4 simple yet effective security tips for online journalists and bloggers
One of the best things about digital
journalism is that it offers a wider range of viewpoints than the traditional
press. However, there will always be someone who disagrees with you, and there
are some countries where even the government is openly hostile to
This is why it’s more important than ever to protect yourself (and
your sources) online. Below, we’ll cover a few ways to improve your digital
privacy and remain anonymous as a blogger or member of the press.
privately with your sources
With more than a billion people active on Facebook alone, it’s
easier than ever to reach out to people over social media. In most cases,
there’s nothing wrong with this, but what if your source lives in a country
where internet access is monitored? In situations like these, you could
actively be putting your source at risk by talking about certain topics, even
if they never reply.
Instead, it’s better to use
encrypted messaging services like Signal,
WhatsApp, or Telegram. These scramble the contents of your message, meaning
that anyone looking in from the outside (hackers or the government, for
instance) will only see a jumble of meaningless data. You can also enable
encryption on most major email platforms or use a
burner email, if you’d prefer.
You will have to make initial contact over another service, but as
long as you include your phone number, the other person will be able to reply
privately, without fear of governmental reprisal.
Keep your online
activities safe from prying eyes
You might not know this, but nothing you do online is truly anonymous. Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) logs all sorts of information including which sites you visit, what time you do so, and how much data you transfer, all of which can be used to track your activities.
Just as the messaging services above encrypt your conversations, a
Virtual Private Network (VPN) can encrypt internet traffic from every app on
your device. The best VPNs even let you connect
to servers in other countries so that
you can access sites and services that might not be available where you live. This is particularly useful for
journalists, since you’ll be able to communicate and share files on
platforms like Twitter and OneDrive, both of which are often blocked in
countries with strict online censorship.
Stop your own
devices from spying on you
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you have to leave your phone at home whenever you go out. The easiest way to stop yourself from being tracked is to turn off your device’s location services, put it in flight mode, or turn it off completely. While you’re at it, we’d recommend making sure your camera doesn’t save GPS data whenever you take a photo, since this could be used to track you down.
We actually give out quite a bit of information just by going
about our business. Your phone’s GPS, for instance, keeps a note of everywhere
you go, and your Fitbit can tell how you’re feeling at any given moment, data
which was recently used to arrest a suspect
in a murder case.
Lock down your
social media accounts
How many friends do you have on social media? Hundreds? Thousands?
And how many of them do you know personally? Remember: anything you share can
be cross-referenced with publicly available databases (marriage registries, law
enforcement databases, and so on) to find out more about you.
If you haven’t already, we’d recommend making your accounts
private or failing that, restricting access to any posts with personally
identifiable information in them. Facebook might not be the best at protecting
its users’ privacy but it does at least allow you to view your own page as though you were a stranger, which is an excellent way
to evaluate your profile and see just how much sensitive data you’re
Finally, set up two-factor
authentication whenever possible. This is a little less convenient since
you’ll have to enter a code (texted or emailed to you) whenever you log in, but
it prevents someone from simply guessing your email password and gaining access
to every account you have.
As an online journalist or blogger, you’re responsible for your
own safety. Luckily, there are several small changes you can make for free that
will greatly enhance your digital privacy. By following the steps above, you
not only reduce the chance of your personal information being leaked, you also
help keep your sources safe, which should be the top priority of any
journalist, anywhere in the world.