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Computer Security Tools for Journalists Lacking in a Post-Snowden World

By ­niversity of Washington News and Information

July 24, 2015

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Researchers at the University of Washington (UW) and Columbia University recently conducted a study of the computer security habits of 15 journalists across two continents and found security weaknesses in their technological tools and ad-hoc workarounds.

The weaknesses included computer security tools that go unused because they introduce roadblocks to information gathering, inadequate solutions for basic tasks, and failing to consider potential risks from cloud computing and other common practices.

"Addressing many of the security issues journalists face will require new technical solutions, while many existing secure tools are incompatible with the journalistic process in one way or another," says Columbia professor Susan McGregor.

The researchers interviewed journalists from the U.S. and France about how they communicate with sources, what strategies they use to organize notes and protect sensitive information, and their use of existing information security tools. They found although some reporters took steps to lessen certain types of security risks, others did not.

"It's not just a matter of giving journalists information about the right tools to use--it's that the tools are often not usable," says UW professor Franziska Roesner.

The researchers will present their study next month at the 24th USENIX Security Symposium in Washington, D.C.

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