As COVID-19 drives more people online for work, entertainment, and even connection to friends and family, digital and data security issues are increasingly important across the United States and around the world. However, citizen-focused digital and data security discussions are still in early stages in some countries, especially in Southeast Asia, and my home base, Cambodia. So—who really gets left behind? It is often the citizens and small companies that rely on digital tools, but do not all have strong cyber skills to safely do business online.

Today, more than 9.7 million Cambodians are online and using social media—well over half of the population. Most connected Cambodians access the internet via their mobiles, and a 2016 survey reported that many surveyed consider Facebook to be the internet. However, as penetration grows, Cambodians don’t always get access to the information they need, or skills training, to stay safe online. In April, the early effects of COVID-19 on Cambodia’s small firms and citizens were evident, especially through a digital security lens. Scams, hacking, and fake news schemes targeted vulnerable users and used fear to generate confusion and panic, especially with users that we unfamiliar with all the features of their phones and Facebook pages.

Through the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Digital Asia Accelerator, a regional initiative that aims to increase safe and appropriate use of digital technologies, we conducted a rapid assessment of this dynamic digital security environment with small and medium enterprises, security specialists, and business support organizations. We learned about common problems and security challenges that Cambodian users face online, especially when using smartphones. We heard devastating stories about hacking, businesses losing access to business networks and contacts, and elaborate online scams. Perceptions of trust and safety are important themes here in Cambodia, something we see across much of the digital “insights” work DAI does around the world, like this recent research in India and Ghana.

While it is impossible to ensure everyone stays absolutely safe, the Accelerator team knew we needed to take steps to give Cambodians information they can use to protect themselves. One of the best ways to reach people in Cambodia right now, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, is through short video messages and disseminating them on Facebook. The Accelerator team included Cambodian experts from the DAI-run USAID Development Innovations project; they rapidly built out the campaign concept based on DI’s campaign experience, and the experience running viral campaigns in Cambodia such as Think Plastic and Stay Home. The Accelerator used findings from the assessment with small business users to design the initial Online Safety campaign (#OnlineSafetyKH), and then worked with partners at the USAID Information Safety and Capacity Project, small business support organization SHE Investments, and the USAID We Act and Innovations for Social Accountability (ISAC) projects to test and refine messages. It was essential to get rapid feedback from local actors that supported small firms and understood digital security challenges to ensure that the videos are practical and user-friendly, and resonate deeply with the Cambodian audience. As a result, our team developed 10 videos with “tips and tricks,” a popular outreach methodology in Cambodia, to help small firms protect themselves online. Each video was designed to address specific problems that Cambodian users face such as weak passwords, challenges downloading apps directly onto their phones, or suffering from online scams, but we have heard anecdotally that the simple messages in the videos are also providing useful tips to users in nearby countries.

The first #OnlineSafetyKH video launched in Cambodia.

We are now more than halfway through the campaign. To date, early videos are attracting more than 50,000 to 105,000 views each. They are, reportedly, some of the most shareable content on our partners’ sites, showing that the information is resonating with Cambodians. Published videos are available on USAID Cambodia’s Facebook playlist. You can also download the videos, here. Over time, we believe the videos will prompt even more Cambodians to take steps to protect themselves, their data, and their devices as the country and its small business sector continue to transform digitally. Stay tuned for final campaign results, feedback from the audience, and lessons learned.

The Digital Accelerator Asia is funded by USAID Asia, and is part of Digital Frontiers, a buy-in mechanism available to USAID Bureaus and Missions through 2022. DAI implements Digital Frontiers, which works closely with USAID’s Global Development Lab, the Center for Digital Development, Missions, the private sector, and international and local development organizations to identify successful and sustainable digital development approaches and scale their impact globally.