Cyber Privacy: How Journalists & Leakers Can Stay Safe Online

For decades, the news media has filled the role of the 'Fourth Estate' - an additional (yet unofficial) independent structure that keeps an eye on the three branches of government as defined by the American Constitution (legislative, executive and judicial). But recently cyber-criminals and foreign governments have targeted media companies, journalists and their sources.

Is there any way for reporters, sources and new organizations to keep themselves safe from digital incursion?

Thankfully, CyberPolicy has pulled together a handful of tips to keep your communications private and protected. Of course, the best thing you can do for your organization is to invest in a cyber security policy from a reputable insurance provider.

An Informed Electorate Is Necessary for Democracy
In early 2017, the Washington Post adopted a new slogan on its homepage reading: "Democracy Dies in Darkness." This mantra was periodically used by former WaPo reporter and current associate editor Bob Woodward, who was instrumental in the original news reporting of the Watergate scandal.

As you might suspect, the motto has subsequently been both praised and parodied on social media. But the truth of the matter is that "a well-informed citizenry, being necessary to the liberty of a free state" is naught without a robust and independent media. Which could explain why state-sponsored hackers and cybercriminals are attacking news outlets.

For example, Google recently warned a number of journalists that their email accounts may have been compromised by government-backed hackers. However, Google did not reveal the method of incursion or the timing of the attacks so as not to reveal their methods of discovery.

Script kiddies also target reporters and internet trolls. Sometimes this takes the form of online hate speech and threats of violence, other times the attacks are far more tech-savvy and subtle. But either way, the risks are very real.

In 2015, the BBC's homepage was taken down by the largest distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack in history at the time. The culprit? A hacking group just testing their digital arsenal. "We didn't exactly plan to take it down for multiple hours," the group said. Can you imagine what would happen if a hacking collective actually decided to cripple a news outlet?

It might look something like the month-long ransomware attack that struck San Francisco's public radio station, KQED. "It's like we've been bombed back to 20 years ago, technology-wise," says one senior editor. Following the initial attack, KQED lost its online broadcast for more than 12 hours, saw irreparable damage to hard drives and prerecorded segments and forced reporters to work offline for more than a month.

Scared enough yet?

Fortunately, journalists and their sources can protect themselves by:

  • Encrypting their communications over text, email and data transfers.
  • Connecting to the web using a virtual private network (VPN) or Tor browser to obscure their digital footprints.
  • Assessing the security of various mobile apps or software add-ons to decrease their chances of incursion.
  • Employing DDoS mitigation techniques to block malicious traffic requests.
  • Training their staff to identify suspicious emails or downloads.
  • And finally, by investing in a cyber policy insurance plan from CyberPolicy. Even if your news organization is hacked, we can protect you from the financial damages related to data breach.

Make the smart decision, and visit CyberPolicy for your free quote!

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