What's digital security about?

Updated:July 2016

It’s not just about you. It's also about protecting your sources, fixers, colleagues and the journalists who come after. It's about keeping you, your networks and your work more secure.

We’ve created and continue to maintain this digital security resource for freelancers based on the idea that security is a conditional requirement in conflict areas, as well as for those working on sensitive projects, often coping with antagonistic governments and groups who’d prefer the information stayed out of the public's knowledge. Managing your digital security is as important as physical safety training, doing a risk assessment, and choosing the right equipment or insurance.

What's digital security about?Digital security isn’t just about the journalist. It’s for everyone they work with: colleagues, fixers and sources, as well as themselves. It must be thought about and prepared for in advance. It can seem less tangible than preparing for physical security. A physical attack is much easier to visualise and you know it when it's happening. Hacking, or survellience attacks try to take advantage of the areas you aren't looking at, and an attacker hopes you won't notice until it's too late.

Digital attacks can have very real-world, physical impacts, though. An easily discovered data trail or file can not just endanger you while you’re in the field, it can uncover the sources you’ve worked with or expose colleagues who may still be working there after you’ve moved on. It could also put family members in danger, especially if you’re a freelancer who works locally. Having a good digital plan in place will also protect your work, and make it better. Your source documents, notes, early drafts, rough cuts and photos are all data needing protection until they're used in the final story.
Digital tracking happens everywhere. Not all of it is nefarious in intent, but once data is controlled by one party outside of your control, it can be sold, traded, obtained through surveillance or hacking or through various legal mechanisms. Keeping yourself from being monitored when using technology is becoming increasingly difficult.

You can get a quick taste of what’s at potential risk by spying on yourself! It may sound strange, but try it out. Quickly collect meta data on your own email with this MIT project. Try the Lightbeam plugin for Firefox and see who pulls information about your activity from the websites you visit. See how individual your web browser is among the crowd with EFF’s Panopticlick. If you have an iPhone, try out the iPhone Tracker, to see how your mobile is collecting information on your movements via hidden files on your device. Or, use the WiFi Watchdog app for Android and see how much of your day's travels have been logged around town.
The goal of our resource is to help keep the mobile or computer you’re using from being used against you. The tools or methods found on these pages is up to you to use. Few of them are needed all the time, but some of them will come in handy some of the time. Create a plan that's specific to your project and your situation, and get started.

Image credit: Journalist Jeremy Kelly filing pictures from the Hindu Kush mountains in Surobi, eastern Afghanistan is by Jerome Starkey, taken on December 2009.

Created: July 2013

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