Digital security has become an unavoidable topic due to exponential expansion of the internet.

Grégoire Pouget, the head of the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) New Media desk, spoke to Blink’s Kyla Woods about RSF’s Digital Safety workshop and techniques that journalists can use to improve their cyber security.

K: What events prompted RSF to introduce digital security workshops?

G: In 2005, RSF released a report titled ‘Enemies of the Internet‘. This report detailed the alarming threat of online surveillance and forms of cyber censorship in all countries. At this point, RSF decided to introduce internships to aid in facilitating awareness about these issues.

We changed our approach to cyber security. In 2011, we realized that censorship was the biggest online problem. Consequently, we decided to take action and begin training media professionals. However, we soon realized that data protection and surveillance was the biggest online threat. Even now we believe that surveillance and different forms of censorship are two threats that are equally imposed.


K: Does Reporters Without Borders provide a series of different cyber security trainings?

G: Reporters Without Borders hosts a three to four-day cyber security training workshop with journalists all over the world. We have an “in-house” training session that usually lasts half a day. We keep all our resources for cyber security on the ‘Digital Security’ part of our website, which is in both English and French. We also have other readily accessible online resources featured on our blog.

Inside this training, we explain the fundamentals of the digital security. RSF provides the basics of privacy protection, threats and net surfing. We provide tools like VPN (Virtual Private Network), which is an Internet encrypted tunnel between your computer and a VPN server. We use another tool; Tor, free software and an open network that helps you defend against a form of network surveillance.

The website details the full program.


K: What do you teach in these workshops?

G: We teach the security basics, so privatizing your data so that people can’t access it. We provide tools that act as an electronic safe, like TrueCrypt, and aid in removing sensitive data from your hard drive, such as Eraser. We touch on the management of data, the process of backing up your hard drive, GPS and Internet threats.

Then comes the more interesting stuff that is crypto for dummies. These tools are very easy to install. CryptoCat, for example, is a useful app that allows you to securely chat with your friends either on a browser or mobile phone. Another is Malivelope, which enables the exchange of encrypted emails following the OpenPGP encryption standard. We also introduce participants to programs that hide your online presence, such as a VPN.

Generally, we design our program three days before hand, as we want it to accommodate to the students needs.


K: How does an individual know if their cyber-security is jeopardized?

G: The problem is that good surveillance can’t be detected. Most journalists suspect surveillance because there is a noise when they call someone, or the battery of their cell phone has an issue where it cannot last longer than half a day. There are times when it is blatantly obvious like when a journalist receives a phone call explaining that someone/somewhere knows that you have been working on a certain subject.

Unfortunately, a breach of cyber security is not something that is easily proven, but it is something that you can sometimes sense. RSF has developed a strategy to counteract this, which is when we provide training whether, in Pakistan or Afghanistan, we scan journalist’s hard drives.


K: Does it find specific spyware?

G: Yes, and this is the only way to find proof that someone has been under surveillance. When we begin the workshop, we use a software released by Amnesty International called Detekt, to scan someone’s hard drive and see if a spyware called Kingfisher was used on their computer.


K: How do you keep up to date with the advancements in surveillance technology? How do you learn about the advancements?

G: Firstly, we undertake extensive online research. Secondly, we try to stay up to date by networking with hackers around the world and attending events such as Chaos Computer Club.


K: Do you have any security advice for freelance journalists and photojournalists?

G: Be cautious. You do not need to use fancy cryptography tools- stick to the basics. This means regularly updating your operating system, updating your software, using an antivirus, and no use of cracked operating systems. If you can, and you are interested in this kind of thing, we strongly advise people to use free and open source software. At the same time be concerned about your physical security.


Related Articles:

RSF Online Survival Kit:

Building Digital Security for Journalism:

The international women’s fund has just developed a new security app which send alert messages and photo/video if there is a potential risk, and an SOS button to push a distress message to the journalist’s designated contacts before the app shuts down to prevent unwanted access. The IWMF is running a 6-week pilot program this summer to see how it works in the field and make it better. It will be FREE for freelancers, and could be a great resource for people without institutional security backup. It comes in Arabic, English, French, Hebrew and Spanish for iPhone and Android. If people want to participate, email: Cassie Clark at [email protected].

Grégoire Pouget worked for 10 years as an editor, web designer and developer before joining Reporters Without Borders (RWB). After having worked as head of the IT department, he joined the new media office where he leads projects on data security and the circumvention of censorship on the net.

Kyla Woods works as a freelance writer based in New York, specializing in current affairs, photography, and design. Originally from Melbourne, Australia, Kyla has contributed to articles featured in Long Cours, Le Figaro, Le Point, Gatopardo, This is the What, and Foam Magazine. Kyla has also been featured in the French magazine Jalouse. Since 2013, Kyla has regularly written for Musée Magazine, a digital magazine dedicated to displaying the work of international emerging photographers, Peril Magazine, an online magazine that focuses on issues of Asian Australian arts, and worked at the Bronx Documentary Center. She was also involved in the 2015 PhotoBook Melbourne Festival.

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