Online Security for Journalists

Online security has been a hot topic for a long time, but a new report entitled ‘Investigating the Computer Security Practices and Needs of Journalists’ suggests that a greater understanding of the particular needs of journalists is needed to improve existing tools and develop new ones.

The Columbia Journalism Review explains how co-author Susan McGregor (of Columbia Journalism School) acted as advisor during the build of Dispatch, an app which uses encryption to allow secure and identity protected communication between journalists and their sources within conflict areas. However CJR say’s that it wasn’t until attending the Privacy Enhancing Technology Symposium (PETS) in 2014, that she began to think about the gap between a journalist’s lack of technical knowhow, and the inability of those involved in security to understand how a journalist works.

The report looks at some of the existing secure systems of communication for journalists such as SecureDrop and encrypted phone conversations, but finds some shortfalls in what is currently available. She hopes that this report will open channels of communications between the worlds of online security and journalism, and makes recommendations as to how that might happen.

To bridge this gap for tech people, McGregor teamed up with Franziska Roesner, a professor of computer security at the University of Washington who has a special interest in building security tools, and who was also at the conference. Together they interviewed 15 journalists from the US and France about their workflow and computer security habits. They presented the results on Thursday at the USENIX security conference in Washington DC,to a good deal of excitement. Despite the small sample size, and the fact that the findings won’t surprise many journalists, the effort is seen as a step towards bridging two communities that haven’t historically overlapped. And by laying out some of the basic habits and priorities of journalism, it offers a roadmap to building better, more intuitive security tools for journalists.