I know this sounds like something only James Bond might need. In all seriousness, as a journalist, encryption might be your last line of defense if all other security precautions fail. Consider it one of your super cyber powers.
If you store any documents that you don’t want to get into the wrong hands, you need to encrypt them. Encryption works by using a special key to code your information so it looks like nonsense to anyone who doesn’t have the same key.
It also protects your valuable data—including sensitive source contacts, interview notes, stories you’re reporting, financial information—whether it’s stored in your hard drive, transmitted over the Internet or kept in cloud storage. Many encryption tools and services are now available and some software already has this functionality included.
Encryption also means you’ll have to do extra work. But as journalists, we should be used to taking extra steps to protect our most valuable sources of information. A few extra steps now could mean fewer losses and embarrassments later.
Use your company’s Virtual Private Network (VPN) service to go online when possible. When you connect to a Wi-Fi signal, the VPN hides your location and sends your information through an encrypted connection. If you don’t have access to a VPN, you can shop for a number of low cost solutions that can be easily downloaded to your laptop. And using your personal laptop on a non-encrypted connection for work, whether at home or your favorite coffee shop, doesn’t give you an excuse to put your reporting and sources at risk.
Investigate secure voice and text messaging too. And encrypt your sensitive documents. Programs like Adobe Acrobat and Microsoft Office include these features. Some file sharing services, like Box, are also providing encryption.
And remember, anyone who has the same key that you used to encrypt your files can decrypt the information and read it.