Okta is well-known as a provider of identity services—enabling customers to provide simple and secure access to connect people with platforms and technologies. What is less well known is that Okta also operates the Okta for Good Fund to give back and help foster better security for everyone with initiatives like the Nonprofit Cybersecurity Portfolio announced today.
Okta made a three-year commitment to invest $10 million out of the Okta for Good Fund. The Nonprofit Cybersecurity Portfolio commits over $1 million in grants to support better security across the social sector as part of this effort.
The Need for Nonprofit Cybersecurity
Cybercriminals are not known for their honor or moral code. Rather than avoiding attacks on schools, hospitals, and nonprofit organizations, these groups have faced increasing cyberattacks in recent years—putting millions of already vulnerable people at even greater risk. Few nonprofits have the resources or skills necessary for effective cybersecurity, yet more than 50% report being targeted by cyberattacks.
I spoke with Lance Pierce, CEO of NetHope—one of the beneficiaries of the Okta for Good grants—about the threat landscape nonprofit organizations face. “Much of the increase in hacking related activity is being driven by nation-states. This is a fact that really focuses the attention on a lot of our work. According to some of the leading threat analysts in the world, the nonprofit sector is the third most targeted for hacking by nation-states in the world,” explained Pierce.
Why is that? Pierce pointed out that the motivation behind attacking nonprofits is different than cyberattacks against government entities or private sector companies. So, what is the goal of these attacks? “If you’re a large and influential organization, they’re after your donors. If you’re an organization that deals with politically vulnerable populations—refugees and others—they want your beneficiary data or your program participant data, because knowing who those people are, may be of interest to that particular country,” stressed Pierce.
It becomes a matter not just of cybersecurity, but of human rights. The reason that nation-states and other threat actors target nonprofits and want this information is for overtly political—and sometimes harmful—purposes. It is crucial to protect access to the data itself rather than focusing only on prevention and perimeter defense.
“Civil society is under attack, and unfortunately it’s a problem that’s not going away,” noted Pierce.
Okta is attempting to address this challenge by providing much-needed cybersecurity support for nonprofits. Okta’s Nonprofit Cybersecurity Portfolio, which is part of Okta’s Nonprofit Technology Initiative, will enable better security for nonprofits through six grants that provide resourcing for projects ranging from training to incident response support.
Nonprofit Cybersecurity Portfolio Projects
The funds from the Nonprofit Cybersecurity Portfolio will be distributed between six different organizations and projects, selected in partnership with external nonprofit security experts and Okta Security leadership including David Bradbury, CSO, Okta and Jameeka Green Aaron, CISO, Auth0, a product unit of Okta.
A press release from Okta revealed the grantees and the focus of the projects being funded:
- CyberPeace Institute: The institute will use its $150,000 grant to expand CyberPeace Builders, connecting corporate cyber volunteers with nonprofits in need of cybersecurity training.
- NetHope: With $375,000 from Okta over two years, the organization will establish a “Dial-a-CISO” program and provide coordinated incident response for NetHope members. In addition, to further its commitment to the cybersecurity of nonprofit organizations, NetHope will be using the grant to establish a global humanitarian Information Sharing and Analysis Center (ISAC) service to support nonprofits involved in Humanitarian Relief and engage the private sector in greater support of their cybersecurity efforts, in collaboration with Okta and the United States Agency for International Development (“USAID”).
- Norwegian Refugee Council: The organization will leverage $290,000 over two years to create policies and training materials for the safe handling of data in humanitarian response to be scaled across a network of global nonprofits.
- Simply Secure: A grant of $80,000 will support privacy and design consulting for nonprofit technology startups that are building digital services for vulnerable populations.
- TechSoup Civil Society Strengthening Fund: Okta for Good is proud to be the founding partner of this new program, administered by TechSoup, to help civil society organizations in and around Ukraine strengthen their cybersecurity posture, with plans to expand globally in the future. In addition to its own grant of $100,000, Okta is working to recruit its tech peers to contribute to this program, and to date, Zscaler has contributed $20,000 and Zendesk $50,000.
- UC Berkeley Center for Long-term Cybersecurity (CLTC): A $25,000 planning grant will explore areas for potential future collaboration such as cybersecurity training for graduate students and original research on public interest cybersecurity issues.
Doing Right and Giving Back
Okta’s Nonprofit Technology Initiative launched in 2020 with the goal of contributing to a paradigm shift in how nonprofits are funded and enabled to make the digital transition. It focuses on three key areas including accelerating nonprofits’ move to the cloud, supporting digital transformation to enable nonprofits to reach their stakeholders digitally at scale, and securing nonprofits and their critical data.
Why does a cybersecurity company like Okta invest money and resources for an initiative like this? I asked Erin Baudo Felter, VP of Social Impact and Sustainability at Okta, and she shared, “I think the ‘Why?’ for us is pretty ingrained into who we are as a company and the vision that our founders had and have—not only the experience they want our employees to have but also the mark that we want to make on the world. We’re still a founder-led company and from the early days, Todd McKinnon, our CEO, and Frederick Harris, our CFO, felt that the company they were building couldn’t be taken apart from the communities around it and that it was really important that in building and scaling the company that we give back to the communities around us.”
She added, “Frankly, that helps make Okta a successful company so there’s a kind of pay it forward mentality in the company that comes straight from the founders and goes all the way through to the employee base.”
Felter emphasized that Okta wants to attract people to work at the company who have big ideas and who have a global mindset and want to contribute on a level that is not just about Okta’s products or their “day job,” but about something bigger. She noted that those are the kinds of people Okta wants to hire and that these kinds of volunteer programs and opportunities and investments that signal what kind of values Okta has as a company are extremely important to attract and retain the right talent.