Why you should care about being digitally secure

SAFE AND SOUND?: At the Internews station, Power Reporting delegates got the chance to have their software and anti-virus checked for safety. Photo: Lameez Omarjee

SAFE AND SOUND?: At the Internews station, Power Reporting delegates got the chance to have their software and anti-virus checked for safety. Photo: Lameez Omarjee

Hackers  pose the threat of defacing media organisations or putting news sources at risk.  Besides surveillance by mobile companies and internet service providers, digital safety is most threatened by using pirated software, followed by spam.

Pirated software creates “weaknesses or vulnerabilities” and create an “open window” for hackers, said Dylan Jones from international non-profit organisation Internews.  Surveillance technology poses a greater threat to journalists than regular citizens because journalists collect and work with information.

Pirated software is most well-known as programmes for which the users download and do not pay for. However, some journalists may be using pirated software without even realising it if their devices are set up by others. This puts them, their sources and their work at risk.

Surveillance technology can track your physical location, the calls you make and messages you send and to whom.

Surveillance technology can track your physical location, the calls you make and messages you send and to whom.  It can cause financial loss and theft to individuals, companies and government and journalists can lose years of work, said Jones.

Zimbabwean journalist Winstone Antonio said he was aware of telephone hacking, but he was not sure about the extent to which it happened, or how he could become a victim or the measures to protect himself.  Antonio says as a journalist he is most concerned about “protecting his sources.”

Antonio said he knows using pirated software poses a threat to his work and tries to get a specialist to check his devices regularly.For journalists and delegates at the Power Reporting Conference, Internews set up a work station to check if their mobile devices and laptops have genuine software.  The station offers the free service of updating software with genuine programmes.  Additionally the anti-virus software is checked.

“You can’t trust a pirated anti-virus to protect against malware,” said Jones.

Previously Antonio relied on using strong passwords to protect the different accounts on his devices.  Since attending the session on how to be digitally secure, he learnt that “encryption of data” could be useful in helping him protect his sources.  This works by encoding the data before it is sent to a cloud archive like Google Drive.

“You need to have a secure foundation before you do anything else,”said Jones.  Encrypting data on devices is amongst the most important protection measures.

Apple products and Android devices come with encryption settings to protect data.  However, a lot of countries have laws against using encryption, saidJones.

Jones also suggests practical ways to keep your digital accounts and movements secure.  These include using “real” software and anti-virus applications, updated programmes and two-step verification to protect accounts.

Unnecessary information or messages, photos and videos should be cleared from your device.  Using a password is more effective than a four-digit pin or a swipe-pattern and fingerprint technology.

Although, these solutions are not perfect, they are better than not having any safety measures at all.

This article was featured in the Wits Vuvuzela

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