After the bodies of two young people were hanged from a bridge and a journalist was gruesomely decapitated for using social media and the Internet to denounce organized crime in the Mexican border city of Nuevo Laredo, the old strategy of using pseudonyms on blogs, social media and the Internet no longer offers the protection it once did.
In light of organized crime’s increasingly sophisticated methods, the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas consulted several cyber security and journalism experts on how journalists can protect themselves on the Internet from data theft, and safeguard their anonymity.
To get advice about protective measures for online journalists, the Knight Center consulted Daniel Santoro, politics editor for the Argentine newspaper Clarín and professor at the Foundation for New Ibero-American Journalism (FNPI in Spanish); and Judith Matloff, professor at the Columbia School of Journalism and adviser to the International News Safety Institute. Below are the tips they offered.
1. Never leave your computer with your e-mail open or any other personal information. Turn off your computer when you’re done with the day’s work and never allow someone to see your computer’s screen over your shoulder and keep in mind that your office or workplace computer could be under surveillance.
2. Change your passwords often (every two weeks in high risk environments) and be sure to use at least six characters, including * and #. Do not use names of family members, pets, or personal dates. Be sure to not repeat the same password across several accounts.
3. Keep your passwords secret and don’t write them down or list them in your cellphone contacts.
4. Use a “dummy” computer without an Internet connection or USB drive to store sensitive or valuable information.
5. Limit the information you post to Facebook or other social media sites, like photographs of family and friends, or other personal information. If you have a Twitter account, never post information that could be used to identify you.
6. When surfing the web, enter the URL address in the browser and don’t click on links that appear in pop-ups, e-mail or social media.
7. Frequently change you cellphone and SIM card, and block GPS locating options. Remember, text messages are not secure and are monitored in many countries.
8. Never handle confidential information on computers in cybercafes, or when using public wi-fi in cafes, airports or other public spaces.
9. Do not respond to requests for personal information or open attachments in your e-mail from people you don’t know.
10. Use the latest anti-virus and anti-spyware software.
11. Enable a personal firewall to stop certain kinds of information from being transferred off your computer.
12. When sending important information, use an encryption program like GNU Project so only the recipient can open it.
13. To maintain anonymity on social media and the Internet, download the free program Tor. Tor keeps others from knowing your physical location, your browser activity, reading your instant messages, or remotely accessing your Windows, Mac, Linux, Unix or Android powered device. Click here for more information on what Tor protects and its limitations.
14. When chatting on Gmail or Google Talk, select the option “off the record” to keep your conversation from being saved.
Tips by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, the University of Austin, Texas: