Support to Journalists and Newsrooms on Digital Security
Seven national and regional media outlets across the country have benefited from in-house digital security assistance, and more than 50 staff members have improved their knowledge and skills on cyber threats. The work took place under the Security Assistance Program, implemented by API with the support of DW Akademie, since last October.
From 20 to 28 February 2023, DW Akademie experts Mykhailo Koltsov and Alexei Marciuc conducted in-house training in the newsrooms of Ziarul de Gardă, Teleradio-Moldova Broadcaster, Zonadesecuritate.md, Jurnal TV, Observatorul de Nord (Soroca), eSP.md (Bălți) and TV8, attended by managers, journalists, web and IT specialists. The trainers familiarized the staff with methods and tools to protect against digital threats such as data theft, online spying, surveillance of communication channels, etc. They told participants how to segment their information on different gadgets, or what to do when their social media accounts and communication channels have been hacked. They also helped them to install software to keep passwords safe, secure their accounts using a two-step approach, etc.
"An important rule in digital security is to regularly check your accounts on social networks or communication channels (Facebook, Telegram, WhatsApp, Viber, etc.) especially on your phone. If you notice suspicious and unknown elements, we advise you first to immediately close all active sessions, and only then to change your password. Under no circumstances should you change the order of these actions, a mistake that most users make, because malicious people will manage to restore their presence based on the information stored in the system, and the threat will not be removed," Mykhailo Kolitsov said.
The experts explained and showed journalists how to protect their identity when working in areas not controlled by the country's legitimate authorities but by hostile military forces. They checked the computers used by the newsroom staff, found some problems, and made recommendations on how to solve them. Among the most common problems, the experts highlighted low levels of account privacy when using computers and mobile phones; low use of data backup practices, two-step authentication and encryption technologies, and basic practices to prevent identity theft through phishing attacks and other fraudulent activities, etc.
At the beginning and at the end of the training participants were assessed and asked to answer a series of questions on digital security. "Fifty-five key staff members from the seven newsrooms participated in the test. In the first questioning, the average score of the participants ranged from 4.63 to 8.63 points (with 12 obtaining the maximum possible score), while after attending the program and conducting individual consultations, the average score ranged from 6.8 to 12 points. According to the preliminary results, most of the participants have significantly improved their knowledge, but some newsrooms still need to work on improving their digital security capabilities," Alexei Marciuc pointed out.
The participants were satisfied with the knowledge and skills they gained, appreciating the trainers' performance and the practical services provided to the newsroom. Here are some of their opinions:
Sergiu Niculita, TV8: "The experts guided us step by step through the process of securing social media accounts and gave us practical tools to identify vulnerabilities in email and accounts created on different communication platforms. At the same time, the trainers conducted a screening of our institution's website and offered a number of recommendations for its optimization. At the same time, we were given practical tips to streamline the work of the newsroom in times of crisis (e.g. use of applications for communication and transmission of files in the absence of Internet, etc.)."
Constantin Hairetdinov, Esp.md: "Together with the experts we identified several issues that could affect our personal and editorial digital security. First, they advised us not to use personal social media accounts to promote the newsroom's material, as personal accounts contained data that could be used by criminals to break into the newsroom's security system. Secondly, some colleagues use Mail.ru or Yandex mails, especially for password recovery, but these mails are not secure and can create many problems for us. Although some problems have already been removed on the spot, others are still to be removed along the way."
Irina Tabaranu, Zonadesecuritate.md: "We learned about security techniques that could be used successfully to get through checkpoints when moving into an area not controlled by the country's authorities. First, we need to create a 'legend' about our life and work but also to secure our equipment so that we are not discovered in territory controlled by hostile forces. The experts helped us make a list of problems we need to remove to be safe."
Elena Cobăsneanu, Observatorul de Nord (Soroca): "At the start of the training, only two of the nine newsroom staff members had the correct settings on their phones for data protection. By the end of the training, everyone had already solved the problem. Another important thing we solved was the password setting, and the two-step login to accounts. We also learned how to create a password manager. The programmer got recommendations on how to set up the site correctly to exclude any cyber threat."
Alisa Tanas, Radio Moldova Youth: "The trainers explained to us in an accessible and practical way how to secure our social networks, gadgets etc. I was surprised when after checking my Facebook account I found that my account had been hacked for a few years now and someone from Indonesia was tracking my activity and had access to my data. I am grateful to the experts who helped me to remove this problem but also to learn other techniques to protect my data."
In the near future, DW Akademie experts will develop recommendations and solutions to overcome the problems identified, and during March, newsrooms will receive physical and digital security equipment from API.
Under the Security Assistance Program, API previously conducted also a training on physical and psychological security.
The event was held in the framework of the project "Security Trainings and Assistance for Media Resilience in the Republic of Moldova", implemented by API with the support of DW Akademie and the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.