Smartphones have been a double-edged sword for journalism. On the one hand, many stories would never have been reported without bystanders on the scene using their phones to snap pictures and videos. Of course, journalists rely on their phones to keep in touch with colleagues, sources, and many others.
However, repressive state authorities and tycoons occasionally target the phones of journalists whose reporting they don’t like. In this way, smartphones also pose new risks for journalists unless they use only the most secure platforms.
If you’re a journalist covering war, business, or any number of other beats, you need a phone that takes security seriously in the following ways.
Proprietary Server Storage
Hackers know better than anyone that end-to-end encryption is virtually impossible to crack. That’s why they probe for softer entry points to data they try to steal. One of the common vulnerabilities they find is weak server storage.
Your data can get violated if you make encrypted phone calls on a platform with weak server storage. Look for a platform with a proprietary approach to storing data. If it acts as a relay for encrypted communications rather than storing your data in an unencrypted format, that’s a great sign!
The best platforms only store minimal data on the server, like a username, expiration date, and activation date. A data breach can’t happen if there’s no private data to steal.
The “end-to-end encryption” promoted by free apps only protect you when your communications are in transit. But if these messages are stored on a server, unencrypted, that’s a vulnerability.
Make sure your communications are protected with military-grade encryption. Along the same lines, journalists also need a phone featuring an encrypted camera. Not only do the photos themselves require protection, but each picture stores sensitive metadata, such as GPS location.
Third-Party Apps, Keep Out!
You wouldn’t know from the popularity of smartphone apps that they pose major privacy risks, but they do! Few readers actually process all the permissions they’re granting before downloading the app to their phone, and once it’s on their phone, there’s no going back.
Users can’t tell how the app developers are sharing, storing, or selling their data. Will they sell data you don’t realize they possess to a marketing company or store it in a way that leaves it vulnerable to hackers?
Journalists can’t afford to take these risks. The safest thing is to use a hardened phone platform that excludes third-party apps by design.
Secondary Security Features Galore
The world’s best encryption can’t save your personal data if a thief holds the device in their hands. That’s why journalists need a suite of complementary security features, such as remote wipes, self-destructing messages, and even a tamper-proof feature.
If a journalist is forced under duress to show their phone to repressive authorities, they can enter a password that will immediately wipe the device.
Phones are essential tools for journalists, just like they are for everyone else. Getting tools that keep you connected securely will help protect your sources, colleagues, and yourself.