Every writer has, at some point or another, been told that a good story needs to move the reader forward. After the lede that tells readers what they most need to know, some exposition here and there, some context, you always want to end the story by nodding to what’s coming next. Sometimes that’s obvious. If a prominent person is arrested, for example, you’d naturally tell us when the trial might be. When developments arise in the case, you can spend weeks writing new stories that refer back to the same events and characters. You develop a shorthand, and the audience begins to learn a new language to understand what’s going on. You can’t drop the ball on them. Your job is to follow up, and follow up, and follow up, sometimes for your entire career.
What you do with a developing story in service of your audience is similar to what you have to do with your own workflows. You have to keep updating them. Thank goodness we don’t need to file stories by dictating them over landline telephones anymore, or fax them, or even need to plug into a DSL router. But for every new innovation and convenience that saves time, there are also steps that every prudent journalist should take to make sure those new processes are as secure as possible. Because even though they’re new, certain threats against the free press are just as new. Stay ahead of them by updating your software and hardware as often as possible.
Now, when I first learned this advice I said “I’m a broke journalist” and “I can’t do anything about planned obsolescence.” The economic and technological challenges that journalists face are undeniable. I know that journalists depend on ever-more obsolete, prohibitively expensive, and unreliable equipment. As far as security goes, as with other things, we should absolutely advocate for more resources in our newsrooms and better pay for the freelancers we depend on. But in the meantime, it’s more important than ever to do what you can to make sure your software is updated. Many companies will provide free updates as a way of including patches to recently-discovered security flaws.
Please, make the time to apply them, because deleting some of your material is still better than losing all of it unexpectedly. The time it takes for computers to install updates is the time you would save if you had to go all-analog again anyway. Do your best with the resources you have, especially on the platforms you most depend on for your work.
Visit the “Know What You Have” toolbox inside the GCA Cybersecurity Toolkit for Journalists. Once you have a list of your devices and applications, visit our “Update Your Defenses” toolbox to go through each device and application you have to configure it for automatic updates. We’ve provided a list of the most common systems and applications. For items not covered in this toolbox check the instructions or support pages for that device or application. Check each item off your list as you go and be sure to take this step every time you add a new device or application. Also, see if there are recommended security settings – a “configuration” – for your devices and applications.
Websites are also at risk of being compromised. Many of the website applications used by journalists have security problems. Use resources in the “Know What You Have” toolbox to run scans on your website to identify vulnerabilities. Send any identified problems to your web manager (or whoever handles your website) for the appropriate action to be taken.
Internet of Things (IoT) devices need to stay up to date too. In 2019, security researchers found that Wi-Fi-enabled cameras from an industry-leading manufacturer could have ransomware remotely installed, disabling access to photos taken by that camera. Smart speakers and other similar devices should only be used in areas where there is no expectation of privacy, and they should be updated frequently.
Keeping your devices updated is the best way to get your security practices automated, so you can once again focus on the important issues: keeping your audience informed and updated with the most accurate information as possible.