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The international body isn't doing enough to protect details on dissidents and activists gathered by peacekeeping operations, particularly across Central Africa.

Four blue UN peacekeeper helmets
Source: Photonic via Alamy Stock Photo

United Nations peacekeeping missions, especially in Africa, are at a growing risk of compromise by sophisticated nation-state-sponsored threat actors, and they need to adopt basic cybersecurity infrastructure best practices and tools to defend them, according to new research.

The consequences of failing to do so could be deadly, according to a paper from the International Peace Institute.

These peacekeeping missions are gathering substantial amounts of sensitive data, including the identities and locations of activists, dissidents, and others, which makes them a desirable target for governments across the world, as well as loosely associated actors, like the mercenary Wagner Group.

At particular risk are UN missions in central Africa, due to increasingly fraught geopolitics across the region, according to the brief's author, Dirk Druet, an adjunct professor at McGill University in Montreal. He warns potential breaches of these UN peacekeeping missions could have deadly consequences.

"As the UN's missions in the Central African Republic, Mali, Libya, and elsewhere become increasingly caught up in geopolitical struggles, it will become more and more important for the UN to credibly demonstrate independent control of the data it gathers," Druet says. "This includes the personal data of human rights defenders, survivors of violence, and political activists who could otherwise face imprisonment, persecution, and violence."

Druet recommends that the UN improve its threat-hunting capabilities, and it should take special care to secure software supply chains and establish data chains of custody.

"Multinational peace operations are a unique cybersecurity environment," Druet adds. "Internal trust is inherently limited, while the UN will always struggle to catch up to the capabilities of powerful states that seek to penetrate their networks."

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