Cybersecurity is the practice of protecting internet-connected devices, networks, and data from unauthorized access or criminal use. Due to the rise in cases of cybercrime, individuals and entities are encouraged to take cybersecurity measures to protect sensitive data, intellectual property, and digital identities. If you are a journalist or work for the press, you may need to take additional cybersecurity measures to protect your work.

As a journalist, prioritizing cybersecurity is fundamental to the integrity of your professional reputation. Take the necessary steps to ensure that proprietary data, online accounts, and personally identifiable information are protected at all times. Cybersecurity is particularly important for reporters operating in countries where press freedom is limited, or when a journalist is attempting to crowdsource information without revealing the story.

While all journalism staff such as photographers, press agents, newscasters, writers, etc. need to prioritize cybersecurity, stakes are a bit higher for reporters in political journalism and those working from crime beats or war zones. Here are the two main reasons why every journalist should prioritize cybersecurity.

Protect Against Unwanted Surveillance

In a bid to combat terrorism, hate speech, and criminal activities, governments all over the world are enacting laws that allow security agencies to monitor online activity, track calls, and intercept communications. Due to the nature of their job as the watchdog for government and industry, journalists often attract unwanted surveillance from corrupt state actors as well as corporate entities. Security agencies and well-funded corporate entities have the resources to eavesdrop and trace your location anywhere, anytime. It’s prudent to assume that you are under surveillance and take necessary measures.

Protecting Sources

As a journalist, it’s in your best interest to always protect your sources at all costs. If your anonymous source becomes public knowledge, it could mean the end of your career. If you are lucky, no one will ever reveal confidential information to you. In most cases, no one will even talk to you. Therefore, it’s imperative that you do everything in your power to keep your sources private. Keep in mind that cybercriminals and nation-state actors can intercept phone calls, messages, emails, and other communications. Take precautions to secure your communications and protect your sources.

Thanks to the prevalence of the internet and the ubiquity of computers, smartphones, and other devices with built-in surveillance capabilities, journalism has become one of the most dangerous careers in the world. Security agencies and any other well-funded adversaries can easily access sensitive information and force journalists to kill their stories or reveal their sources. These threat actors make it extremely difficult for journalists to do their job.

Cybersecurity - Press at Risk
Cybersecurity – Journalists at Risk (Photo credits: Andri)

Cybersecurity Tools for Journalists

In their role as the government and industry watchdog, journalists face a wide range of digital threats. The good news is that there are ways for a journalist to circumvent internet censorship and secure their online communications. Below, we look at various cybersecurity tools journalists can use to secure their devices and protect against surveillance from government security agencies and other adversaries.

VPN

A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is an online service that encrypts and redirects internet traffic from your computer to an internet server located in a different part of the world. A VPN is an effective way to bypass internet censorship and maintain privacy online. VPNs make it easy for journalists to set up a private network on their own server and safely connect to the internet. Download a VPN to protect your device from unwanted surveillance by the government and your ISP. A VPN helps a journalist investigate matters, communicate with sources, and report news safely.

Tor Browser

If you want to effectively keep third parties from monitoring your online activities, deleting browser history and cleaning cookies is not enough. You need to take further precautions to keep your internet activity completely anonymous. At the moment, the best anonymity software a journalist can use to conceal web traffic is the Tor browser. Tor routes your web traffic through three proxies, thus greatly minimizing the chances of internet surveillance. When using the Tor browser, no one can track your location or view the sites that you have visited. The Tor browser will also help you access websites that standard browsers can’t open.

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File Encryption Software

Cybercriminals can execute data breaches on the information stored in your computer or portable hard drives physically if they manage to get hold of these devices or remotely over the internet. You can defend against any of these threats by adding a layer of security to your storage devices through encryption. Encrypting your drives makes the files stored in them unreadable to anyone but you. You need a password or an encryption key to make data stored in an encrypted hard drive readable. VeraCrypt is one of the most secure encryption software at the moment as it offers several features that allow users to design a robust data security strategy on their devices.

Signal

As a journalist, you probably have a number of communication channels to choose from, whether you are using a mobile phone network or the internet. Voice calls and SMS text messaging are a common way of conveying information. Communication over the mobile phone network, whether it’s a voice call or text message, is susceptible to surveillance and eavesdropping. Signal is a chat app that non-technical journalists can use to encrypt their mobile communication and defend against surveillance. Upon installation, Signal will replace the default text messaging program and secure a way to make phone calls. It’s extremely difficult for anyone to overhear phone calls or intercept SMS communication between two people who have Signal installed on their devices.

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Antivirus

Keeping your personal devices healthy is a critical step toward cybersecurity regardless of your broader objective. The presence of malicious software (malware) in your laptop or smartphone drastically reduces the effectiveness of any other security measures you may take. Therefore, it’s imperative that you protect against malware by installing reliable antivirus on your devices before you start thinking about things such as anonymous browsing, private communication, and data encryption. There are different types of malware, including rootkits, trojans, ransomware, viruses, and phishing attacks. Learning about the different types of malware will help you against these cybersecurity threats better.

Cybersecurity should be a priority for every journalist out there. However, the stakes are a little higher for political reporters or journalists in war zones and crime hotspots. Taking precautions can help protect against bugging, eavesdropping, and other types of online surveillance. The aforementioned cybersecurity tools will help you secure your communications, keep the data on your devices secure, and hide from government agencies who may be trying to force you to kill a story or reveal your source.

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