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Journalists Who Neglect Digital Security Put their Sources at Risk

BY Lisa Goldman | Wednesday, September 5 2012

Journalists are putting their sources — and sometimes their own lives — at risk by failing to implement digital security strategies, article the American Journalism Review.

Digital stalkers can intercept electronic tools journalists routinely use – mobile phone conversations, e-mails, text messages and satellite communications are prime targets. They can track information and pinpoint locations. The Committee to Protect Journalists sees the threat increasing "at an alarming rate."

Danny O'Brien, co-author of CPJ's updated Journalist Security Guide published in April, calls losing control of data "one of the gravest dangers facing journalists today." Yet, the notion of cyber safety training has been slow to take hold, he says.

"The hardest thing for us to get across is that besides publishing information, journalists are keepers of secrets that people have confided in them. The danger can be everywhere and anywhere," says O'Brien, CPJ's Internet advocacy coordinator. "Everybody in the organization has the potential to be the weakest link" for compromising confidential electronic information.

Three of the journalists who were killed over the past year may have died because they failed to take security precautions, according to the AJR article. After Marie Colvin and Rémi Ochlik died in Homs, Syria, from an army tank shell fired at their building, "the Telegraph in London reported that journalists in Homs had worried "that Syrian forces had 'locked on' to their satellite phone signals and attacked the buildings from which they were coming."" In Mexico, journalist Maria Elizabeth Macías Castro was brutally murdered; her killers left a handwritten note on her laptop, near her decapitated corpse. Some have speculated that her killers tracked her down via her tweets about local drug traffickers.

The information-rich article includes names of free security software and links to handbooks on digital security for journalists. It is important reading. As the author of the article points out, "Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein didn't have to worry about Trojans stealing the identities of their Watergate sources."