Mobile phones are becoming an essential tool for journalists, who use them for interviews, contacting editors and sources, taking photographs and storing important files related to their stories. The devices’ small size, light weight, power and flexibility mean that they rival desktop or laptop computers in utility.
But the features that make a reporter’s phone such a useful tool can also make it an attractive target to governments, hackers and criminals.
Reporters, especially those working in high-risk areas or in repressive environments under corrupt leaders, must take precautions to prevent spying as well as the loss and theft of their devices.
When someone steals or spies on a journalist’s mobile equipment, he or she is likely to gain access to the entire portfolio of the reporter’s sources. In professional terms, this is bad news. Many reporters agree to protect the anonymity of their sources and do not reveal their identity in the stories they publish. But that promise cannot be kept if the reporter loses control of his or her mobile device.
That loss can also jeopardize family security if, for some reason, the journalist uses and stores personal information, pictures of their friends and relatives or holds conversations with them via text message.
All journalists should take several precautions related to their mobile phones:
Minimize the damage that can occur in case of theft or loss.
Keep track of and carefully control any information you use on mobile equipment. Avoid uploading confidential information on a phone that is at constant risk of theft or robbery.
Some journalists who travel in regions frequented by the military, police, insurgent groups or criminal gangs should take extra care to keep phones “clean” and devoid of sensitive files. They should also consider using separate phones for personal and professional use.
Other journalists must simply protect their phones with security measures such as a personal identification number or pattern for starting the phone. Here is a tutorial to teach you how:
Protect yourself from spying.
Those who want to pry into what a journalist has on his or her phone don’t need to actually steal the device. Electronic data theft is now one of the biggest risks facing journalists. Consider encrypting your device if you can. If you use an Android device that uses a newer Gingerbread operating system (OS 2, 3, 4 or newer), your phone can be completely encrypted. This article gives good recommendations on how and why to encrypt a phone, and in the Security in a Box guide, you will find good advice for encrypting your phone and adding measures to protect privacy. Abaigeal Quinn wrote about signs your cell phone is being monitored. Among the signs:
- A significant drop in the volume of calls you receive, or if you have trouble dialing numbers.
- The battery runs out more quickly than normal.
- Your phone is hot even if you haven’t been using it.
- You hold your phone to a speaker and the brief, sharp sound you hear lasts for several seconds.
- The phone turned on when not in use
- The phone makes unusual noises when you use it.
Here are some additional resources and tools for protecting your privacy:
For Android OS devices:
- Orbot: Connect the mobile device to a proxy server that hides the device’s IP.
- Orweb: Browser that connected to Orbot, allows anonymous Internet surfing.
- Gibberbot: Encrypts the content of instant messages.
For iPhone and iPad Devices:
- Covert Browser: Available in Apple’s iTunes Store, this app lets you surf anonymously on your phone.
- ChatSecure: An application that lets Apple users chat in encrypted form.
Jorge Luis Sierra is a Knight International Journalism Fellow developing digital tools for citizens and journalists to map crime and corruption. He focuses on digital and mobile security. This post was translated from Spanish to English and edited by Jennifer Dorroh.
Photo CC-licensed, courtesy of Yutaka Tsutano on Flickr.