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How journalists can learn safer communication and improve online security
The New York Times Magazine this week profiles documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras and her role in helping National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden leak thousands of classified documents regarding government surveillance programs. From the magazine:
Poitras possesses a new skill set that is particularly vital — and far from the journalistic norm — in an era of pervasive government spying: she knows, as well as any computer-security expert, how to protect against surveillance. As Snowden mentioned, “In the wake of this year’s disclosure, it should be clear that unencrypted journalist-source communication is unforgivably reckless.” A new generation of sources, like Snowden or Pfc. Bradley Manning, has access to not just a few secrets but thousands of them, because of their ability to scrape classified networks. They do not necessarily live in and operate through the established Washington networks — Snowden was in Hawaii, and Manning sent hundreds of thousands of documents to WikiLeaks from a base in Iraq. And they share their secrets not with the largest media outlets or reporters but with the ones who share their political outlook and have the know-how to receive the leaks undetected.
How do journalists develop these vital skills? That's a question at the forefront of investigative journalism, its urgency becoming more and more well known after news of the Department of Justice seizing phone records from The Associated Press and the National Security Agency conducting mass-scale digital surveillance operations.
At this year's IRE Conference in June, several panels addressed the issue of surveillance as it pertains to journalists:
- Surveillance, privacy and hackers
- Defending against surveillance with the Tor Project
- Showcase Panel: The government's war on leaks
- Practicing safer Internet: Learning to think about digital security
The last session on that list was a threat modeling workshop led by Quinn Norton, a journalist who has covered digital rights, copyright, surveillance, privacy and hackers for publications such as Wired, The Atlantic and Maximum PC. Norton also produced two posts for Propublica on best practices for online security: Worried about Mass Surveillance? How to Practice Safer Communication and A Buyer's Guide to Safer Communication.
Other resources for journalists wanting to learn encryption and improve their online security:
- The For Journalism project will offer a course on cybersecurity and online privacy.
- Jacob Harris, Senior Software Architect for The New York Times shared on Twitter slides for a presentation he gives on Crypto for Journalists, including when and when not to use it, the basic concepts behind all the jargon and some practical password help.
- Frank Bajak, Chief of Andean News and former Technology Editor for The Associated Press, offers tips and tools for anti-surveillance on his website.
- The Freedom of the Press Foundation has a thorough guide that covers threat models, crypto systems, software, anonymous browsing with Tor, off-the-record chatting and email encryption. PDF version here.