7 online security tools for journalists and the privacy-inclined

Benjamin Cooley
Mar 31, 2017 · 6 min read
By Owen Moore — https://www.flickr.com/photos/132053576@N03/17765606909/, CC BY 2.0, Link


Password managers are good practice. I like Lastpass but other people use apps like 1Password or Dashlane. Whatever your preferred format, using a password manager increases security and saves you the trouble of remembering all your passwords. Despite Lastpass being hacked in 2015, most users only needed to change their master password to the vault while the individual passwords stayed secure. I’ve come to think that nothing is 100% foolproof online, but it sure beats using a generic password for all websites. For the really paranoid, go old school: write all your passwords in a paper notebook and keep it in a secure location at home.

HTTPS Everywhere

Developed by the internet advocacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Tor Project, this Chrome extension will switch any http website to its https equivalent automatically. Why is this important? Well without that little “s” on the end, your browsing history, what you click on, cookies, etc. These handy screenshots from the HTTPS info site explain the difference.

WhatsApp (but Signal is better)

Most people use WhatsApp for it’s ease of use and international messaging. But compared to other messaging apps, it’s actually one of the more secure ones out there. Whatsapp features end-to-end encryption for all messages by default. However, after the Westminster Attack on March 22, Home Secretary Amber Rudd has demanded access to Whatsapp’s encryption key. Whether or not this goes through remains to be seen. But for the extra cautions, there’s always Signal. Compared to Whatsapp this has become the privacy-seeker’s app of choice due to it’s open source code and one-to-one messaging encryption. If you’re still trying to decide between secure messaging apps, here’s a good comparison article.

FileVault or Bitlocker

When it comes to hard drive encryption, both Mac and Windows have built-in tools for data and file protection. Aside from using a unique password at your login screen this is one of the simplest things you can do to protect info that is on your computer but not on the web.


Another handy Chrome extension, Mailvelope can turn your Gmail or Outlook account into end-to-end encrypted emails. Using PGP technology, you can list your key in the directory for others to find and send private messages. These messages become scrambled as soon as they are sent, and can only be unscrambled by a receiver with a corresponding key. This sort of messaging has become the private mailbox for many online publishers, with some journalists even listing their PGP key in their Twitter bio. For an easy introduction to how it works and getting started check out the Mailbelope website.


This Canadian based company has created a search engine alternative to Google that claims to be absolutely tracking-free. That means no cookies, browser tracking or search history storing. If you’re doing research on sensitive topics such as terrorism, ISIS, jihad or child exploitation, this would be a good way to stay off of any sketchy watch lists.

VPNs (if paranoid use Tor)

Speaking of watch lists, odds are good that you’re already on one. Especially in the UK, internet privacy has become so flimsy due to surveillance legislation that complete anonymity can seem like a fantasy. Some have turned to VPNs (Virtual Private Network) as their hope. VPNs act as the middle man between you and a server (usually containing a website). When the URL request comes to the website, all it can see is the VPN, not your computer. This method of browsing is encrypted, and there are plenty of options out there (see list below). But for some, standard VPNs just don’t do it.

Did I miss an obvious tool? Is there something you use or would like to recommend? Leave a comment or tweet me your thoughts.

Thoughts On Journalism

Taking on the problems and challenges in journalism. Spreading ideas, passions and new ways of thinking about media. A publication run by Media Lab Bayern.

Benjamin Cooley

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Data viz nerd, Python enthusiast. Making data products @infogr8. Sharing weekly data resources for learning + analysis: https://bit.ly/2yxFaPN

Thoughts On Journalism

Taking on the problems and challenges in journalism. Spreading ideas, passions and new ways of thinking about media. A publication run by Media Lab Bayern.