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How not to reveal your location - digital security for Syrian journalists

How not to reveal your location - digital security for Syrian journalists

Syrian journalists need to understand what their technology could be telling others.

Mobiles, satellite phones, social networks often reveal your location to people who you’d rather not know where you are.


Mobile phone tracking

Using your mobile phone can reveal your exact geographical location. Security forces with access to the database of the mobile operating network can read the GPS data transmitted through your phone. If your mobile phone has a GPS feature, it is best to switch the GPS service off on your mobile.

Network providers can locate your position using the communication towers that receives a signal from your mobile, even without you making phone calls. If you don’t want your movements to be tracked while you’re going somewhere, you need to turn off your mobile and remove the battery to make sure it’s entirely without power.

When your mobile is on, you’ll likely still want it to send less information about where you are. Go into the settings and turn off all the geographic location options. Go into each of your mobile applications’ settings and make sure each of these isn’t sharing your location as well. Or just delete all those social networking applications entirely.

Disable all auto updates - by checking for new updates, your phone automatically connects to the nearest tower, making it easier for your ISP and anyone with access to that data to work out where you are. Turn off your data connection except for the times you want to use it, and also disable the Bluetooth and Wifi from automatically connecting, and instead only connect to networks you want to by selecting them.



Tracking you via your social updates

Your social network updates can work against you. Twitter, Facebook and others will often post where you are when updating your status unless you’ve updated your privacy settings to disable that feature. Doing that is vital. In general, follow these steps for using social networks without revealing your location.
  • Set your privacy settings to not include where you are when you post.
  • Do not include information in your post identifying your exact location.
  • When posting photos or video, think about what’s in them and if it could reveal your location. Maybe post them after you’ve left.
  • Use a proxy network or Tor when updating websites with content to hide your location.
  • Don’t include your location in your biographic details on your profile page.

Satellite phone tracking

Using a satellite phone can be very dangerous. Syrian authorities can easily eavesdrop on satellite phones. Sat phones calls are easily intercepted and also provide geo-locations. This practice is less common amongst local Syrian journalists, but you should know that when other journalists are using these in the same place you are, you could be at a higher risk along with them.

Veteran correspondent Marie Colvin was sending copy and messages in Homs via Sat phone when the media centre where she was based was hit by missile attack, killing her and killing and injuring others, including several local journalists using the media centre. It is widely thought that government forces deliberately aimed the missile that killed her at the site. Many reports claimed that the Syrian government cut off all other communications in the area and were then able to focus on the remaining satellite signals to target the media centre.

The Committee to Protect Journalists commented on these claims, stating that it is difficult to confirm or deny these reports. However, the same CPJ report said “in any state of affairs, until you’re sure of the opposite, using satellite phones insecurely can almost certainly reveal your exact location through GPS service”.

The report recommends the following:
  • Avoid using satellite phones (or any radio frequency operating device) from the same location more than one time.
  • Avoid using satellite phones and similar devices in a location that cannot be easily evacuated in case of assault.
  • Keep the duration of any transmission under a maximum of 10 minutes, then stop the transmission and change location as quick as possible. Make sure the phone is not transmitting while you leave the location.
  • Avoid having several people or teams transmitting from the same location. Using a central media office might be dangerous in certain places on the frontline (like 2012 Homs and 2014 Aleppo)

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