Keeping the Scoop Safe in the Field: Protecting Journalism

Posted by on Jul 25, 2013

Lately, the cloud has been a favorite buzzword for businesses, but journalists in the field can also use the cloud to keep sources safe while reporting with ease from the field. The cloud also is revolutionizing the business of journalism, as reporting moves from print to the screen. From staying one step ahead of the decline of beat reporting to securing leaks from NSA snooping, private cloud solutions offer journalists options for reporting live from the field and safely storing the latest stories.

Journalist Protections In the Cloud

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According to Lisa Williams, founder of Placeblogger, the cloud is largely responsible for journalism’s shift away from dedicated news models towards an on-demand model. Williams said, “I think sites like GlobalPost, Spot.us and many others I could name are the first inklings of ‘journalism in the cloud.’ Just as many tech outfits have figured out that it’s too expensive to have too many fixed assets, many news outlets are faced with the fact that they can’t support the same number of foreign correspondents or beat reporters. The fundamental experiment that these sites are running, each with their own protocol, is this: How can we make journalism happen where it’s needed, when it’s needed, and then redeploy elsewhere when things change?” Through the cloud, reporting is becoming more dynamic and democratic. While some might expect the cloud to displace reporters, Williams claims, “A reporter could stay in the same location. If it worked, though, it would mean they’d report on more different subjects. I think what’s dying are beats, because beats are expensive.”

Lisa Williams

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Instead of waiting around for beat reporting to gasp its last breath, reporters can jump to the cloud and protect their careers long before journalism makes the switch. One way journalists are already using the cloud is through SoundCloud. As a public cloud storage and sound sharing service, SoundCloud is traditionally used by music artists and producers to release new songs to fans. But journalists have increasingly flocked to the service as a way to quickly report interviews from the field. With just a smartphone and SoundCloud, anyone can be a field reporter, allowing news services to tap the unlimited potential of thousands of amateur journalists.

Another way that journalists are using the cloud is through private cloud storage and sync services. Such clouds provide strong data protections and user anonymity, allowing reporters to safeguard sources and stories. Using secured cloud storage is quickly becoming a standard for journalists that have become all too wary as of late of the threat of hacking. Last year, Wired reporter Mat Honan was a victim of hacking. Using basic techniques, hackers were able to retrieve Honan’s e-mail and home addresses. Using the information, the hackers duped both Amazon and Apple support into giving up Honan’s credit card number as well as iCloud and .Me accounts. As the .Me account was Honan’s backup for his Gmail, the hackers were then able to get into his Gmail account as well as Twitter accounts, through a simple password reset.

Mat Honan

Photo courtesy of arstechnica.com

According to Honan, “The thing about trusting the cloud is you shouldn’t trust it too much. They didn’t hack into my account in the traditional bad movie way where they are trying a million different passwords. They made a phone call to tech support and tech support gave them a temporary password.” The hacked reporter now cautions online users to backup sensitive information to secure clouds while taking extra precautions like two-factor authentication for email verification. In response to the hack, Apple offered an official statement, “Apple takes customer privacy seriously and requires multiple forms of verification before resetting an Apple ID password. In this particular case, the customer’s data was compromised by a person who had acquired personal information about the customer. In addition, we found that our own internal policies were not followed completely. We are reviewing all of our processes for resetting account passwords to ensure our customers’ data is protected.” In the case of Honan, both the reporter and the companies that he trusted share the blame for leaving his data vulnerable to hacking.

SpiderOak in the Field

To keep sensitive sources and stories private while ensuring reporter anonymity, journalists of all sorts should stick to the suggestions in the Journalist Security Guide. After this basic step, be sure to keep any secrets safe through a private third party cloud service. Most cloud services on the market have security gaps that leave sensitive information vulnerable to hacking. But with SpiderOak, journalists and reporters in the field can enjoy 100% data privacy and user anonymity.

As for just how SpiderOak protects sensitive data, the service offers two-factor password authentication and 256-bit AES encryption so that files and passwords stay private. Two-factor authentication is just like the process used by some banking services that require a PIN as an extra precaution along with a password. Through SpiderOak, users that select two-factor authentication must submit their private code through SMS as well as an individual encrypted password. Journalists can store and sync stories and sources with complete privacy, because this cloud service has absolutely “zero-knowledge” of user data and plaintext encryption keys are only stored on the user’s chosen devices. SpiderOak’s private cloud services are available on Windows, Mac, and Linux platforms, along with Android and iOS mobile devices, offering reporters flexible options.

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