Best Practices and Tips for Digital Security and Privacy for Journalists

Digital Security and Privacy for Journalists

As a journalist, your mission is to inform citizens about their society, government, and other things so they can make the best decisions for themselves. Unfortunately, what you’ll soon find out (if you haven’t already) is that those in power usually don’t want you to do that and the more you dig for sensitive information, the more they will try to silence you.

Digital security does not apply just to you and your data. Investigative journalists must also think about the potential danger they put their sources in. This is why, in this article, we’ll go over the best practices and the steps you should be taking as a journalist to protect your data and your sources’ data in the digital space.

Best Practices for Navigating the Internet

Navigating the Internet

One of the best ways to find the right information today is, of course, to search for it online. Investigative journalists, however, don’t just Google things hoping to get to the story.

Instead, they often go deeper into the depths of the Internet called the deep and dark web. This might make your digital footprint “more interesting” than a regular Internet user’s who might just be using Google for shopping and surfing.

How you act and how you appear on the Internet when someone searches for your name can have a huge impact on how people see you as a journalist and with that your stories. This can be used to discredit you or to pressure you to “lay off” a story so start with these best practices to clean out your Internet act:

  • Search for your name on Google, Yahoo, and other search engines, including non-English ones like Yandex. Note what comes out. Is there something that can put you at risk?
  • Use a browser that will protect your online privacy and won’t collect user data. One option is Tor, but there are others as well. Check our choice for the best privacy browsers here.
  • Is your personal information, such as your home address, phone number, or personal email (more on that later) listed online? Contact the website in question to remove this data if possible
  • Do any of your family members appear in searches related to you? For instance, are your children tagged in a photo of you on Facebook or Instagram? Take the necessary steps to anonymize them
  • Check your online photos. Can any of them be used to discredit you? Be sure to remove them
  • Set up a Google alert for your name (include common misspellings and shortenings (for instance Alexander – Alex – Lex)
  • Use a virtual private network to protect your online traffic. Remember that your Internet Service Provider might keep your data and release your sensitive information to the government and law enforcement if they ask for it
  • Regularly review your online profiles every 3-6 months

Best Practices for Securing Your Physical Devices

 Securing Your Physical Devices

Your computer and mobile phone are both important for your work as an investigative journalist, but if they get into the wrong hands they can put you and your sources at risk.

This is why the following best practices should be used by journalists to protect their devices. For a more comprehensive look at how to make your Android smartphone more private and secure check out this article that we wrote.

  • Do not leave your devices unattended and always keep an eye on them. This means not leaving your smartphone on the table as you go to the bathroom in the restaurant for instance
  • Protect your devices with a strong password. If you do have to get separated with your device (for instance when checking your baggage at the airport), make sure that it can’t be accessed easily.
  • Keep your operating system and software up-to-date to protect your device from vulnerabilities
  • Only download programs and documents from trusted sources. Don’t click on documents and/or links sent to your phone via email, SMS, or social media
  • Use apps that provide encrypted communication such as Signal
  • Turn of location-tracking apps or at least limit their use as much as possible. However, if you lose your phone, setting up “Find my Device” can help you locate your device much faster
  • If you lose your phone or it gets stolen or confiscated by law enforcement, for instance, be sure to wipe it remotely

Best Practices for Social Media Accounts

 Securing Your Physical Devices

Social media can be used by investigative journalists to contact their sources, connect with other journalists, and promote their work. However, as social media sites like Facebook and Twitter gather and store an incredible amount of data about us, using social media also proves to be a risk and therefore you need to approach it carefully.

Here are the best practices you should be aware of when using social media to bolster your privacy and security on them:

  • Separate your professional and personal accounts. Don’t take photos with your family on your professional social media accounts and only keep them work-related
  • Go through the privacy and security settings of your online accounts. On Facebook, for example, go to Settings & Privacy > Privacy Checkup > Who can see what you share or Your data settings on Facebook and review the settings there
  • Review the comments that others leave on your social media. Is any of it threatening or harassing? Do any of these commenters re-appear? Be sure to block them from your social media
  • Tell your friends and family not to tag you in any photos they have with you or in online comments. Don’t worry, it’s still okay to take a photo with your friends
  • Don’t use social media to interview your sources. Instead, do this via more secure platforms
  • Go through your social media regularly and remove any content that can violate your and your family’s or friends’ privacy and safety

Best Practices for Email

CTemplar

Email is still the number one way to communicate professionally and as a journalist, you’ll rely on it to communicate with your sources, colleagues, editor, and others.

Of course, this also means that your email will contain a lot of sensitive data that can put you and your contacts at risk, so finding an email provider that will protect your digital privacy is important.

Let’s review the best practices you should be pursuing when it comes to email:

  • Create at least two email accounts. One should be your personal account and the other for work. Do not mix these two!
  • If you are using a shared or a public computer (better don’t), be sure to always log out of your email account once you’re done with it. The same applies to browsers. If the browser gives you an option to stay logged in, turn it off
  • Use strong passwords and two-factor authentication to protect your email (as well as other online accounts). A password manager software such as LastPass can come in handy not just to remember your passwords, but also to generate strong passwords and protect them
  • Keep an eye out for phishing emails, especially spear phishing ones. Always look at the email address and if it matches. Avoid clicking links and downloading attachments from unsolicited emails before making sure they are safe
  • Use end-to-end encryption to protect your sensitive data on email. A service that can help you protect your data online is CTemplar encrypted email. Find out here how CTemplar and end-to-end encryption can help protect journalists in their work.

Conclusion

If you’re a journalist, digital safety becomes much more important than for regular Internet users, especially as, in addition to your personal information, you also need to protect the sensitive information belonging to your sources.

Journalists around the world are often under pressure from governments and corporations that don’t want their secrets exposed and we hope that this digital security guide will help protect journalists online.

Finally, remember that it’s much easier to attack journalists if they are isolated and working solo. For better protection, join networks that support journalism such as Global Investigative Journalism Network, International Press Institute, and the Committee to Protect Journalists.