Being an investigative journalist anywhere in the world is becoming more challenging and often more dangerous. Technology has aided how investigative reporters do their work, however, it has also made it difficult for journalists to keep their information safe and protected from surveillance and hacking.

Investigative journalist at Business Day and Financial Mail, Stephan Hofstatter says he has have received credible information of several threats made against him and his colleagues while they were working on investigations.

“On one occasion this necessitated posting a 24-hour guard outside my house and taking advice from security experts on taking evasive action, he says.”

As a freelance journalist and author of the book Killing for Profit, Julian Rademeyer agrees. He says that the moment you feel threatened, means you will require extra security. Assessing threats online may be more difficult. But there are measures you can take to stay more secure. At the end of this article we list resources to help.



Carrying laptops and smartphones means your whereabouts can be tracked, traced and your conversations and emails intercepted and recorded. How can you protect sources and information when these devices are the tools of the trade?

Rademeyer says the investigative journalist needs to balance the efficiencies of smart phones against the vulnerabilities they create. “If somebody gets hold of your phone, they have everything.”

Hofstatter suggests that you can use scrambling devices to shut down the signal (switching the phone off isn’t enough) though this isn’t always practical. He advises reporters to try, when possible, to impart sensitive information face to face. When this isn’t possible he suggests making use of the best-encrypted applications available, and to stay up to date with which applications are considered secure and which have been hacked or are known to be accessible to intelligence services.“I often rely on the advice of my intelligence sources. If they are happy with a particular product then I will use it,” Hofstatter adds.

For email here are several options available to make your communications more secure. PGP encrypted mail, Hushmail, Threema, Viber, ProtonMail.

WhatsApp and secure messaging app, Threema. Image: PEXELS

Rademeyer also suggests some simple measures for communicating with sources on sensitive stories: use fake name email accounts, or giving your source the username and password to a fake name account to pass messages by saving drafts without sending mails. He also suggests using an Internet Cafe rather than your own device (which can be tracked via its IP address).

There are a lot of resources online that can help journalists stay safer online. We’ve put together this list and welcome comments or reviews and other suggestions.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has produced a guide and tutorials on digital security which helps you identify the kinds of threats you what to protect yourself from and gives detailed advice on installing and using various security tools:

The Committee to Project Journalists has written a guide for journalists on staying safe in general which includes a section on technologies:

The Centre for Investigative Journalism has published a very detailed guide on information security for investigative journalists which includes advice not only on email and web but also hardware and operating systems. (pdf 1.7MB)

An exhaustive list of privacy tools available with clear help on what basic steps you should do make your browser and internet more secure.

Tools and tips on staying safe online focusing on activists rather than journalists but clearly written for non techies by the Tactical Tech Collective:

Reporters without Borders Online Survival Guide is short and clear and available in French, Arabic and other languages:

Lastly, you might want to read some advice from Edward Snowden, the person whose evidence should have convinced you (if you needed convincing) that data security matters:

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