Since 2016, the words “disinformation” and “cybersecurity” have been thrown around a lot, and many of us still don’t know how to protect ourselves against malicious attacks against our elections systems and our social media accounts. We all know that the Kremlin launched a massive disinformation campaign against U.S. voters and those in European nations, as well as attempted to manipulate voting machines.
As we enter into the 2020 election cycle, there is still lots of uncertainty around how secure our elections will be. What’s worse is that the GOP and Trump Administration aren’t taking the threat of foreign interference seriously, critics claim. But there are those thinking of ways people can protect themselves. Camille Stewart, a former Obama appointee in DHS who worked in cybersecurity law, has devoted her professional life and free time online to trying to close the knowledge gap between everyday people and digital security.
“I tweet for two audiences, the most important of which are everyday people who want to better understand how to use the technology around them. I try to distill the work I do and current events into actionable and applicable tips that people can adopt as their risk tolerance allows,” she told The Root.
“My goal is to help them be more intentional and take ownership of their security and their privacy. My #EverydayCyber tweets are one way I do that. The other audience is the cybersecurity, national security, and other relevant practitioners that are looking for a perspective on the national security-related threats we’re seeing. These tweets allow me to share my particular insights on what is going and go deeper into the subject matter.”
Some of Stewart’s tips are pretty simple, like being suspicious of links sent from people unknown or an entity posing as a bank, which can be a phishing scam. Other tips include not using a password manager to remember your passwords (“I personally don’t prefer using password managers because if it gets hacked, all of your passwords are out,” Stewart notes) or not using the same password for everything because hackers can then get all of your credentials and sell them.
Much of the political conversation around cybersecurity revolves around social media networks and the spread of disinformation—especially via Facebook. The network’s founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has come under fire for refusing to ban political ads, which many observers, particularly U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, say carry lies. While the social media site has been actively catching disinformation campaigns from Iran and Russia which have attempted to meddle in America’s election process, disinformation originates from America, as well. Stewart says there are some steps government, nonprofit organizations and others can take to minimize disinformation, but it is people’s common sense that ultimately is the number one defense.
“I think it’s really important that we start teaching critical thinking skills in schools,” Stewart said. “That’s really the core of it. No matter how many counternarratives, alternate narratives, education we do on the backend around these things, it will help alleviate any confusion some, but at the core of it, you have to be curious and seek to understand the content before you. So, the first article that pops up should not be the only thing you will need to confirm an accurate accounting of a situation.”
Stewart’s father is a computer scientist so she had early, in-depth exposure to and interest in technology. But she said she always knew she wanted to be a lawyer. Growing up, she made her parents sign contracts every time they promised her something. In law school, Stewart focused on intellectual property protection and theft and abuse online. After law school, she started working at Cyveillance, a cyber threat intelligence company. That’s when she realized her desire to leverage her technical acumen was better utilized in cybersecurity. Stewart’s intellectual desire to solve and create solutions for complex problems and combined with her moral desire to help and empower people were better met in cybersecurity, where there was little or no law and policy.
“I quickly found myself at the intersection of law, technology, and society,” she told The Root.
The highlight of her legal and cybersecurity career came in 2015, when she was appointed to work in former President Barack Obama’s administration as a senior policy advisor on cybersecurity issues at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Around 2013, as the administration was increasing its focus on cybersecurity, there was a push to find practitioners with the relevant skillset. A friend of Stewart’s, Germaine Gabriel, already in the administration, and her former Executive Director on the Hill at the Congressional Black Caucus, Angela Rye, both put her name in for consideration. At the time, DHS was building a headquarters-level office to look across the department on cybersecurity and critical infrastructure issues. Stewart joined after its inception.
“Working for President Obama was one of the greatest experiences of my life. As someone with a chronic health issue who’d been kicked off her parent’s plan during law school resulting in my paying exorbitant amounts out of pocket and then being on the Hill during healthcare reform, I saw the power and promise of his vision. I witnessed and was able to play a part in advancing that same power and promise on cybersecurity issues.”