Smartphones and laptops have made the work of journalists quite easy these days – affording them with a sea of information at their fingertips through a simple Internet search. Despite the benefits that come with digital devices and the Internet, there is a very huge downside to this convenience and that is privacy.
Privacy in journalism
Journalism can be a high-risk job and those who engage in this profession take their privacy and security very seriously. This should also be extended to devices used by such people because these days, our devices contain quite a lot of data about who we are. Given this situation, device and online security should not be taken with levity because if personal information gets into the wrong hands, it could have devastating repercussions.
The smartphone device – used by all and sundry is much more powerful than we know and to a large extent can be used to monitor any individual 24/7. The introduction of malware and spyware have made these possible given the countless number of these malicious programs existing on the internet. In 2012, there was over 6 million malicious software on the internet. By 2015, it was seemingly impossible to quantify the number of this software – imagine what we would have by 2020.
Security measures implemented by journalists.
Journalists have since buckled up to the task, some of them making use of the deep web to access banned websites and communicate anonymously via secure channels. These methods are engaged by journalists who are either conducting high-class investigations into powerful people who could bring them down or those who want to release information to the public anonymously. For journalists operating in a country where freedom of speech is merely a mirage, they take to such measures to secure themselves also.
The same could be said for reporters in war-torn zones, politically unstable countries, and cities under military rule. While the journalists might need to consider their online and physical security a little more seriously, it is advisable that virtually every person related directly or indirectly to journalism take due diligence in securing their personally identifiable information accessible through their online accounts.
Reasons for cybersecurity measures in journalism
The average person might wonder, what might journalists need cybersecurity for? Below are some such reasons:
- protecting the identities and location of sources, insiders, whistleblowers, and handlers;
- hiding a story from the authorities;
- keeping personal and work data secure if a device is stolen or misplaced;
- securing a communication line to prevent bugging or wiretapping;
- preventing online harassment when writing for a blog.
Of all the aforementioned, the first point is the most important. Not only because of the safety of the informants but every good journalist knows that the moment one of his/her anonymous sources is leaked, there marks the beginning of the end for such a career. Such journalists would lose public trust and no one would want to risk their anonymity with such journalist for the fear of being exposed.
Constant self-consciousness as a journalist
As a journalist, whether you are interviewing the owner of the local diner down the street, or having a sit down with the National Security Adviser, it is important to have your guard up and know that your communications are most likely being eavesdropped on. For high-profile cases that involve government conspiracies, your devices could most likely be bugged by government agencies or cybercriminals who would be looking to hijack a finished work and publish them anonymously or otherwise.
Journalists, including bloggers, are very familiar with backlashes and trolling that may arise as a result of a publication made online and this has made many publish their investigations under pseudonyms or anonymous names. Given the technological era we find ourselves in at the moment, this alone might not suffice. Sophisticated digital measures should be implemented when posting online to prevent the poster from being tracked down.
Securing your devices as a journalist
In view of this, explained below are some ways by which journalists can secure their devices and connections against criminals and snoopers:
- Use a VPN: A VPN is a Virtual Private Network that helps create a secure connection between a host and a server, adding layers of encryption to the data being transferred between both ends. It also re-routes network traffic from the user, through a virtual server in the desired location, giving the user a new IP address.
- Use Encryption Technology: Encryption converts normal data into scrambled strings of characters which can only be converted back to information that can be understood by anyone – using the same technology. For the average journalist, enabling email encryption on both the sender and the receiver’s email client is one of the most common ways to actually secure a communication channel.
- Install Antivirus Software: Viruses, malware, spyware, etc. are perfect examples of malicious software that could be used by cybercriminals to gain access to sensitive information stored on your device. They can also give these criminals the ability to gain total control of the system, using it for their ulterior motives.
- Turn off Location Access: This one in particular to smartphones and is an easy way for the device used to be tracked through IP address logs and location markers. The location access can be turned off by toggling the location setting in the phone’s menu to off. Asides from this, quitting applications such as browsers, car trackers and ride-hailing applications that can giveaway location data is also essential.
Computing is now pervasive and virtually every smart device with internet access has the capacity of granting access to our personal data is compromised. Journalism is a high-risk job and as much as physical security is important, digital security should also be accorded as much priority. Asides getting the right software to prevent intrusion and measures to secure communication, enabling two-factor authorization on a lot of personal accounts will help.
As with popular measures taken by security-conscious individuals, journalists must have separate accounts for work and personal accounts with no link existing between them. This way, if either account gets compromised, it doesn’t get linked back to the journalist.
This article was contributed by TechWarn.com