IWMF responds to security concerns about new app Reporta

Oct 30, 2018 in Digital and Physical Safety

On Sept. 29, the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) launched a new app, Reporta, designed to provide a safety net for journalists reporting from dangerous places. Almost immediately, security experts raised concerns.

Some felt the app might be compromised by hackers such as government agents or criminal groups who stalk journalists and their sources. They questioned Reporta’s data retention program and how it might be used.

In an article about the new app in Motherboard, security researcher Eleanor Saitta noted, “They claim to have audits done, but there are no public audit reports, making it impossible to get any understanding of their code quality or whether they’re actually doing anything they claim to be doing.”

IWMF addressed that concern on its website: “Since its launch, we have received a lot of constructive feedback on Reporta. Some IT security experts have recommended that we make the app’s code open-source to increase transparency. We agree. We plan to place the code in a public repository. The safety and security of journalists is our highest priority and is at the core of the IWMF mission.” 

According to IWMF Executive Director Elisa Lees Muñoz, Reporta was created to fill a need in a world that has become increasingly more dangerous for journalists.

“When we decided to develop Reporta, we recognized that there were no tools available to journalists who were reporting from dangerous locations that enabled them to easily implement the communication elements of their security protocols,” Muñoz said via email.

“We designed Reporta to comprehensively integrate those protocols, such as Check-In, SOS, Alerts and distinct contact groups for distinct circumstances. Reporta is intended to be used along with other resources journalists can and should use to assess, develop and implement their security protocols.”

Muñoz says IWMF is committed to working with stakeholders in the journalism security community to make sure the app remains secure and that the data retention policy provides the best overall level of security available. She describes Reporta as “a work in progress.”

Javier Garza Ramos, a journalist from Mexico and special advisor to the World Editors Forum on journalists’ safety, provides an on-the-ground perspective of the new app.

“While the app has to correct the technical security issues that were raised, it doesn’t mean it is useless. There are instances when a reporter in a risky assignment - covering a street protest or going to a dangerous area - can use the app without fear of having the personal information hacked by an aggressor. Many don’t have the capacity to hack the servers,” Ramos said via email.

“The app can be used safely by reporters confronted by potential attackers that are not technologically capable while the holes are being fixed.”

Image of Reporta logo provided by IWMF