomenon which now has events taking place all over the world. But what is a CryptoParty and why would you want to attend one? Let’s start with the basics. A CryptoParty is an event which aims to educate and inform about protecting yourself in the digital space. It is usually free to attend and everyone is welcome. The project is essentially a series of workshops on different topics, some led by experts and others by interested or enthusiastic individuals. The workshops look at tools and software you can use to protect your privacy online, to keep your data secure and prevent anyone from tracking your location or activities. They also offer general tips and security advice about protecting yourself online. Fans of the grassroots movement say that because there is a mix of digital savvy experts, ‘geeks’ and complete beginners both attending and running sessions, the spirit of a CryptoParty is open and welcoming. It makes it easier to introduce novices to practical, useful knowledge that they can use in their everyday lives, and approach complex topics that they would never be able to grasp if simply reading about them online. CryptoParty Computer Privacy

The movement doesn’t promise to teach you every single thing you need to know to protect yourself online, but instead aims to break down the barriers to this knowledge. It aims to remove this fear many of us have about ‘complicated’ technical and cryptic things, and get people thinking about how they can educate themselves. CryptoParties are also social events where people from different backgrounds come together to learn from each other.

It started with a tweet…

As a movement, CryptoParty is a grassroots global endeavor which was first conceived back in summer 2012. A privacy advocate in Australia responded to the proposal of a two-year data retention law in the country, similar to what critics have dubbed the government’s proposed ‘snoopers charter’ in the UK. What started as a casual conversation with computer security experts on Twitter soon went viral, with more than a dozen self-organising groups setting up CryptoParties in countries around the world within hours. The decentralised project aims to introduce the basics of practical cryptography, helping people to use encrypted communications and avoid being tracked while using the internet. So far, CryptoParties have taken place in dozens of different countries, with hundreds of events being held in Germany, Australia, Switzerland, the USA, France, Norway and Poland. One of the first events took place in Shoreditch in London, on the Google Campus.

Why has the movement taken off?

There are several reasons why people want to attend CryptoParties, starting with rising concern over governments and security agencies using the law to spy on our communications and store our data. This is usually in the name of national security, but critics are concerned that authorities will take advantage of the laws in order to spy on citizens. You may want to attend an event because of these fears, or simply because you want to feel more private while online. You may be a journalist or a lawyer and worry about confidential information falling into the wrong hands. Some people just want to educate themselves on digital security, just like protecting their own homes or personal property. padlock and computer hard disk drive data security for CryptoParty

What can I expect from a CryptoParty?

As for what this kind of unique event would actually be like to attend, the CryptoParty website offers a glimpse. It starts with a short introduction, then participants head to tables where a different topic is covered at each. They can choose which they’d like to learn more about. These topics may include:

  • PGP – this stands for Pretty Good Privacy, an encryption program which provides privacy and authentication for a user communicating online via email, text or messenger application. It aims to increase the security of email communications.
  • Tor Bundle – this is a web browser which aims to conceal the identity and online activities of the user. It encrypts data and bounces it through a network of volunteers around the world so that its difficult to pinpoint the physical location of the user. Essentially, it prevents your location from being tracked while you browse the web.
  • Disk encryption – this is a technology which turns the information on a particular disk (i.e. on your laptop) into an encrypted unreadable code. This cannot be deciphered easily by unauthorised persons, so it is effective for keeping your data secure.

At each table, there is an introduction to the topic and then the teacher runs through how to install, configure and use the different tools or software. You are invited to bring your own laptop or device and try using the tool yourself. There is also ample opportunity to socialise at CryptoParty events, with the aim being for participants to be highly engaged with topics and enjoying the experience. The party is often held in a public space such as a café or a school, or anywhere with seating, plenty of power cords and plugs, and a fast Internet connection. Many events offer food and drink too.

Where to find your nearest CryptoParty

The first place to look for a full list of events is the very informative CryptoParty website, which lists parties taking place in cities around the world. Many UK events took place in December, with 2017 dates yet to be announced. However, if you plan to take a trip to Europe any time over the next few months, you can coincide your visit with CryptoParties in:

  • Hamburg, Germany – 27th, 28th, 29th and 30th December 2016
  • Berlin, Germany – 4th, 5th and 6th January 2017
  • Rennes, France – 14th January 2017
  • Trondheim, Norway – 19th January 2017
  • Zurich, Switzerland – 25th January 2017

Even better, why not organise your own CryptoParty in your local area? Anyone can do it, and the project has even produced its own handbook for organisers.