In April earlier this year, a small working group of internet specialists got together in Berlin to collectively produce a handbook that could help journalists to protect their communication on the web. Is that necessary? According to Sacha van Geffen it was. He is specialised in the field of internet security and founder of Greenhost, a sustainable webhosting service that came up with the idea for the book. "Not all journalists are aware of the dangers they face working online. You might think your are safe, but if your digital address book got hacked by a malicious authority, you put yourself as well as your local sources and contacts into danger."
The idea sounds challenging: making a book that any journalist cannot do without; providing answers to the many questions regarding internet safety. What are the Do's and Dont's in regard to social media? How to send your e-mails without revealing your location? Van Geffen: "Press freedom and more general freedom of information are the basis of an open and democratic society. These must be defended in countries where they exist." Greenhost followed this approach also in their stance on data retention for e-mail traffic. Since 2010, Greenhost's customers can choose whether they want their e-mail data to be stored or not.
What do we currently have to fear more: governments or companies? "Both. Both share an uncontrollable urge to store large amounts of information about individuals and then to link various of such databases. The problem is that the coupling of information ensures that businesses and governments know more about us than we about ourselves. It is quite impossible for yourself to see what information about you is actually stored, let alone to have a say about it. Meanwhile databases are poorly protected and more than once information ends up - unnoticed - in the hands of third parties."
The weakest link
The information provided in the manual are helpful, but Van Geffen is aware that no technology provides ultimate security. "People are and remain the weakest link. However well your e-mail and internet connection may be secured, if the recipient is being arrested and tortured or is drunk and feels like sharing sensitive information with the entire pub, your data will still leak. Rightly the saying goes 'Amateurs attack computers. Professionals attack people.' Therefore, it is crucial that the human factor in security systems remains as small as possible. Security should not be the responsibility of the user, but that of the system."
The handbook 'Basic Internet Security' was first presented during World Press Freedom Day 2011 on May 3 and can be downloaded here.