Switchboard

Switchboard, which was founded in 1974, is one of the oldest telephone helplines in the United Kingdom which provides support and information to people of all kinds — but especially those who identify as LGBTQ+. Fast forward to 2021 and the organization is in high gear, with an average of 1500 unique service users a month connecting with volunteers who are available 7 days a week.

“Our goal at Switchboard is to provide a safe judgement free-space for those who need support. We have people that call in to talk about things such as seeking help in navigating their gender identity, looking for resources on mental health in the UK, or to discuss issues in their community when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights,” explains Switchboard's Pete Hannam. Switchboard is a volunteer-led charity, so Hannam holds responsibilities ranging from answering phone calls and providing support to callers, to developing and securing the organization’s online platform.

Switchboard started as a phone helpline, but as communications evolved over the years, the organizations adapted by expanding into new channels like email and real-time chat. Technology also helped the organization respond to the COVID-19 pandemic quickly. They quickly transitioned their platform to be fully online in order to handle the many calls, emails and chats volunteers at Switchboard received related to the uncertainty of the pandemic on careers and social disengagement with people around the world. Hannam estimates the organization saw an increase in communication via email and chat grow from 30% to 55%.

“As IT improves, we have the ability to expand our services in new ways," he explains. "But as we explore new avenues for engagement using current technology, it can be challenging to keep up with the security measures that need to be implemented to ensure that our communications are private and volunteers have the tools they need to keep sensitive information secure.”

Switchboard joined Project Galileo in May 2019 in order to gain more visibility into their HTTP traffic, including threats that targeted their site. “We had very basic web services with no idea what type of traffic or access people may have had to our backend systems," Hannam explains. "Unfortunately, our site was hacked because of a vulnerability in a WordPress plugin. We had no visibility into our traffic or threats before Cloudflare and due to this didn’t realise that our site had been compromised. As an organization that provides a platform for those sharing sensitive information about things such as gender identity or abuse they suffered, trust is essential for us and presenting an insecure platform is a huge breach of respect and professionalism.”

The organization was accepted to Project Galileo and immediately enabled Cloudflare SSL certificates to encrypt and authenticate all traffic, and to provide a sense of trust to users that use the organization’s services. From there, they used the Cloudflare Web Application Firewall to automatically block attackers’ attempts to exploit vulnerabilities in their website’s PHP code.

Over the past year, Switchboard also implemented Cloudflare Gateway. As the organization looks toward the future which includes returning to the office in some form, they were looking for a solution to automatically block viruses and phishing attempts that spread over the Internet through malicious web pages. Gateway helps as a first layer of defence against most security threats and prevents the organization’s network and devices from getting infected by malicious software that their volunteers may accidentally download. As Hannam explains, “We have the exact same issues as large companies, possibly even more targeted due to the sensitivity of our work, with significantly fewer resources. So it is important for organizations such as ours to have the opportunity to use advanced security tools, and Cloudflare’s Project Galileo allows us access to these tools to keep our site reliable, secure and trustworthy.”

«It is important for organizations such as ours to have the opportunity to use advanced security tools, and Cloudflare’s Project Galileo allows us access to these tools to keep our site reliable, secure and trustworthy.»

Pete Hannam
Volunteer & IT Coordinator