What Is A CryptoParty And Can I Protect My Data?

If you’'ve browsed the web searching for tips about protecting your data or devices, you may have encountered the term ' CryptoParty '. This is a relatively recent phenomenon that 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 that 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 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, 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 they would never be able to grasp if reading about them online.

The movement doesn't promise to teach you everything 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 endeavour that was first conceived back in the summer of 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 worldwide within hours.

The decentralised project aims to introduce practical cryptography basics, helping people use encrypted communications and avoid being tracked online. 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 encryption devices. This is usually in the name of national security, but critics are concerned that authorities will take advantage of the laws to spy on citizens. You may want to attend an event because of these fears or 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, like protecting their homes or personal property.

What can I expect from a CryptoParty?

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

  • PGP –stands for Pretty Good Privacy, an encryption program that 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 –is a web browser that aims to conceal the identity and online activities of the user. It encrypts data and bounces it through a network of volunteers worldwide, making it difficult to pinpoint the user's physical location. Essentially, it prevents your location from being tracked while you browse the web.
  • Disk encryption –is a technology that 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 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 enjoy the experience. The party is often held in a public space such as a café, 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 in cities worldwide. Many UK events occurred 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; the project has even produced its handbook for organisers.