Photo: UNICC/Thomsen

UNICC Helps Secure UN Organizational Digital Identities with Common UN PKI Services

UN Agencies are striving to improve their digital identity management systems. As the digital business and technology shared services hub for the UN, UNICC is there to provide its expertise in securing the right solutions for each UN Agency’s particular needs.

Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) is a framework that enables the integration of various digital identity services based upon cryptography, which is the use of secure communications techniques that allow only senders and intended recipients of messages to view message contents. The objective is to provide confidentiality, integrity, access control, authentication and most importantly, non-repudiation (ensuring that no party can deny that it sent or received a message via encryption and/or digital signatures).

PKI represents a combination of encryption and authentication, making online communications trustworthy, within a secure infrastructure.

People use ID cards (non-driver’s/driver’s license, passport, employee ID badge) as a means to prove their identity. A certificate has the same basic purpose in the electronic world except for a difference: certificates are issued to people, computers, software packages or to anything to show proof of identity.

UNICC Partner Organizations, through the UNICC Management Committee, committed to an R&D project to explore PKI shared services for subscribing UN Agencies. UNICC proceeded to develop a solution, also with inputs and collaboration from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). Eventually, a UN system-wide PKI service was developed that would:

  • Provision the Root Certification Authority for the UN system.
  • Provision subordinate Certification Authorities for UNICC Clients interested in participating.

As a result, UNICC is now managing the root Certificate Authority (CA) for the UN system, which pertains to active subscribers and any other UN Agencies to leverage PKI services.

UNICC’s Common UN PKI Service
The Common UN PKI service is a combination of authentication and encryption to make online communication more secure for UN Agencies who subscribe to the service. The system relies on machines that issue the certificate and the people that manage them (for the UNICC service, this is the UNICC Security team and UN Agency focal points). For a certificate to be granted, the system requires a name, country, city, location, contact person and the organization to which the person belongs. Certificates authenticate the senders or recipients of information.

PKI requires several different elements for effective use. A Certificate Authority is used to authenticate the digital identities of the users, which can range from individuals to computer systems to servers. Certificate Authorities prevent falsified entities and manage the life cycle of any given number of digital certificates within the system.

UNHCR, WTO and UN Women have subscribed to UNICC’s Common UN PKI service, aiming to protect communications between each organization’s servers (their websites) and the clients (the users). With these PKI systems in place, Partner Organizations can ensure that their data and information are thoroughly protected from cyber threat and breaches. UNICC’s security team is proud to manage this project to continue the work of keeping UN colleagues safe online.

Just like people’s IDs, the certificates are issued by a source that the server knows and trusts so as to accept a machines’ certificate as proof of its identity, providing trust and security for all message transfer across organizational infrastructures for each of the subscribing Agencies.

Photo: Oxfam Australia

Small Island States Meet Virtually on Climate Change with UNICC Conference Management Services

AOSIS Countries Virtual Meetings to Prepare for Climate Change Conference COP26

Small islands and low-lying territories are vulnerable to a host of climate change effects, including sea-level rise and extreme weather events that devastate communities every year and put these countries at risk of annihilation. 

The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), a group that represents the interests of 39 small island and coastal developing states in international negotiations and processes, met last summer in a series of sessions to coordinate and prepare their participation in the November Climate Change Conference COP26. The meetings were held virtually with the support of UNICC’s conference management services team.

Antigua and Barbuda, current chair of AOSIS, reached out to UNICC after being part of a successful delivery of a virtual meeting solution for thousands of participants at UN Climate Change Subsidiary Bodies meetings. AOSIS required virtual conferencing services to support the AOSIS Regional Coordination Meetings of the Caribbean, Pacific and African, Indian Ocean and South China Sea. A total of 48 hours of virtual meetings took place between July and August and included hundreds of participants. 

UNICC delivered a comprehensive solution of integrated platforms, from a Social27 registration mechanism and virtual venue homepage, to Microsoft Teams meeting rooms with live chat for participants. UNICC’s digital conference management solutions, a new service offering, was customized to suit AOSIS’ requirements.

AOSIS User Guide Pages
Credit: UNICC

Additionally, UNICC teams offered project management and quality assurance services, support management with LiveChat, as well as training, including training material, dry-run sessions for chairs and delegates, with coverage in different time zones.

Virtual conference management from UNICC suits current digital diplomacy and multilateralism needs. The impact of the global pandemic coupled with superior virtual tools and support means digital dialogues can take place remotely or in hybrid environments as well as physically in discrete locations.

The AOSIS alliance consolidates the voices of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) to address international climate change and sustainable development. These island countries are particularly vulnerable to climate change and its related effects on the ocean, including sea level rise, coastal erosion and saltwater intrusion. 

The members are among the nations least responsible for climate change, having contributed less than one percent to the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. These states advocate for international policy and mechanisms for addressing the inequity of climate impacts. 

UNICC’s virtual conference management solutions help AOSIS in meeting its Agenda 2030 goals around climate change.

Photo: Pexels/Orlova
virtual meeting climate change
Credit: UNFCCC

UN Climate Change Meetings Go Virtual with UNICC’s Support

Thousands of Participants Worldwide Join Virtual Subsidiary Bodies Sessions in Preparation for COP26

Following a year of limited meetings in 2020 due to COVID-19, the UN Climate Change Subsidiary Bodies met formally again in June 2021 through a high-quality virtual meeting solution supported by UNICC. From 31 May to 17 June, participants from around the world and across time zones engaged in hundreds of meetings to address the issues under negotiation.

The Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) and the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) sessions were the first UN Climate Change meetings to take place in a virtual format, after the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and UNICC partnered earlier in March 2021 to develop and deliver a state-of-the-art digital platform for climate change events, now that the pandemic is posing constraints on large-scale physical conferences and there is a need to reduce emissions.

When the global pandemic put a halt to our usual way of working – face-to-face, in conferences of up to 30,000 participants – we tried several platforms to keep our climate change process on track. It wasn’t until we partnered with UNICC that we were able to come up with a comprehensive solution that addresses every aspect of the user experience. Their vision and consistent, robust support gives us confidence that we can meet future needs in a virtual or hybrid world.

Laura Lopez, Director, Conference Affairs, UNFCCC

UNICC supported the delivery of a seamless conference management solution with single sign on for the different platforms. From guest registration to document management, the solution allowed organizers and participants to carry out the same activities as in a physical conference, and more. 

A virtual venue homepage welcomed registered guests and offered an overview of the event, with a schedule where each participant could see the meetings open to them with detailed information. The lobby was also the gateway to a networking lounge, individual and group chats, poster sessions and live support. 

The virtual venue consisted of one plenary hall with broadcast capabilities, as well as meeting rooms. All rooms had a floor management system that allowed for different speakers to contribute based on registration information, as well as video and microphone control, screenshare capabilities and a chat for participant. 

Virtual meeting solution
Credit: UNICC/Ouyang

UNICC services included not only supporting the technical implementation but also providing security governance, data protection and risk assessment services, ensuring full security and trust. UNICC was also part of a 24/7 service desk and a live chat available at all times during meetings, a feature highly appreciated by participants. 

The 2021 SBSTA and SBI sessions were aimed at making progress on several outstanding issues key to achieving success at the Climate Change Conference (COP26) held in November in Glasgow, Scotland, UK. UNICC was also the trusted partner for this conference, supporting UNFCCC’s mandate to step up the world’s response to climate change and become a leader in Digital Climate Diplomacy. 

UN Press Conference Technology
Photo: WHO/Blink Media – Nana Kofi Acquah

UNICC Continues Supporting the Global Covid-19 Response

UNICC has responded to the Covid-19 crisis with agile digital business solutions to support the UN family through various services and engagements. Since the start of the pandemic in 2019, UNICC has stepped up efforts to support all managed and shared services, delivering ongoing projects and helping with a significant increase in workload for its Clients.  

UNICC’s Covid-19 Pandemic Response campaign page gathers some of the services and projects delivered during the past two years in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the second year of the pandemic (2021) and into the third (2022), UNICC continues to support the UN family and related organizations with trusted services and digital business solutions, including the following.

UN Agencies Transition to Cloud-based Telephony

In 2021, UNICC helped up to ten UN Agencies and related organisations transition from conventional enterprise telephony systems to cloud-based solutions that allow users to make mobile, landline and international phone calls through Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) connections.

UNICC has been acting as a key enabler for many Partner Organizations who wanted to adopt and modernize their enterprise voice solutions during the challenging times brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Gabriel Galati, Head, Digital Workplace Services Unit, UNICC

UN Women and UNICC Amplify Women’s Voices for Safer Public Spaces During and Beyond the Pandemic

On 25 and 26 August 2021, over 25 women from the city of Guadalajara and its metropolitan area, in Jalisco, Mexico, engaged in a design thinking exercise to ideate and prototype digital solutions to make their city safer for women and girls. This event followed up on the Safe Cities for Women Thinkathon organized in November of 2020 by UN Women and UNICC that aspired to amplify women’s and girl’s voices and need for access to safe and inclusive public spaces during the pandemic and beyond, within the framework of the Safe Cities Programme.

Credit: UN Women and UNICC

New Bots Developed by PAHO and UNICC Assist the Procurement Process of Covid-19 Vaccines

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has added two Acquisitions Technician to their Procurement and Supply Management team, two new members that can work 24 hours per day, 7 days a week, year-round. Mia and Max are PAHO’s first ever bots, and they have been developed by UNICC’s Robotic Process Automation (RPA) team alongside PAHO’s Procurement and IT teams.

The robots execute repetitive and time-consuming tasks, allowing the human team to forget about the paperwork and focus on strategic aspects of the procurement function. The bots help buyers with the purchase of strategic products, including Covid-19 vaccines for the American countries.

Other solutions developed and offered by UNICC to support its over 80 Clients and Partner Organizations during the past two years include the Crisis Communications App, a Microsoft-powered application for emergency notification, geolocation, information gathering and sharing capabilities for crisis management and communications; the Digital Academy, a centralised learning platform to provide digital and technology skills; secure virtual conferencing services; Business Continuity Planning services and electronic signature.

Credit: UNICC
Photo: UNICC

Bringing UNICC Digital Solutions to a Historic Climate Change Event in Glasgow, UK

Seven UNICC Teams including Virtual Meeting Provisioning, Cyber Security, Digital ID and Data Analytics Support the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference

As the climate emergency continues unabated, the need to facilitate global participation and engagement in the multilateral process on climate change remains as vital and urgent as ever. The United Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) partnered with UNICC last year to optimise climate change events with digital business solutions.

When the global pandemic put a halt to our usual way of working – face-to-face, in conferences of up to 30,000 participants – we tried several platforms to keep our climate change process on track. It wasn’t until we partnered with UNICC that we were able to come up with a comprehensive solution that addresses every aspect of the user experience. Their vision and consistent, robust support gives us confidence that we can meet future needs in a virtual or hybrid world.

Laura Lopez, Director, Conference Affairs, UNFCCC

UNICC is honored to have served as a UNFCCC partner in delivering to pre-COP26 events, including the Subsidiary Body meetings in May – June 2021 as well as regional partner meetings such as those held by Association of Small Island States (AOSIS) and Least Developed Countries (LDC). In this capacity, UNICC brought forward a breadth of capabilities across Digital Business Advisory, Data and Analytics, Cyber Security, Event Management, Training, Governance and Technology Implementation to facilitate end-to-end platform identification and execution for over 1500 participants in virtual global negotiations.

UNICC digital solutions contributions to Subsidiary Bodies meetings
UNICC contributions to UNFCCC Virtual May-June Sessions of the Subsidiary Bodies

For Conference of Parties (COP26) in Glasgow in November 2021, UNICC once again performed as a cross-functional team to deliver innovative solutions across 8 key workstreams. These workstreams executed in less than 3 months toward commitments and in partnership with UNFCCC, the UK host country and multiple platform and professional service providers culminated in an historic COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, UK.

UNICC digital solutions enabling COP26
UNICC enablement of UNFCCC COP26 November 2021, Glasgow, UK

COP26 brought together global leaders and over 40,000 participants between 31 October and 12 November to maintain momentum on prior climate change agreements and further commitments for those most impacted. 

Climate action is necessary and UNICC’s partnership with UNFCCC to provide direct support leading to the Glasgow Climate Pact at COP26 is exactly the union of purposeful work and digital solutions that will drive change in our world today. The ability to enable climate action by bringing together a “one UNICC” team showcasing our breadth of capabilities is a testament to the extraordinary talent and commitment within UNICC. 

Ninna Roco, Chief, Business Digital Solutions Officer, UNICC

UNICC provided cross-functional support through eight workstreams that worked in close collaboration with UNFCCC, both remotely and on site, before, during and after the conference. 

COP26 ID Check App – Providing Secure Verification to 30,000 Participants

The COP26 ID Check app, used to manage registration for the conference, leverages a suite of AI-powered mobile applications to issue virtual badges with bar code by capturing registered attendee facial biometrics against official ID photos. This technology developed by UNICC allowed a secure and efficient verification of thousands of COP26 participants, including representatives of the Parties to the Convention and Observer States, members of the media and representatives of observer organisations such as NGOs and IGOs. The business value from a pre-approved Digital ID verification was reduced registration and badge pick-up wait times by 50% for participants on site in Glasgow.

Virtual Meeting Provisioning – Enabling Participation and Negotiations at the Core of the Conference

COP26 is the first Climate Change conference necessitating virtual access to meetings and negotiations happening on site in Glasgow. UNICC’s Virtual Meeting Provisioning team provided integration across different systems involved in the hybrid events. The integration enabled the provisioning of meetings (creating and deploying different meetings including side events) critical to aligning COP26 participants on the issues. Through these integrations across the videoconferencing service (Webex/ Webex Legislate), role-based access and room reservation software (UNFCCC Grand Reserva) and meeting broadcasting technology, UNICC enabled participation in over 2000 additional meetings. 

Photo: UNFCCC

Data and Analytics – Conference Meeting Management Monitoring and Reporting 

UNICC’s Data and Analytics team was also engaged, to monitor and control all aspects of the meeting management, while satisfying host country requests. UNICC data extraction, cleansing and visualization skills resulted in the development of COP26 dashboards, reporting and survey providing participant statistics, event feedback and overall improved real-time visibility. The value recognized was immediate and the end users quickly expanded beyond UNFCCC Senior Management to also include UN Security teams for venue population management, UK host country organizers and UK health officials for health and safety monitoring.

User Support – Helping Participants Navigate the Technology

A dedicated support team with deep knowledge of the conference technology tools including the COP26 Platform and COP26 ID Check App was established to collaborate with the technical team during testing phases, as well as to help participants with ID validation and other questions throughout the conference. Support was available 24/7, starting ten days before the conference and throughout the whole event.

Cyber Security – Running a Secure Conference

UNICC worked hand in hand with UNFCCC’s ICT and Cyber Security teams to provide cyber security services for COP26, collecting security issues and risks, reviewing existing outsourced contracts and providing cyber security consultancy services. 

Before the conference, this workstream performed a security audit of the Microsoft Azure tenant hosting the COP26 platform, where all events took place. During the conference, the team also supported UNFCCC’s Security Operations Centre with a physical presence in Glasgow. 

UNICC team on site at COP26 to deliver digital solutions to UNFCCC
Photo: UNICC

Change Management and Participant Journey Mapping – A Customer Centric Approach for a Positive User Experience

The Change Management workstream was a crucial component for the overall success of the conference, providing inputs to all other UNICC and non-UNICC workstreams, especially to the Training and Support teams. 

UNICC’s Change Management team was in charge of articulating the COP26 vision, accelerate change acceptance and adoption of new hybrid conference approach. 

This workstream also delivered conference personas depicted into active participant journey maps to support clarity of overall requirements and scope.

Training – Supporting Participants’ Use of New Tools

The training team collaborated with UNFCCC, the host country government and other stakeholders involved in COP26 to ensure participants easily learned how to use the new technologies involved in Climate Change Conferences. In particular, UNICC’s contribution included quality assurance of training materials such as user instructions to access the COP26 platform.

In addition to the workstreams above, UNICC was invited by UNFCCC to provide on site physical presence across Digital Business Solutions, Cyber Security, Data and Analytics and Governance from 23 October through 15 November. In Glasgow, UNICC was able to provide management support and visibility in preparation for press conferences, issue remediation, COVID19 exception handling, training of UNFCCC substantive bodies, as well as strengthen and foster relationships. The onsite participation deepened UNICC knowledge of hybrid events furthering our overall experiences in Digital Diplomacy.

So many teams came together to understand what our business and ICT partners needed for successful meetings and negotiations. It is through this ability to be customer-centric and bring forth the deep knowledge and expertise of our teams and partners that most excites me about UNICC’s future.

Ninna Roco, Chief, Business Digital Solutions Officer, UNICC
Photo: FAO

FAO Embraces Robotic Process Automation for Vendor Sanctions Screening

Shared Services Centre Leads with Multiple Automation Use Cases for Shared Services, Financial Accounting, Budgeting, Information Systems and Human Resources

The FAO Shared Services Centre (SSC) is embracing robotic process automation (RPA), freeing up colleagues to focus on value-added work: a prime example of people, process and technology working together.

The SSC has realised the value of Robotic Process Automation (RPA), a technology that provides a software robot (or ‘bot’) to mimic human behavior for manual, repetitive tasks, with the advantage that it can work much faster and more efficiently performing labor-intensive tasks and ultimately eliminate costly human errors.

The SSC finance team has been working on a sanctions screening project with UNICC, whereby the Joint Sanctions Screening Solution optimises screening of FAO’s vendors against sanctions lists of the UN Security Council, the US Treasury, the EU and the World Bank.

Robotic process automation works best with rule-based, regular tasks that require manual inputs. The SSC processes several thousand transactions on a monthly basis (staff entitlements, invoices, payments, payroll, travel expenses, asset disposals etc.) and by way of automating certain elements of these administrative processes, the Centre can generate efficiencies and contribute to better customer experience. Deploying RPA frees up high-value resources to concentrate on more value-added work.

John Kidd, Chief, SSC, FAO
Photo: FAO

The Joint Sanctions Screening Solution speeds up the vetting process and improves efficiency of vendor records management, eliminates human errors in analysing and reviewing data and reduces operational risk.

The bot has already completed a full screening of FAO’s master database of over 260 000 active vendor records. The bot compares FAO’s data against the sanctions lists, marking any potential matches. It screens parties with whom the organization has a commercial relationship, funded partnership, other financial relationship as well as any other cash recipients and beneficiaries.

Zoltan Antal, SSC, FAO

During the implementation phase of this solution, the Joint Sanctions Screening Solution has demonstrated the advantages of inter-Agency collaboration as UNHCR and WFP had shared their insights on RPA technology.

The introduction of the Joint Sanctions Screening Solution is welcome and will contribute to an increased level of transparency. This solution will ensure compliance to the international sanction policies by ensuring FAO vendor master data records don’t contain any sanctioned vendors.

Motohiro Ogita, Chief of Procurement, CSLP, FAO

Given these success stories at the SSC, what will the world of work look like in the future? John Kidd was pleased to express his ideas, “We’re planning to roll out robotics to other administrative areas. The potential is high and the team has started to build a pipeline of suitable processes. I am happy that several colleagues have expressed their interest and are now learning the technology.”

It was very helpful to cooperate with sister agency colleagues before embarking on this journey. We realised that we would need a big clean-up in the beginning requiring time and efforts, that we should adopt a strategy that suits our organization (full database screening vs. daily screening of new records) and that we should set our internal rules about how closely and frequently we monitor. Now well advanced in the world of robotics, we were pleased to share our experience with UNICEF undertaking a similar path.

Dora Ronai (CSFR), SSC Team Lead, FAO

An Innovative, Shared Solution from the UN Digital Solutions Centre
The UN Digital Solutions Centre (UN DSC), operated in partnership by the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), supported by the UN International Computing Centre (UNICC), developed the Joint Sanctions Screening solution using Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to streamline repetitive, manual and inefficient vendor screening processes.

High standards of integrity and compliance mean zero tolerance for fraud and corruption. The UN minimizes fraud by imposing sanctions on potential vendors, partners and their employees.

Each UN organization maintains its own and ever-changing vendor lists that need to be checked against numerous international sanctions lists. The vetting process is often manual, time-consuming and comes at late stages of procurement, leading to errors and duplication of efforts.

UNICC RPA Hyper-automation Centre of Excellence

RPA and hyperautomation technologies – what UNICC calls ‘RPA+’ – allow us to call on a digital workforce to help us gain immediate operational efficiencies and get closer to business stakeholders and beneficiaries on the ground. Ultimately, RPA+ helps Clients and Partner Organizations build better to deliver on their mandates.

Nagesh Vepa, Head, Hyperautomation Solutions, UNICC

UNICC has been further fine-tuning many of these new technologies for its Clients and Partner Organizations. Its Robotic Process Automation (RPA+) Centre of Excellence has over twenty Clients, 60+ automation solutions automating billions of manual transactions, delivering multiple consulting engagements, solution implementation and end-to-end managed services.

This eventually translates to giving back thousands of valuable hours to business users and expanding business functions and value within their domains (Finance, Compliance, Travel, HR, Procurement, ICT, etc.).

Photo: UNICC/Cadinu

UNICC Commits to Carbon Neutrality, Beginning in 2020

Greening UNICC and the UN Family with Green Technology

UNICC has launched this year its collaboration with UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Greening the Blue, an initiative to engage and support the UN system in the transition towards greater environmental sustainability in the management of Agency facilities and operations.

UNICC Sustainability

In line with the Strategy for Sustainability Management in the United Nations System, 2020-2030, designed to raise the UN system’s ambitions on sustainability and to ensure greater system-wide coherence, UNICC commits to measure and improve its carbon footprint and become carbon neutral as of 2020, via carbon offsets using the voluntary UN Carbon Offset Platform.

The UN System is a leader in integrating environmental and social sustainability considerations across its work in a systematic and coherent way, practicing the principles that it promotes and leaving a positive legacy.

Strategy for Sustainability Management in the UN System, 2020-2030

One of the main focuses of UNICC’s sustainability efforts are its four data centres, all of which are actively monitored and reporting on emissions. Factors such as green procurement practices, the use of energy-efficient products, sourcing sustainable energy, efficient cooling solutions and even balanced server placements in the racks all contribute towards green data centres.

Currently all of UNICC’s centres are classified as Efficient or Very Efficient, with practices that include the use of solar panels covering 25% of daily needs in the Valencia Data Centre, 100% of renewable energy in both the Primary and Secondary Data Centres in Geneva as well as cooling by circulation of water from the Lake Geneva and deployment of environmental sensors and optimization in the North American Data Centre.

Green Technology for the UN Ecosystem

Solutions for greening the UN – and the globe – require a multilateral approach encompassing all fields, including digital business and technology. As the preferred provider of shared services and digital business solutions for over 70 Clients and Partner Organizations in the UN ecosystem, UNICC has stepped up as a technology innovator.

Green ICT does not have to be an oxymoron. We want to leverage UNICC’s technical expertise to collaborate with our UN Partners and make the system better through better adoption of green technologies. 

Sameer Chauhan, Director, UNICC

New and rapidly developing technologies such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, machine learning and robotics hold incredible promise for the advancement of human welfare with huge efficiencies in UN Agency operations. Some examples of UNICC services that promote sustainability are:

  • Facilitating global participation and engagement in multilateral processes through digital diplomacy platforms.
  • Reducing the use of paper by offering an electronic signature system for the UN family, directly impacting SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production and SDG13: Climate Action.
  • Enabling dozens of organizations to continue business operations through online platforms, virtual desktops and collaboration tools, reducing the carbon footprint resulting from highly-curtailed travel and office management.

Internally, UNICC has run several campaigns for both sustainable office space and a sustainable home office, ensuring UNICC staff follow sustainability principles even when working remotely. UNICC has banned plastics from the office space, sorts all garbage for recycling, has instituted the use of reusable water bottles and provides volunteer opportunities for environmental activities.

With less than a decade until the deadline to meet the goals of 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, UN Agencies must practice due diligence and ensure alignment with sustainable practices. UNICC can play a strategic role in helping organizations achieve these goals. Through our words and our actions, we aspire to live up to the Sustainable Development Goals and support our Clients and Partner Organizations in doing the same.

Common Secure Conference 2021
Credit: UNICC

UN Cyber Security Practitioners Gather at UNICC’s 2021 Common Secure Conference

Conference Participants Share Insights on Cyber Practices and Provide Feedback on UNICC Common Secure Services

UNICC’s cyber security solutions enable the United Nations family to enhance cyber resilience by strengthening governance, architecture and operational components of Clients’ cyber security programmes.

UNICC hosts an annual Common Secure Conference, bringing UNICC’s Clients and Partner Organizations together to share intelligence on cyber practices and to provide feedback on UNICC Common Secure services.

Nearly 200 participants from 33 organizations gathered for this year’s conference, held virtually between 16 and 24 November 2021.

Thanks to all participants involved in this year’s Common Secure conference, for the opportunity to learn how other teams deal with cyber incidents and for sharing invaluable insights over potential service improvements. We will continue proving the value of the Common Secure family giving back to this great community.

Bojan Simetić, Information Security Specialist, UNICC

Common Secure Conference Agenda

The first week was open to cyber security practitioners from across UN Agencies, which includes many stakeholders and partners beyond the Common Secure membership.

The sessions were a blend of UN and cyber security vendor presentations, including speakers from Adobe, the Cloud Security Alliance, the CyberPeace Institute, Disruptive Consulting, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Spanish National Institute for Cyber Security (INCIBE), Interpol, StrangeBee and the European Union’s Computer Emergency Response Team (EU-CERT).

UNICC Common Secure members had the opportunity to provide input on UNICC’s services during various sessions in the second week, including the ‘The Future of Common Secure’ panel discussion with speakers from IAEA, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and UN Women. Partners shared good feedback on current Common Secure services and identified some areas for improvement.

Cyber security experts from the Asian Development Bank (ADB), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), World Food Programme (WFP) and World Health Organization (WHO) also presented on a number of cyber matters during the second week.

According to a majority of participants, the Common Secure Conference helps them improve their skills and support cyber programme development with presentations relevant to their current work. Additionally, participants appreciate the opportunity to build relations with cyber security peers from other Agencies and beyond.

UNICC Cyber Security Services

In order to best protect its Clients and Partner Organizations, UNICC offers information security services including:

  • Governance and CISO Support
  • Common Secure Threat Intel
  • Security Operations Centre (CSOC), Security Incident and Event Management (CSIEM)
  • Vulnerability Management, Phishing Simulation, Penetration Testing,
  • Incident Response and Forensics
  • Information Security Awareness
  • Infrastructure and Network Support
  • PKI Digital Identity
  • Electronic Signature
  • Secure AuthN (federated authentication services) and more.

UNICC continues to develop its experience and expertise. UNICC was awarded a 2020 (and 2017) CSO50 Award for its Common Secure Information Security services. The UN Joint Inspection Unit reviewed the state of cyber security in the UN and recommended to leverage UNICC’s services.

Photo: UNDP

UNICC Supports UNDP Task Force on Electoral Assistance during Zambia Elections

AI-powered fact-checking tool iVerify, piloted during Zambia elections, shows global promise

Misinformation, disinformation and hate speech are some of the flagship challenges of the modern era. The 2020 US election, and its violent aftermath, is one of the most visible examples of how the viral spread of misinformation can negatively affect the electoral process. But according to a recent Ipsos poll, fake news is a global trend. Of 25,000 people surveyed in 25 countries, four out of five believe they’ve been exposed to fake news.

Among those, 87% believe fake news is made worse by the internet, and 83% believe that fake news has negatively impacted the political discourse in their country. Misinformation and disinformation creates doubt in people’s minds about what to trust, which in volatile periods like elections can lead to violence. Ultimately, what is often referred to as ‘fake news’ undermines public trust and the capacity of citizens to identify reliable sources of information.

A verification solution (called iVerify) to combat misinformation was piloted in Zambia, ahead of the historic August 2021 general elections in which opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema took power from Edgar Lungu, who led the country since 2015.

The iVerify Zambia project aimed to build the credibility of the fact-checkers in the context of Zambia’s information landscape. On several occasions the team’s interventions resulted in content producers removing content, and publishing retraction statements, on the basis of iVerify fact-checking reports.

Photo: UNDP

iVerify was developed by UNDP through the Brussels-based Task Force on Electoral Assistance and the UNDP Chief Digital Office. The Task Force then came to UNICC to help develop and implement the solution they had designed.

iVerify is a fact-checking initiative which combats the spread of false narratives during election periods by combining new technology like AI and machine learning with tried-and-true in-person fact-checking. It was developed in response to “repeated requests over the past three years from UNDP Country Offices and national counterparts on how to deal with misinformation and hate speech in elections,” says Gianpiero Catozzi, UNDP Elections Senior Advisor and Coordinator of the European Commission-UNDP Joint Task Force on Electoral Assistance.

iVerify is a digital solution deployed by UNDP in support to national actors to mitigate disinformation, misinformation and hate speech during elections. The digitalisation of identification of threats to information integrity, fact-checking, and response/issuance of counter-narratives has proven beneficiary to local actors working in this field. This initiative is focusing on capacity building of local actors, iVerify highlights the sovereignty of beneficiaries in the fact-checking process and does not intervene in the content-making.

Credit: EC-UNDP JTF

UNICC’s Role
The Task Force asked UNICC to collaborate on the development and implementation of a solution to process disinformation cases and ultimately post the findings on a publicly-available country portal focused on the Zambia elections held on 12 August 2021. The portal had to be ready in good time for that.

The UNICC team included Application Delivery, Cloud and Data and Analytics team members, who worked to deliver the iVerify tool and platform.

iVerify processes articles and outputs reports with a determination of their veracity. The inputs are either manual, by members of the public or the iVerify team, or automated. People can submit articles for review via text (WhatsApp, SMS, and more) or directly through the iVerify platform. Leveraging CrowdTangle, which allows iVerify to track public content across social media, iVerify also automatically reviews articles in Facebook, Instagram, and Reddit daily, running them through Detoxify, an open-source algorithm which uses machine learning to detect hate speech.

“We selected Detoxify after looking at a lot of machine learning tools,” says Mark Belinsky, Digital Innovation and Scaling Specialist at UNDP’s Chief Digital Office. “A lot of effort was put into limiting algorithmic bias, which is critical in these sensitive situations and too often overlooked when introducing artificial intelligence systems into programming.”

These reports are then sent to the team of in-person fact-checkers, composed of individuals linked to one or several national counterparts that have been capacitated and equipped through the iVerify’s initiative. As part of their fact-checking assignment, the team follows up with the people or institutions mentioned in a story to determine the veracity of the claims made. If those in-person verifiers find hate speech, disinformation, or misinformation, they flag it and publish an article on the iVerify website to let the world know.

iVerify leverages another open-source technology, Check, to help. It uses human-in-the-loop machine learning to match content so that anything already labeled false doesn’t have to be reviewed again, improving efficiency. All of these tools and approaches are open and available to anyone to use. The solution is a set of integrations build around the Meedan Check platform, providing additional features to facilitate the fact-checking process and the dissemination of fact-checked stories to the public.

The publishing process use a WordPress site that receives the reviewed and categorized information for the public user. The solution also integrates many additional plugins that allowed local actors in Zambia to be able to use additional communication channels such as WhatsApp and email. It also offers an integrated dashboard to show indicators by source channels, information tags, processes and time frames.

The first version of the product was delivered using an Agile approach. The Minimum Viable Product (MVP) was released on 20 July, and on 4 August there were 13 fact-checked stories. The Task Force was then able to use the platform for the Zambia 12 August elections. In Zambia, “iVerify contributed to encouraging a stronger connection between all the groups in the election who have a role to play,” Mathilde Vougny says, from the media, civil society, law enforcement, the electoral commission, and more. “We managed to build synergies.”

What’s Next
The UNDP iVerify team has been supporting the November elections in Honduras, and is preparing as a next challenge to deploy in Liberia in 2023.

Their experience in Zambia taught the team to start deployments earlier in electoral processes to give the time to local actors to get used to the iVerify digital tools. Given the unique political climate of each country, the iVerify cannot be a simple duplication and entails significant customisation.

But, according to Mathilde Vougny, the end goal is similar for each new iVerify country. Those goals include “creating an ecosystem where information is exchanged, and building a network of journalists and other actors who benefit from fact-checked information,” she says.

Read the UNDP story here and European Commission story here.

Photo: UN/Dicko

UNICC Supports UNOCT’s New Connect & Learn Platform

UNICC Participates in 1 October UNGA Side Event

UNICC’s Learning Services and Application Delivery teams collaborated with the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT) to design, implement and launch its new “Connect & Learn” Learning Management System (LMS) platform, on 1 October 2021 on the margins of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly.

The “Connect & Learn” platform offers a unique opportunity for UNOCT’s partners and beneficiaries of capacity-building to connect worldwide through a Communities of Practice forum and learn through its eLearning component that offers a wide range of self-paced modules and instructor-led courses and on counter-terrorism.

UNICC’s Learning, Application Delivery and Communications teams demonstrated a high level of proactive and professionalism in delivering UNOCT’s new Connect & Learn platform and its launch event, contributing to our mandate through innovation.

Leila Ezzarqui, Chief, External Partnerships Section (EPS), Special Projects & Innovation Branch, United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism
UNOCT programmes at Connect & Learn. Credit: UNOCT

The development of the Connect & Learn Platform in partnership with UNICC shows how UNOCT continuously seeks to better support international efforts to counter-terrorism and prevent violent extremism through innovative approaches. On the one hand, the platform contributes to support to programmatic activities through an online capacity-building delivery and acts as an accelerator of in person activities.

On the other hand, the online Communities of Practice forum enables Member States, the private sector, regional organizations, civil society, and academia from across the globe to share information, knowledge, good practices, and lessons learned allowing UNOCT to strengthen the scope and depth of its work.

The platform features flagship UNOCT Global programmes such as Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism in Central Asia; Preventing and Responding to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Terrorism; Cyber Security and New Technologies; Gender and Identity Factors; Countering Terrorist Threats against Vulnerable Targets; Border and Security Management; Fusion Cells; Security of Major Sporting Events, and Promotion of Sport and Its Values as a Tool to Prevent Violent Extremism; Countering Terrorist Travel; Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism; and its Program Offices for Counter-Terrorism and Training in Africa and International Hub on Behavioural Insights to Counter-Terrorism.

Connect & Learn online courses. Credit: UNOCT

The launch event demonstrated the importance of adopting ‘whole-of-society’ approaches to countering terrorism and preventing violent extremism with guest speakers from UN Member States, civil society organisations, the private sector and academia.

During the event, UNOCT presented two videos produced by UNICC’s Communications team. The first video was an animation video demonstrating the Connect & Learn platform that UNICC helped to develop, highlighting the eLearning and Communities of Practice features and tools within the platform, along with some of the engaging content. The second one was a short video which showcased the UNOCT programmes available at the LMS platform, for accelerated capacity building and outreach activities.

The UNICC Learning Services and Communications teams were present at the event, to assist and answer any questions related to the platform and services that UNICC provides.

Watch the recorded event on: UN WebTV (https://media.un.org/en/asset/k1p/k1pzcr1a18).

For more information, visit the UNOCT web page on the Connect & Learn platform launch.