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An introduction to Digital Security for Syrian Journalists

An introduction to Digital Security for Syrian Journalists

What is digital security and why is it necessary?

When we talk about digital security, we’re talking about taking steps to reduce access to information you want to keep private, or only make accessible to specific people. This could be information stored locally on an electronic device, or online. The information could be related to your personal life, your work or details about your sources or colleagues.

As the war continues in Syria, the risks facing local freelance journalists are only increasing. Many reports show that journalists operating in both opposition and government controlled areas have been arrested, killed or abducted. The Committee to Protect Journalists, amongst many other organisations, has classified Syria as the most dangerous place for journalists in the world. Hacking and surveillance techniques are being used by multiple parties in the conflict, and journalists are an all-too-common target. We’ve put this resource together to help Syrian journalists deal with a number of digital threats that can have real-world consequences.

Managing threats and limiting risk

Your equipment and online activity can be great for getting work done. They also bring risks. Digital security requires both advance planning and regularly assessing what you’re doing and why. Much of it has to do with habits and simply thinking about what your tools do and how they handle the information you are either sending or receiving. Our resource doesn’t require special technical knowledge or any special skills. Everything here is something you can start right away should it fit the needs of your work.
  1. Physical attacks are often aided by first targeting someone through digital means. Taking efforts to stop your computer or mobile from revealing your geographic location can help.
  2. As a journalist, you’re in contact with various individuals and groups who themselves could be targets. Various groups will also be interested in accessing your communications or digital files to find out your contacts and networks and target them.  There are a number of ways an attacker can find their way into your accounts. Develop good habits to avoid being compromised.
  3. Not all online communications tools are created equal, and different ones provide security for some situations, but not others. Do you need to limit knowledge of the content of your conversation or the identities of the people having them? Is it a conversation you should have in person? Protect yourself, your sources and your story by understanding how to secure your online communications.
  4. Social media websites such as Twitter and Facebook can be popular and fast ways to communicate, but they’re also heavily targeted by hackers and adversaries interested in learning more about you or some of your contacts. Use these sites with caution.
  5. Digital security isn’t just something that happens online. You carry around with you devices full of data about yourself, your work and your contacts. These will be in your mobile, laptop computer, camera, audio recorder, external hard drives and USB sticks, SIM cards, SD cards and so forth. Multiple threats emerge should these be taken from you. Manage the threat by preparing for the possibility of being searched or having your equipment seized.
  6. There are many digital security tools or tactics that Syrian journalists can use to counter these risks. However, knowing the sources of risks and adapting to them through changing your daily digital habits remains the most crucial thing. Take a look at our Digital Threat Modeling Guide.

Other resources

Here are some useful guides and information on digital security in Arabic around the web:

 Image: Ed Brambley, used here under a Creative Commons licence.

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