Consider your digital safety.
As a freelance journalist, protecting yourself is no longer just about physical safety. You need to consider your digital safety too – and plan accordingly.
This Digital Risk Assessment will help you to identify – and assess – the potential digital security threats associated with your story or assignment.
As you work through the assessment you will find links to relevant pages within our guide. These will give you further information on how you can mitigate different digital risks and reduce your exposure to potential threats.
1. Outline your assignment
Before you can properly identify the major risks to your digital security, it’s a good idea to break down your story or assignment and consider its key elements. Try to identify all the major components: the key story, interviewees, travel arrangements and any other actions that are vital to your plans. Once you’ve done this, it will be easier to identify all the areas you need to consider for your risk assessment.
List and give as much detail as possible on the following:
- Story outline
- Key interviewees
- Travel plans
- Key Actions
2. What digital threats are posed by covering this story?
Now think about your key risks, threats and adversaries.
Remember, you don’t have to be covering a controversial or sensitive story to do be digitally vulnerable. You should get into the habit of completing a risk assessment for all assignments or stories as the process may reveal potential threats that you had not already thought about.
Consider the following:
a) Will you be contacting or interviewing vulnerable people?
- How will you store and protect the data of people you are interviewing?
- How and where will you store your notes and materials?
b) Are you covering a sensitive or controversial topic?
- Does it involve information that needs to remain secret or confidential?
- When are you going to be at greatest risk?
- When will your sources be at the greatest risk of targeted surveillance – during research and/or production, when the story is finished or when it goes public?
- How are you preparing yourself for possible increased surveillance? How are you helping your sources prepare?
c) What is the location of your assignment/story?
- What is known about government surveillance/censorship of the web and mobile communications in that area?
- What are the laws around free speech and right to privacy, if any?
- What has been published regarding the persecution or rights of journalists, whistleblowers or activists over their online activity?
d) Who are the adversaries likely to pose a threat to your digital security?
Think of your adversaries in two ways:
- i) INTENTIONAL ADVERSARIES:These could be governments, businesses, criminal organisations or individuals opposed to your work or to media exposure. Think of who may face some cost (legally, reputational, professionally, etc.) as a result of your assignment.
- ii) UNINTENTIONAL ADVERSARIES: This can include random hackers targeting a service used by thousands of people including you. It could be someone hacking a wireless network you happen to be using at the time. It could also be the theft of your equipment.
This will help you make decisions about password protecting your equipment or encrypting hard drives.
3. Your equipment
a) List each piece of communications equipment you will be bringing on assignment.
For each one, state:
- What kind of messages will you be sending and receiving with the device? (e.g. SMS, email, instant message, phone calls).
- Is there, or has there been, any sensitive information on this device that you need to protect?
- Will you always have your devices on you?
- Will you be leaving the device somewhere where someone may be able to access it?
- Do you have any security checks (e.g. passwords, encryption, etc.) set up on your device to prevent unauthorised access?
- Will you be using anyone else’s communications equipment or public internet access during your assignment?
- What steps will you take to reduce the risk that using this equipment could pose to you?
4. Your materials
Consider what material(s) you’ll be gathering or recording during your assignment.
For each one list:
- What format is the material? (e.g. film, text, audio, image etc.)
- Is the content controversial? If it were accessed by hostile parties, would this put you or anyone else involved in the report under threat?
- Where/how is this material being stored? Have you taken any steps to protect this information?
- Will you need to send material?
- What steps are you taking to minimise the chance and severity that recording/transmitting the material will pose? (A videojournalist will have different needs to a radio journalist.)
- How are you moving your material across borders?
List all of the people who you will need to contact while on assignment, such as interviewees, freelance colleagues, sources, editors.
For each contact state:
- Who are they and who could be monitoring them? (Employer, government, etc.).
- How will you be contacting them?
- Will you need to send or receive any sensitive information from them?
- Will contacting them put you or your contact at risk? What steps will you take to mitigate the chance and severity of this risk?
6. Research and online access
Think about what sites, information and content you will need to access online and consider the potential risks when doing so. If accessing online content could cause you problems, list it out.
For each one state:
- Is that content blocked in the country/region you will be working from?
- If you need to access blocked content, how will you do this?
- What potential is there that your activity could be monitored?
- What steps will you take to mitigate these risks?
7. Your digital profile
a) Have you reviewed your online profile for content that could put you or your contacts at risk?
- Have you published anything or commented on anything that criticises an adversary?
- If yes, what are you going to do to mitigate the severity of this risk?
c) Do you have one or more personal websites?
- Could the information stored on it put you or your contacts at risk?
- If yes, what are you going to do to mitigate the chance and severity of this risk?
c) Are you planning on using social media during your assignment or story?
- Have you created long, strong passwords for your accounts?
- How up-to-date are your privacy settings on social media sites?
- Have you actively engaged in (tweeted, shared, commented, liked, etc.) content that could put you at risk while on assignment?
- Do you have separate personal and professional social media accounts?
- What other steps are you taking to mitigate the chance and severity that your social media activity could pose to you?
Digital Security is only one part of an assignment or project safety plan and should be considered as just one part of your safety preparations. The Trust’s Safety and Security Resources can help you with other areas of your safety preparation.