How To Organize A CryptoParty

Introduction

CryptoParty is a global and decentralized grass-roots movement. As such, they vary as much as they are adapted to their specific environments. This How To is written to give you some ideas on what might work and what not so much, but as with all direct action: plans are nothing, planning is everything, and it is all good as long as you follow CryptoParty's guiding principles1): be excellent to each other and do things.

As time has shown there are some general tactics which make everything go much smoother, this is our attempt in writing it down (please contribute - see “Edit this page” in the upper left corner).

If you prefer video over text: How To CryptoParty2) (recorded at initlab in April 2014).

Or join us on IRC (#cryptoparty@irc.oftc.net) or the mailing list global@cryptoparty.is.

Please contact us through one of the above channels if you have any questions or need other help.

Additional resources related to organizing a CryptoParty:

A CryptoParty cannot teach you everything there is to know about computer and internet security in one evening. Main objective is to tear down the mental walls which prohibit people to even think about these topics or pick them up as they occur throughout their lives, like in newspaper articles, blog posts, educational pictures and memes. There is plenty of information about computer and internet security out there. Sadly, many people don't consider themselves able to process it and don't even start. That's what we want to change. Take away the fear of cryptic and technical things (two properties inherent to cryptographic tools) so they can continue educating themselves and others.

With a CryptoParty you create an environment where people from different backgrounds come together and learn from each other. Hence you might want to include people of different age, gender, heritage and expertise.

Doors open, people arrive, find a seat and socialize. A short intro officially opens the event and then it's off to the tables. Each table covers a topic and people decide what they'd like to learn or teach.
People will be more comfortable given enough time for socializing. They will be more likely to ask questions then. But it also takes an environment where they feel comfortable socializing. Setting the scene is your task.

The intro speech should be as short as possible (less than 20 minutes) and give people an overview of what to expect (see dedicated chapter for more details).
Some cities have talks, too. This works very well when people look for in-depth introductions. Most of the time though they want to get to the hands-on part rather sooner than later. Depending on the group you could offer both in separate rooms.

Right after the intro people move to the table and topic of their choice. Don't worry if it gets a bit chaotic for a few minutes. Each table opens with a more specific introduction before installing, configuring and using the different tools. Again, encourage everyone to ask questions any time.

The ability to improvise is very useful at a CryptoParty as learning usually encounters being confronted with things you did not anticipate ;-)

If everything worked you'll be amazed by the positive energy, by people being highly engaged, concentrated and enjoying every aspect of it. Great CryptoParties usually last until late in the evening despite a long day (or week) at work.

The recommended length for a CryptoParty is three to five hours.

Here's a list of things we learned from past CryptoParties:

Before the party

Location, infrastructure and food

The audience of a CryptoParty and its general conduct is formed in large parts by the location it is happening at. No matter if bars, social centers, schools, universities, libraries, newsrooms, NGOs or even company premises: As long as it is free and open to everyone, politically and commercially non-aligned it's good to go. The latter can be tricky if it's company offices. If in doubt ask other CryptoParty organizers via local or global mailing lists if they'd feel comfortable with events happening at the place in question.

A good thing to have – maybe even more than Internet and electricity – is food. It's just really hard to be cranky and not excellent to each other if you just had a really nice meal. But, yes, usually you also want enough electricity and Internet to be able to supply everyone with the software and experience they came for.

The main criteria for a good location are

  • cozy
  • has drinks
  • ideally has food, too
  • has chairs & tables
  • has extension cords & power plugs
  • has fast enough Internet connection

Keep in mind that your main audience is not familiar with the hacker scene.

Suitable locations can be

  • cafes
  • community spaces
  • churches
  • libraries
  • schools
  • universities
  • hackerspaces
  • night clubs
  • any place you like

Home Page

Whether you host the page for your CryptoParty on your own server or use cryptoparty.in is up to you, but CryptoParty is a global, collaborative effort, so please at least put a link on cryptoparty.in so that others are aware of your existence and can join you.

Some elements you might want to have on it are

  • welcome text
  • next party dates
  • locations list
  • contact info (preferably email)

Let's assume your city does not have a page. Create one for the whole city (e.g. “https://cryptoparty.in/gotham”). That's where the information above goes. Locations or parties should have separate sub pages. This allows others to organize parties without having to create a second version of the city page.

You can help creating a good default page by copying from others, adjusting to your needs, and giving feedback on what could be improved on other pages as well.

Please add your CryptoParty dates to the global dates list3) even if you don't use the wiki as your main website. Help us show how global the movement is. You can find a dedicated How-To for adding your own CryptoParty4) there.

Outreach

Outreach helps you to make it known that a CryptoParty is happening. First you need to think of your “target audience”. That would be people not encrypting anything yet. They know how to turn on a computer but don't have advanced knowledge on the topic.
Start small. Depending on the number of angels available you probably don't want a hundred people showing up at your first CryptoParty.
Locations tend to come with a community. If they are interested in hosting a CryptoParty then their community is likely interested in attending one. If you manage to make them happy they will tell their friends how amazing it was.

Announce the CryptoParty on the wiki, the mailing lists, and all other relevant channels at hand. Here are some channels you could use:

Maybe the location would like to put up poster and flyers in a good spot? Maybe they have a mailing list as well? Consider creating a mailing list and social media accounts for your city. Mailing lists, Diaspora, and Twitter seem to be very popular in the CryptoParty community.

Connecting to the worldwide CryptoParty community can be useful to learn from past experience and bring in new impulses.

Angels

Decide what topic you'd like to teach. To see how others explain it check the list of handbooks10). Explanations will be aimed at beginners. Always keep that in mind. https://www.level-up.cc/11) has a section specifically on how to be a better trainer12), and a couple of people wrote a concise guide on How to give a digital security training.

Don't be judgemental. Respect people's choices of which tool to use and how far they are ready to go protecting their privacy. Don't answer questions as if they are stupid. Every question is a good one.

Contact the organizer and let them know what you'd like to teach. It helps them in planning the CryptoParty. The more angels there are the smaller the groups can be, making it a much better experience for the guests.
Should you find some spare time at the party use it and learn from the other angels.

Bring pen and paper to the CryptoParty to draw diagrams while explaining how something works.

Materials

List of things that might come in handy during a CryptoParty.

  • flyers (CryptoParty or related groups)
  • stickers
  • some USB sticks
  • having all relevant software downloaded (and verified if possible)
  • fingerprints of signing keys for Tor, Tails, PGP and other projects

The Party

Setting the scene

This might be the most important part. A strength of CryptoParties is that they bring together people of most diverse backgrounds and engage them into learning together and from each other. But this also brings its challenges as people might have different ideas of what entails “being excellent to each other”.

A first step, even before the party officially starts, is to welcome each person or group individually as they arrive and making sure that they don't feel lonely or lost. This is especially important when the start is delayed, which happens more often than it probably should, but this applies to the whole party. Just make sure everyone is excellent to each other and does things (e.g. having a tea and friendly chat). Tearing down walls.

Intro Speech

In our experience it is helpful to lay out the general “plan” and potential topics in the beginning.

The intro speech officially opens the CryptoParty. Depending on your style it can be a rather down-to-earth or more fiery thing. But keep it short (less than 20 minutes) and don't go into the technical details as this is what the individual learning groups are for.

Potential talking points can be

  • hello and welcome
  • thanking the people from the location
  • be excellent to each other and do things
    • help each other out!
    • harassment and other abusive behaviour may not be tolerated
  • what is CryptoParty
    • global and decentral movement
    • everyone can be a part of it
    • one topic per table
    • people choose topic
  • what does secure mean
    • 100% security not possible (neither offline nor online)
    • using crypto is legal, but not in every country
    • CryptoParty is for beginners
    • forward journalists, activists to real experts (e.g. EFF14), Tactical Tech15), AccessNow16))
  • prejudice that crypto is hard exists
  • security is a process
    • not a product
    • not something you install
    • something you do
  • free software
    • free as in freedom
  • decentralized services
    • not controlled by a single company
  • list of topics presented at this specific CryptoParty

Don't offer a false sense of security, but also don't scare people with all the ways that things could go wrong. Some people _want_ to hear all the things that could go wrong and are not scared, but you need to figure that out on a person-by-person basis, it's not for the introductory speech.

Topics

This list is only a suggestion. Learning groups form around these topics and depending on how large the space is, how many people attend to learn and how many are willing to conduct a learning group they can be grouped more broadly or specific.

What you offer depends on the angels available. Further suggestions are listed in a separate tools overview17). All of them are free and open source software. And of course we like decentralized services.

  • discussion and orientation table
  • encrypt emails with PGP
  • encrypt your IMs with XMPP and OTR
  • anonymous surfing Tor
  • privacy enhancing browser plug-ins
  • mobile security (Android, iOS)
  • file and hard-drive encryption with VeraCrypt
  • hard-drive encryption with LUKS
  • password security and managers
  • Linux installation
  • Tails (safe and anonymous operating system… don't forget to tell people to bring a thumb drive)

A discussion and orientation table would cover how much surveillance is possible and why all of us have something to hide. Most people are not exhibitionists and do value their privacy. Hence it focuses on anyone curious but not yet convinced why they would encrypt or not sure where to start.

At the discussion and orientation table, you might have to deal with a lot of question you didn't expect. Some of them might even seem irrelevant to you. Don't try to direct the conversation, answer every question without judging instead.

Asking for help

Always ask for help. CryptoParties are not meant to be hard on the individual. If the stress outweights the fun, step back a bit and see how it still magically continues by itself. The main thing for this to happen is toinvite people to help, tell them that they can help and that their help is appreciated. Be it for one CryptoParty or the long run. If you see people show up for the third time in a row, ask them if they want to host a table, if people talk about the bar they work or the house project they live in, ask them if these places would be suitable for a CryptoParty and if they might organize one. The opportunities are plenty.

Variations of the Format

CryptoParties for specific groups can help lower the barrier of “This is not my field of expertise, I won't understand a thing!”. Consider organizing CryptoParties for journalists, students, specific activist groups, etc. Still, even considering the dedicated setup, everyone who happens to come by, should be welcome.

If you want to reach people who are too shy to attend or if finding a good location is too hard, you might want to offer visiting people at their place for a so-called “house/living room CryptoParty”.

Roles

As with any event there are different roles at a CryptoParty. This chapter will give an overview of all the roles.

  • organizers
  • intro speakers
  • crypto angels
  • meta angels

Organizer

As a CryptoParty organizer, you need to find a nice location where people feel comfortable. You keep in touch with the people running the space and find a date suitable for everyone. Locations can be community spaces, cafes, libraries, schools, universities, hackerspaces… any place cozy and inviting with enough chairs, tables, power plugs and fast enough Internet works.

You could take care of outreach as well to spread the word of when and where the CryptoParty happens. Outreach has a dedicated chapter (see below).

Last but not least you need enough people to explain specific tools and run the CryptoParty with you. If you are experienced you can run with as little as no one and organize the helpers (some call them Crypto Angels) on the spot. But it's way less stressful if you just ask everyone you know who is knowledgable and/or helpful to come.

Keep groups as small as possible. Experience has shown that the best teacher-learner ratio is 1:5 or lower.

A CryptoParty is successful if the atmosphere is right. It does not matter how many people showed up. Be patient when starting to establish CryptoParty in your city or community. Spreading the word takes time.

Intro Speaker

As intro speaker your task is to open the CryptoParty before people move to the table of their choice. It can be be a rather down to earth “this is what CryptoParty is about and these are the topics” affair or a fiery “for your privacy, for our freedom, encrypt now and make the surveillance bastards cry” rally speech. Every speaker has their own style.

For notes on talking points see the Intro Speech section below.

Crypto Angels

As Crypto Angel your task is to explain crypto on a conceptual level, what it protects from (or doesn't) and help with installing and using the related software.

Always explain to the person in your group with the least pre-knowledge, keep an eye out for startled faces and ask if everyone followed after you finish a thought. Encourage interaction and questions whenever they arise. When someone else knows the answer let them answer first.

Learning should be hands-on first. Never touch a participants computer unless not doing so would really hinder the experience and always ask permission to do so first. Most people are visual learners so drawing little pictures or diagrams can help them a lot grasping the abstract concepts behind the software.
If you don't know the answer to a question, either forward it to the larger crowd/other Crypto Angels, or try to find it with the group.

The idea is that people know how to use the tool they learned about on a basic level when they leave the CryptoParty. And even better, that they can then tell their friends they now use “tool xyz” and thus get them to understand that it can't be as hard as they previously thought (and then explain it to them, too).

If you need more Crypto Angles, find them:

  • at a CryptoParty
  • among your friends
  • at a hackerspace
  • in university

Meta Angel

The bigger or more chaotic a CryptoParty is in general, the better it is to have a Meta Angel, a person who's only task is to make sure that everyone has the best learning experience and no one is left alone.

As meta angel you don't have a topic or table. Instead you have an overview of the angels available, what their strengths are, and what table covers which topic.

You help late comers finding a table.

You facilitate communication between tables. Assume there's a question at a table and the local angel has no answer to it. You help them find someone else who might.

If someone seems to have dropped out help them find the right table.

If someone is undecided about what they want to learn, you can have a chat with them to help them to understand what they'd like to learn and to choose their table.

Community Building

Things you can do to help grow the local and global CryptoParty community.

Regular Meeting Night

In order to build a sustainable movement, people need to (and will) form social bonds. A regular meeting night for crypto angels, organizers, and others helps with that. It is also a space where new ideas have room to emerge!

Training Sessions

As the focus is on the least-experienced people during a CryptoParty, it might be hard for angels to focus on learning new things themselves. Hence holding “train the trainers” sessions can be a good idea.

Conferences

There's been a CryptoParty assembly at the CCC congress since the movement started. It helped us a lot to connect worldwide and exchange experiences.

Applying the concept to more conferences can help spread the word. And of course it's lots of fun to meet other like minded people. Or maybe someone already had the same idea and you join forces?

Resources

Language Link Description
english https://www.level-up.cc/ resources for the global digital safety training community
english https://medium.com/@geminiimatt/how-to-give-a-digital-security-training-4c83af667d40 How To Give A Digital Security Training
english https://cryptoparty.in/learn/links#handbooks links to various handbooks
german https://wiki.piratenpartei.de/HowTo_Cryptoparty How To CryptoParty by german Pirate Party
german https://www.ak-vorrat.org/wiki/cryptoparty:erfahrungen How To CryptoPaty by german activist group AK Vorrat

References