In this work, we consider the computer security and privacy practices and needs of recently resettled refugees in the United States. We ask: How do refugees use and rely on technology as they settle in the US? What computer security and privacy practices do they have, and what barriers do they face that may put them at risk? And how are their computer security mental models and practices shaped by the advice they receive? We study these questions through in-depth qualitative interviews with case managers and teachers who work with refugees at a local NGO, as well as through focus groups with refugees themselves. We find that refugees must rely heavily on technology (e.g., email) as they attempt to establish their lives and find jobs; that they also rely heavily on their case managers and teachers for help with those technologies; and that these pressures can push security practices into the background or make common security “best practices” infeasible. At the same time, we identify fundamental challenges to computer security and privacy for refugees, including barriers due to limited technical expertise, language skills, and cultural knowledge — for example, we find that scams as a threat are a new concept for many of the refugees we studied, and that many common security practices (e.g., password creation techniques and security questions) rely on US cultural knowledge. From these and other findings, we distill recommendations for the computer security community to better serve the computer security and privacy needs and constraints of refugees, a potentially vulnerable population that has not been previously studied in this context.
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Lucy is a PhD student in Computer Science & Engineering at the Univeristy of Washington. Her research focuses on the security and privacy-related needs and practices of understudied or underserved populations.