5 Journalist Tips to Protect Your Phone (and Data) from Compromise



Protect Your Phone

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In a world where technology is becoming more prevalent with each passing day, a plethora of conveniences are within a finger’s reach. From powerful consumer electronics and mobile devices to large caches of personal information, it is now possible to engage in commerce, communications, entertainment, and more without ever leaving the home.

While this interconnected acceleration of life has its advantages, there are also plenty of disadvantages. Journalists, in particular, are at risk: living their lives via technology, the profession of journalism finds itself on the front lines of vulnerability in terms of malicious actors, foreign governments, and other hostile entities seeking to compromise data and reporting. Many journalists have been forced to take additional precautions to ensure accurate and consistent reporting and to protect themselves from being compromised. In protecting this sacred profession, here are 5 tips that every journalist should use to secure their phones and data.

Utilize VPN Services

Journalists – particularly those operating in foreign or hostile environments – not only have to worry about protecting local data but must also consider the nature of Wi-Fi networks and government intervention. It is not always easy to access information, publish content, or otherwise evade restrictive government mandates via standard, non-encrypted internet connections. Because of this, VPN services are a must for journalists.

VPN use has a variety of benefits. Most notably, VPN use ensures that users’ traffic and online activity are encrypted and hidden from prying eyes. This makes it possible to access content, find resources, and provide updates without potentially revealing crucial personal information. By disguising the device’s true location and using a variety of randomized connection protocols, it can also ensure access to websites and services not otherwise available due to firewalls or government censorship.

VPN services can be used on any device: mobile devices such as phones and tablets, desktops, and laptops all can be configured to work seamlessly with a VPN.

Encrypt All Devices

While no journalist wants to face such a reality, threats to their data and devices may come in a direct fashion rather than an indirect, virtual attack. Search and seizures by thieves or government agencies can quickly reveal all of your device data if proper measures are not taken. This is why device encryption is an absolute must for journalists.

Some mobile devices – such as those running on iOS – generally provide built-in encryption. For journalists using Android devices or other alternatives, proactive measures may be required. Android encryption protocols require a few extra steps but can be configured quite easily.

The end goal? Encryption can ensure that no one is able to deconstruct or read the data on journalists’ devices without consent.

Embrace Two-Factor Authentication

Without proper security employed on all devices, journalists could easily see access to non-local data and activity fall into the wrong hands. Whether it be due to a simple accident such as leaving a phone at a local cafe or forceful seizure of devices, hackers, governments, and other meddlers could come into possession of highly sensitive information in the possession of journalists. Two-factor authentication (2FA) provides an extra layer of security for email and online account-related activity.

Everything from Google accounts and financial logins to shared storage can be secured via 2FA. The process works by requiring both a password and a second layer of verification (such as a text or phone call to a separate device, with a code being provided and entered on the original device as confirmation that the user is in possession of both devices). An increasing number of services now require 2FA, but it is smart for journalists to embrace this solution regardless of requirements.

Lock, Lock, Lock

Even well-secured devices may have pitfalls that allow hackers and other malcontents access to sensitive data. Items such as SIM cards can be manipulated to uncover personal contacts and associations. Automatic access to accounts via phones can give unfettered access to email and other sensitive operations. Even notifications displayed on the screen of phones and mobile devices may provide agitators with all the information they need to derail a journalist’s project.

This is why locking down all devices and accounts otherwise accessible from these devices is crucial. Setting a PIN for your SIM card will ensure it cannot be accessed from other devices if it falls into the wrong hands. Making sure that no saved passwords allow automatic logins to apps and accounts will further safeguard unauthorized access to sensitive data and information. Last but not least, make sure device(s) automatically lock after a very short period of time and require a complex passcode to unlock.

Backup and/or Delete Sensitive Details

Journalists routinely encounter sensitive information in reporting, in conjunction with their own personal information that may be stored on their devices. Unfortunately, the accumulation of this data can occur quite rapidly and be a prime target for would-be thieves and agitators.

As such, taking the proper steps to ensure that any sensitive details are purged as soon as they are no longer needed is a must (click here to learn more). After a report or article has been filed or submitted, either deleting or backing up the data to a remote location is highly recommended. Sensitive conversations via text, emails, and even app data should all be purged on a regular basis – or at minimum, backed up elsewhere.

Additionally, backing up a phone can be a safeguard against any in-the-field accidents or losses, ensuring that relevant information can be restored from elsewhere.

Journalists face a wide variety of threats and challenges in the field. From foreign governments to aspiring hackers, many entities can benefit from compromising data on journalist devices. To ensure this risk is minimized, journalists must purge and/or backup sensitive information periodically, embrace two-factor authentication, utilize VPN services to maintain anonymity, and ensure their devices and data are always both encrypted and locked. By taking these steps, a large percentage of risk associated with theft, confiscation, and loss can be mitigated for any and all journalists.

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Nathaniel Villa
Nathaniel Villa
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