In today’s world, we are faced with threats in the real as well as in the digital world.
• The first step to help protect our digital property is to understand the threats.
• The second step is to know how to circumvent those threats.
Journalists and social activists use laptops, external hard drives or Flash memory, mobile phones, tablets and audio recorders for their work. Each device may contain emails, and personal as well as confidential information about the interviewees that need safeguarding. The greatest danger to a journalist or activist, or their contacts, lies in someone hacking their emails, listening to their conversations, or stealing their phones, laptops, cameras, or external memory drives.
FIVE BASIC RULES FOR BLOCKING ACCESS TO YOUR DIGITAL DATA
• Organize files and data according to their level of significance and confidentiality
• Separate files by category, e.g., work vs. personal
• Update software to ensure you have the best protection available
• Back up files and data on a regular basis
• Delete unnecessary files and data
Basic security principles apply to both the real and the digital world and depend on the type of work at hand. A shop owner’s number one priority may be to protect their bank account, while for a journalist hacking their email poses a much higher danger than the theft of any device they own.
REPAIR OR CHANGE WHATEVER DOES NOT FUNCTION WELL
Like a rusty lock on a door, outdated software makes it easy for thieves to break in and steal your digital property. The reason software go out of date is that hackers discover their flaws and use them to access digital content. Consequently, developers periodically offer updated versions of software that are free of earlier flaws.
To safeguard our digital data from hackers, it is critical to regularly update the software, the anti-virus programs and Flash Player, and most importantly, our computer’s operating system.
Always stay vigilant and remember that your email may be hacked at any moment. Ask yourself which is worse, if a hacker gets access to your recent emails or to the bulk of your old emails.
Therefore, always keep your old emails in a safe place and delete them from your main email account. Alternatively, delete only your sensitive and private emails.
Since laptops and mobile phones may be easily lost or stolen, transfer your personal photos and data to an external device and store the device in a safe place.
Storage of information
Digital data that are not needed on a daily basis should be stored in a separate and safe place just as we put away clothes and old books in temporary storage, and keep other valuables in a safe deposit box at a bank. Storage space is available online, and through additional email accounts and auxiliary memory devices.
Use a variety of strong passwords to keep your online accounts safe. There are free tools that help you keep track of passwords for different websites so no-one can access all of your accounts at once.
Create different user accounts in your computer and define an appropriate level of access for each. Use one account for personal affairs and others for work-related or confidential matters.
Create two different email accounts, one for personal use and the other for work. Journalists may even want to create a new email account to interact with a source in particularly sensitive cases.
For everyday work, use the account that does not have permission to change or modify the computer or install software in your device; this will protect you from many dangers ahead.
Dealing with disaster
We build shelters and devise various means to protect people and property in case of earthquakes and other natural disasters. The same kind of preparation is required for safeguarding digital data.
One danger that is usually inescapable is arrest by security forces. The cost of such an event can be mitigated by observing certain simple but important rules that will be reviewed in more detail in future programs.
If you feel threatened by arrest, do not store important and confidential information in your computer and laptop. Security forces typically confiscate all digital devices following an arrest.
Back up important data and store them in a place away from habitual areas. Do the same with online sources and use very strong passwords to access them. Delete all unnecessary data from your devices.
Once arrested, people are often forced to disclose their passwords to security forces. Share your important passwords with trusted friends and ask them to change the passwords after deleting the data in case you are arrested.