Live at NAB Show: Cyber Summit Keynoter Offers Advice on Protecting Journalists in the Field

LAS VEGAS — Reporters working in war zones and countries hostile to journalists have long dealt with the physical dangers that come with the job. But in many countries today, cyber threats have added an extra layer of concern, a new challenge that many reporters simply aren’t prepared for. That was the message longtime journalist Rebecca MacKinnon delivered during an April 8 keynote presentation at the Cyber Security & Content Protection Summit, at the NAB Show.

MacKinnon — director of the Ranking Digital Rights project, senior research fellow for the New America Foundation and board member with the Committee to Protect Journalists — offered up an overview of the cyber threats journalists are facing today, and shared ways to address them.

“Not only do we need to be taking immediate defensive measures involving technical tools and changes in habits, we also need to be thinking about how the broader technological, commercial, and policy environment for digital communications technologies affects the safety and security of journalists, and what we can all do to influence how our digital environment is designed, managed, and governed,” she told the Media & Entertainment Services Alliance (MESA).

Journalists working in countries hostile to reporters are used to being surveilled by local government agents, facing mobs riled up by state-run media, maybe even being arrested for doing their jobs, MacKinnon said. But today’s digital world has opened up a host of new concerns for reporters: malware and phishing attacks, tapped phones, and a general, constant targeting of the devices they use to do their job.

MacKinnon stressed several things for journalists reporting internationally: encrypt your devices, and make it as difficult as possible for anyone else to access them. Power devices off completely when leaving or entering a country, to help protect yourself during potential confrontations with border agents. Be aware that along with your hardware, your email and social media activity could be compromised.

“People need to be more careful when contacting sources,” MacKinnon said. She said she’s heard too many stories about journalists reporting from dangerous locations who’ve used unsecure social media services like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp to communicate with sensitive sources, in places where those sources could be risking their lives by talking to a reporter.

“All it takes is just one mistake,” she said.

The half-day, inaugural Cyber Security & Content Protection Summit provided technology and business updates on cybersecurity and anti-piracy initiatives in both film and television. It was produced by the Media & Entertainment Services Alliance (MESA) and the Content Delivery & Security Association (CDSA), in cooperation with the NAB. Microsoft Azure, Dolby, NAGRA, the Digital Watermarking Alliance and Convergent Risk sponsored the event.