Tools Journalists Can Use To Protect Their Work Online


In light of the recent NSA revelations, as well as the ongoing attempts to censor journalists and other online content producers by governments worldwide, we thought it would be a good idea to point out some tools available for use.

  1. –  Reporters Without Borders recently launched this secure portal that publishes articles, photography, video and audio that is either partially or entirely banned in countries where there is heavy censorship and surveillance.  The site has so far received content from Belarus, Brazil, China, Cuba, India, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Morocco and Syria. All news reports are published in English and French. The site also accepts articles that were originally published in Arabic, Chinese, Persian or Russian.
  2. Encrypted DocumentsJorge Luis Sierra, a Knight International Journalism Fellow, created a simple and easy-to-use tutorial on how to encrypt documents using Word for a Mac, Microsoft Word 10 documents on a PC and Open Office documents.
  3. Secure Mobile Phones – Mobile phones have become the most important tool for journalists, but these tools can easily be hacked by anyone anywhere.  Here are some ideas to consider:
    • If you live and work in an area where there is suspected or known surveillance, don’t keep any sensitive information on the mobile. If you have to, use an encryption program like TrueCrypt or a strong mobile and SIM card password.
    • Disable your Wi-Fi location or GPS and mobile data.  This will reduce the risk of tracking your location.  It also saves battery power and reduces unwanted data flow initiated by applications running remotely by your mobile carrier.
    • Consider using separate mobiles for professional and personal use.  Not only are your professional contacts and sources at risk if your mobile is lost or stolen, but the safety of your family and friends is also in jeopardy.
    • Consider hiding your identity by setting up your mobile to hide your number when you make calls.
  4. Secure Computers – The same rules above apply here as well. In addition:
    • Know Your Environment – Don’t look at sensitive information in a public space or in an open work space (cubicle).  If you have to be in public, use a laptop privacy screen filter and make sure it is password protected (and never share the password with anyone).  Never leave your laptop unattended and on. Instead, turn it off or put it into a password-protected “sleep” mode.
    • If you have to leave your computer at an office or your home, put it away in a secure place.
    • Always back up your files either in an encrypted cloud program or in a password protected external hard drive that can also be put in a secure place.  Some people recommend the external hard drive and computer be secured in separate locations.  If you have extremely sensitive information, you might want to consider having two or even three external hard drives secured in three different locations where no one would ever think of finding them.
    • Your computer becomes less vulnerable to hacking if you make sure it’s programs are kept up to date and upgraded regularly, including anti-virus programs.
  5.  Other issues to consider:
    • This article tells you signs someone is spying on your phone.
    • Orweb, Tor and Covert Browser (iPhones and iPads only) are apps that allow you to surf the Internet anonymously.  Most web browsers (Google Chrome, FireFox etc) have an option to browse the Internet privately as well.  Always delete your browsing history, cookies and cache.
    • ChatSecure lets Apple users chat in encrypted form, while Gibberbot encrypts the content of your instant messages.
    • There are many encrypted email services available, such as HushMail.
    • Always send or receive information – especially financial information – on websites that use Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS).  This protocol means that only you and your server can view your information which is encrypted.
    • If you use multiple passwords (a good idea), consider using KeePass a free, open-source software that allows you to save passwords using only one primary password to unlock them.

Of course, there is no absolute way to totally protect yourself from hacking or surveillance, but if you use these tools, you will have better peace of mind.

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