Cybersecurity Essentials (For Every Journalist)
You don’t have to scratch your existence from the internet, but taking a few simple steps can go a long way in ensuring the safety of your work, your sources and yourself.
With Edward Snowden trying to build a phone safe for journalists, Mark Zuckerberg revealing he covers his camera and recent breaches of LinkedIn, Sony, and Jack Dorsey’s personal accounts, the importance of cybersecurity is becoming more and more apparent — especially for journalists.
“One good journalist in the right place at the right time can change history…This makes them a target, and increasingly tools of their trade are being used against them.”
— Edward Snowden
Many journalists in the digital age live on their laptops and mobile devices. Their digital footprints can be deep and detailed, and that can put them at risk.
Cybersecurity tools can seem forbidding, and adding extra layers on protection to your work online may seem like it involves a lot of extra trouble and paranoia.
However, there are simple tools that every journalist should know are available if they ever find themselves doing sensitive reporting, for the sake of their sources as well as themselves.
Email has taken over as the primary method of communication for many journalists. We may consider it casual, but our inboxes often hold invaluable information — bank account details, telephone numbers, meeting places, passwords, links to other accounts, transaction histories, to name just a few.
If you’re doing everyday reporting, a good password and discretion on sources and editors will do. However, if you’re looking for a way to ensure your messages are sent securely, Mailvelope is an add-on for Chrome and Firefox that works with email services like Gmail and Outlook.
Encrypting email is a major undertaking, and as such, mailvelope can be tricky to use (see here for a walkthrough), but well worth it if you’re worried about prying eyes.
Alternatively, for the email equivalent of a burner phone, you can try guerillamail.
Tor has gotten bad press for its association with The Silk Road and the seamier side of the Deep Web. However, Tor’s raison d’être is to provide a safer way to browse the web anonymously and without the ability to track your activity.
For journalists, this can be invaluable. Tor is a little slower than our beloved Chrome and Firefox, and doesn’t allow apps (for obvious reasons). However, it’ll give you a cloak of invisibility when researching sensitive subjects.
A hybrid of RedPhone and TextSecure, Signal allows you to send and receive both encrypted messages and calls.
WhatsApp also encrypts messages, but recently announced it would be sending some information to Facebook to help target relevant advertisements. You can opt out of this, but if you’re looking for alternatives for texting and calling sources securely, Signal is created by Open Whisper Systems, a pedigree name is cybersecurity.
Although it isn’t a replacement for anti-virus software, Detekt was designed to scan a Windows computer (sorry Macs) for certain known commercial spyware, often used to target journalists and human rights activists.
You should use Detekt if you suspect your work has attracted the wrong kind of attention, or if you suspect someone is monitoring your activity.
The most powerful security tool of all. Log off after every session. Don’t access sensitive information on a public network. Clear your cookies. If you really want something deleted, don’t just delete it — CC Cleaner it. Cover your webcam. And don’t make your password password.